THE BLACK MARKET DEATH SENTENCE
In spite of severe punishment meted out by the Japanese to prisoners involved in black market activities, there were those who would not give up. They not only bought and sold items to other prisoners but they were also brazen enough to sell to the Japanese.
While I was in isolation with dysentery, I was able to watch the black market action take place within the camp. I could easily understand the motives of those who dealt in the black market. Prisoners had a difficult time improving their conditions in camp, but dealing in the market was one way out. If others could do it, why couldn’t I? After reassuring myself that I was just as bright as any of those involved, and that my standard of living could be better, I decided to take the chance and go into business.
I borrowed ten pesos from a friend, five of which was spent to buy empty corned beef cans. My next move was to visit the black marketeer of rice. Seeing that I had five pesos to spend, he lifted the false top on his table and sold me a canteen cup of rice. I then rolled the rice into flour, borrowed some sourdough starter, added water to the starter and allowed it to set overnight. Early the next morning, I put the batter in my corned beef cans and baked it in the quan stove oven.
I doubt that even a hungry, starving dog in the alleys back home would have eaten my biscuits, but they tasted good to me and they were easy to sell.
I had limited my efforts to the amoebic dysentery area the first day, but business was so brisk I decided to expand into the duty area. I had a friend in the duty area and we decided to become partners. We conducted business matters while talking through the barbed wire fence that separated the duty from the dysentery area. I would be responsible for keeping the tins and money while my partner would bake the biscuits in the quan stove and sell them in his area. We would split the profits equally.
. Meanwhile, a detail of American prisoners was sent to a warehouse in town every morning to pick up the day’s ration of rice that had come from Manila for the whole camp. It was in these rice sacks that friends of the black market profiteers were smuggling Japanese paper money into our area of the camp. All would have gone well except that a couple of profiteers had unwisely begun to use this money to buy items from the truck that visited the camp once a week.
The Japanese became suspicious when they discovered that the amount of money they were receiving from the truck sales far exceeded the amount they paid us for farm work. Secretly they investigated and uncovered the smuggling ring. Patiently they awaited their moment to strike. How lucky can one get. At dawn the day before my partner and I were to expand the biscuit business, a squad of enemy soldiers rushed through the ‘main gate and ran to designated locations around the duty area. They grabbed about twenty alleged profiteers and marched them away. We never saw them again, nor did we ever hear what happened to them. We assumed they were beheaded as this was the penalty for black marketeers. I immediately lost interest in the biscuit business and that was the last time I entertained thoughts of carrying on an illegal business in prison.