“I realized that I had a choice. I could choose to continue the cycle of suffering, or I can choose differently, by developing and growing so that I can have the life I’ve always dreamed of having, and to be the person I know I’m worthy and capable of being,” said Julian Adame, a University of Redlands senior, while speaking about his academic and spiritual focus.
Throughout his college career, Adame has been studying how to find meaning in times of suffering. Because of the trauma he witnessed and endured throughout his childhood, he was compelled to create his own curriculum through the Johnston Program of Integrative Studies. Ultimately, he theorized that suffering can become bearable if we can consciously grow alongside our pain. He has set out to share this realization with others, which he hopes to do through public speaking and creative writing.
But Adame’s academic emphasis may be chocked up to fate. The tools of mindfulness, gratitude and self-love he has been studying throughout the past four years kept Julian afloat while he spent nine months in solitary confinement in Japan’s largest detention center.
Two months have passed since Adame has returned home to Redlands after his detention in Tokyo, which came after three and a half months spent in Indonesia.
Since then, Adame has been making up for lost time. He’s learned to love Ariana Grande, just like everybody else has over the past year. He’s caught up on world news and politics, and listened to the albums that were released while he was away. He’s dedicating time to the cherished friendships that had gone untended for so long. He went to Coachella VIP, free of charge, thanks to a friend who gave him a spare ticket. He’s been to the beach and to the mountains and to the desert. He’s been to parties and to class, recorded a podcast, practiced yoga and gone on runs. He has looked at the sky, which he was forced to live without for what felt like an eternity.
Adame has also rekindled his relationship with his mother, whom he was estranged from prior to his detention. Although he has moved back to Redlands, which he now calls home, he recently visited his hometown of Sacramento where he worked on his relationship with his family, visited childhood friends and celebrated the end of a nightmare. This is just the beginning of Adame’s life outside of his cell.
“It’s been incredible, honestly. I’m just so thankful,” Adame said. “I’ve been trying my best to balance everything because it’s so easy to over-commit. There are so many people I love, so many people I need to reach out to. It’s been a bit overwhelming. So I’m trying to navigate that while saving time for myself and for solitude.”
In the truest sense, Adame is living the life he has always dreamed of having, and being the person he knows he is worthy and capable of being.
While he was detained, media coverage of his story was widespread across the globe, as was a campaign to bring him home. But because the coverage was written and published simultaneously with his trial, what was reported to the media had to be censored as to not affect the trial’s outcome.
Here’s what Adame said really happened.
In the spring of 2018, Adame left Redlands to spend a semester abroad in Bali, Indonesia, where he studied social change, art and religion. When his semester came to a close, he planned to continue his travels throughout South East Asia. But things didn’t go according to plan.
Adame flew from Bali to Tokyo, where he hoped to spend five days before meeting up with a friend in Thailand. He hadn’t spent more than 17 hours in Tokyo before he was arrested.
After checking into his hostel on a Monday night, Adame (who is known to be effortlessly social and charming) quickly became friendly with a small handful of travelers who were staying at the same hostel. Together, they decided to go out for a drink; Adame’s intention was to catch a small glimpse of the city and then go back to hostel for a full night of rest. Before leaving the hostel, he said he drank about three beers within the span of two hours.
As a 21-year-old, 175 pound, 5’11” male, he was not intoxicated.
In an effort to prevent himself from drinking more and spending money, Adame decided to leave his wallet in the hostel. He arrived at the bar with about five or six fellow travelers in tow. One of these individuals, an Australian man, offered to buy him a beer, as he left his wallet at the hostel. Adame accepted, and offered to pay the man back in the morning. They went to the bar together, leaving the rest of their group at a nearby table.
That’s the last thing Adame remembers.
“I was drugged. I can finally say without having to censor myself,” he explained with a sense of relief.
When he woke up, the bar had closed, and Adame’s new friends had left him behind. The bar was completely empty except for two officers who were towering above him, demanding $1,000 for a lamp that he had apparently broke. Only one of the men was speaking English—the other in Japanese—a language that he had no background in.
Before his trip to Tokyo, Adame was told to be on the lookout for getting drugged. He was warned of instances where individuals would be roofied and wake up with extremely high credit card charges on their account. Throughout his time in Bali, he said he was often warned about gang members dressing up like police officers to attempt identity theft. When Adame woke up, he was on high alert that one of these nightmares had become a reality. He was disoriented and confused, and began to panic.
From the bar, Adame was escorted to a nearby police box, which he likened to a miniature police station, where he was initially questioned. As he was then new to the Japanese justice system, he did not understand that the mysterious and small room he was forced into was in fact an official police building.
The officers were still set on retrieving the $1000 for the lamp that he supposedly broke. Although he didn’t have access to $1000, he explained that if they took him to his hostel he could retrieve his wallet and give them what he had.
From the police box, he was taken in a siren vehicle to a parking garage, where they transferred him into an unmarked vehicle.
“That’s when they got physical,” he said.
He was surrounded by men who forcefully pushed him into the car and then sandwiched him with their bodies in the backseat to prevent any movement. He made 13 calls to 911, pleading for help, but because he didn’t have a Japanese sim card, his calls didn’t go through.
“They were frustrated with me on my phone,” Adame explained. “That made me even more afraid because why would they be upset that I was calling the police if they were police?”
Adame was certain he was being abducted. He rationalized that making it to his hostel was his last chance of an escape.
“I realized that my hostel was the only place in the entire country that I knew,” he said. “I was like ‘Okay Julian, this is your last chance. You asked for a lawyer, you called the police.’ I was using my rights, and nothing was working and these men are aggressive. So I lunged out of the car as fast as I could. Then I was thrown down and roped, and handcuffed so tightly my wrists were bleeding.”
The opportunity to go into the hostel was lost. He was thrown back into the car and taken to another building.
“In this building, they took me to an elevator and I was roped around my torso and the handcuffs were so tight my wrists were bleeding,” Adame said. “It was a red elevator. I’ll always remember. When the door opened I thought they were taking me into some surgery room to amputate me or something. My mind was going crazy. There were two chairs on opposite ends of the room. I sat there for at least an hour and a half or two hours before I was informed that I was being arrested.
It wasn’t until that point that I realized what was actually happening,” he explained.
After Adame’s initial detention, he spent his first month in jail in a cell with three other people. In July of 2018, Adame was transferred to a detention center, where he spent nine months in solitary confinement, which is the standard living placement for all detained foreigners in Japan.
In solitary, Adame slept on a matt in a small cell with a single window. He said his window was a saving grace; although its bars prevented him from seeing anything but the sky, the glimpse of sunlight in his room helped determine what time of day it was. The only other form of time telling the detainees had access to was a bell system with Japanese announcements. This doesn’t do much good for foreign prisoners who don’t speak Japanese.
During the cold Japanese winter, Julian said that his cell was so cold that he acquired frostbite that he still suffers from today. He felt that the unbearable temperature in his cell was a deprivation of his basic human rights.
Each day Adame spent in solitary was fairly routine, but his routine developed alongside his mental health, his personal growth and his increased intentionality.
“For the first four to five months in solitary, I had [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] PTSD,” he said. “I would wake up at precisely the time I was handcuffed and roped. I would wake up to the most unbearable and grueling anxiety, with my heart racing a million miles a second. Maybe this was just shock, but I could never figure out why. In the morning, I would do some basic yoga poses to calm my anxiety.”
It took Adame some time to realize that he was waking up at the exact same moment each morning in a panic because of PTSD, and he structured his daily routine to help ease his symptoms. Between meals, he integrated prayer, yoga, meditation, journaling and reading.
“There were days that I would spend two hours straight writing down what I was grateful for. To be grateful for what went right, even when so much went wrong. Because it could have been so much worse,” Adame said. “Also just constantly affirming myself with self-dialogue was really important in solitary confinement. I couldn’t change anything, I was completely powerless. But I had to take responsibility for my negative anxious thoughts. I became aware of the suffering I created for myself.”
“During the last two months [in solitary], I realized that even though it was so awful, I could choose how to approach each day,” Adame explained. “I became really aware of my intentionality. I harbored so much resentment and self-hatred, like ‘I could have done this [differently], I should have done this [differently]. Even though I didn’t drug myself, I was upset with myself for traveling alone—so many different things. I just had to work through all that. I would consciously tell myself that I would love myself a little bit more each day.”
Monday through Friday, Adame said he had the opportunity to be taken outside for 30 minutes of exercise time in a solitary cage, which he described as just slightly wider than a doorway and no more than 12 feet long. Although Adame was grateful for the opportunity to see the sky, he described this experience in the cage as even more depressing than being inside his solitary cell, and as such didn’t take the opportunity more than once a week.
Meanwhile, Adame’s friends and family overseas were in a frenzy. His best friend, University of Redlands senior Kate Emmons, spent much of her year fighting to get Adame out of jail. She worked closely with the university administration, the United States Embassy and his court appointed attorney in an attempt to understand the process and to speed it along. A Go Fund Me she initiated raised nearly $7,000.
Throughout his experience, Adame was sent countless letters by friends and family to help him get him through his trying time.
“Letters were a lifeline,” he said gratefully. “After a certain point I surrounded myself with the letters when I would go to sleep. All the love people were sending me protected me [from terror] when I was sleeping at night. Just to surround myself with positivity.”
In Japan, you’re guilty until proven innocent. Adame’s freedom was taken for a total of 11 months for the charge of Obstruction of the Performance of Official Duty. He said that a main takeaway from his experience surround the flaws embedded in the criminal justice system.
The prosecution’s case revolved around an officer’s allegation that Adame hit him in an effort to escape. But he said he had a strong case against this allegation. In order to constitute a valid charge, Adame would have had to, first and foremost, understand that he was being arrested by official officers. His 13 calls to 911 demonstrated that he thought he was being abducted, not arrested.
Being charged with obstructing the duty of an officer indicates an intentional obstruction of the performance of official duty with an act of violence or resistance. Adame was accused of hitting the officer with his dominant hand in an attempt to escape, but he said he didn’t do this either. The officer experienced no injury, redness, or swelling, which Adame said the officer admitted to during his examination and questioning. Considering Adame’s height and weight, there would have been a degree of injury if he had in fact hit the officer with his dominant hand.
His case was strong. But after seven delays in his trial, he was ultimately convinced to falsely confess to the charges. Telling the judges that he was drugged would have resulted in much more serious charges, including the possibility of being convicted of drug use himself if there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that he was drugged without consent.
“Conviction rate upon indictment is 99 percent in Japan,” Adame explained. “The system is not fair. I think that’s obvious. Given the seven delays and a forced false confession, it’s evident that the system is not just. I wanted to [falsely confess] in September because the prosecutor was trying to delay everything so many times to persuade me to falsely confess. That’s really common. I had the strongest piece of evidence because of the 13 calls to 911, but the judge continued to approve each delay. He just didn’t care.”
In Japan, the average case is nine months long, whether an individual is being tried for murder or for petty crime.
“So when the United States embassy protested to have my case expedited, the Japanese Ministry of Justice said no because the case was still in the average time frame,” he said. “That speaks a lot about the system.”
The United States embassy protested the Japanese Ministry of Justice with what’s called a Diplomatic Note, along with a request for frequent updates on the case and an immediate expedition and conclusion of the trial.
The U.S embassy hasn’t protested this way for an American citizen in 10 years.
The embassy also had in-person conferences with the Ministry of Justice about his case. The Ministry Consular of Consular Affairs—the third highest ranking American diplomat—sat in on conferences, bi-weekly meetings with the Deputy Chief and more.
This is the first time in our nation’s history that the American embassy has ever done this for an American citizen.
The embassy’s rationale was that Adame was being emotionally and mentally tortured with all of the delays and setbacks in his trial. Looking back at his experience, he said that he completely agrees.
“On my very last day, my sentencing day, several Japanese detainees asked me why I was here. A translator told them my story. They were mortified by their system. It was evident that even Japanese people don’t define justice that way,” he explained.
Adame is certain that what happened to him and the way his trial was handled was a bi-product of his skin color and assumed socio-economic status as an American, despite the fact that Adame has tan skin and comes from little money.
“I absolutely experienced racism. I was absolutely profiled. I was absolutely extorted. I was absolutely forced into a false confession,” he said.
Adame’s experience was the darkest time of his life, but some light did come of it. Before he was detained, he hadn’t spoken to his mom in over two and a half years. But after hearing the news of his detention, she was able to contact him and apologize for all that had happened.
“Now [our relationship] is so much more healthy,” he said. “I get texts from her everyday saying I love you, hope you have a great day. I’m so proud of her because I can tell she’s worked so hard to improve herself and work through awful things she didn’t deserve. I look at her with so much pride and love. I feel like we are both forgiving each other. It feels very wholesome, like a lot of light.”
As Adame set out to do several years ago, he has proved to himself and to his loved ones that you can find meaning in suffering if you can grow alongside your pain. Adame lived what he’s been studying, and plans to continue to do so while basking in his freedom.
“The simplest things can be taken for granted,” he said humbly. “Like seeing a mountain, driving in a car. My senses. There is so much beauty and abundance in life that’s so easily glossed over. Nobody should feel guilty about that, but it’s an awareness. We live in a very beautiful place. There is beauty in so many moments of life.”
Of course there are challenging aspects of his homecoming. Before he was detained, he was on track to graduate with his class in 2019. Having missed an entire academic year while in jail, he plans to enroll in classes in the fall of 2019 and graduate in the spring of 2020. Despite this, he was able to cheer on his classmates as they walked the commencement stage, an experience that he described as bittersweet.
Adame’s friends and loved ones have expressed amazement over his resilience. Although it’s clear he’s returned with newfound wisdom, he has slipped back into his old life as if nothing has changed.
“I’ve realized in Bali and even before that there are times that I simply just need to be alone,” Adame said. “For a little bit I was worried that I would be afraid to be alone, after being alone for so long. But I’m not. I love my alone time. I’m so grateful that solitary hasn’t ruined my own solitude.”