Japanese Internment Camp Prisoner Talks Mass Incarceration, History and Power

When he was nine years old, Sam Mihara and his family were imprisoned at Heart Mountain. Just miles from Cody, Wyoming, Heart Mountain was one of the prison camps where the government detained Japanese-Americans during WWII.…

by | Oct 11, 2019 | Community Events, Culture

When he was nine years old, Sam Mihara and his family were imprisoned at Heart Mountain. Just miles from Cody, Wyoming, Heart Mountain was one of the prison camps where the government detained Japanese-Americans during WWII.

Mihara and his family were among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans imprisoned during that time. He was incarcerated for a chunk of his childhood. For three years he was imprisoned there and before that, he and his family were held in a detention camp in Pomona, California.

The life-altering experience Mihara had in Wyoming made it difficult for him to consider returning to the state years later.

“I was bitter, especially against the local people in northern Wyoming because they were among the people making sure the camp was turned into a prison,” Mihara said.

But Mihara, who speaks all over the country about his experiences at Heart Mountain, did return and today he has ties to the state as a member of the Heart Mountain Museum.

Mihara remembered the first time he visited Wyoming after all those years. It was the year 2000, during a road trip on Mihara’s way to Yellowstone. “As Cody got closer and closer, I started to see things that I vaguely remembered.” He rented a car in Cody and hired a guide who showed him the area of the barrack where he was imprisoned with his family. That unlocked a deluge of emotions, Mihara said.

Since then, Mihara has learned much about what is happening today when it comes to America’s oppressive system of mass incarceration. Although the crime rate in America has continued to decrease over the last several decades, the United States leads the world in incarceration rates. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, since 1970, America’s incarcerated population has increased by 700% ­with 2.3 million people in jail and prison today.

Mihara has some thoughts on that.

He will speak 6 p.m. Friday, October 11 at Teton County Library as part of its “Power Trip” series. In addition to discussing America’s propensity to lock people up, he will also describe what he has seen visiting immigration detention facilities throughout the country. Ahead of that talk, he told KHOL about the conditions he endured while he and his family were imprisoned at Heart Mountain.

Listen above for the full conversation.

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn launched KHOL's news department. She has worked as a reporter and editor in Wyoming for the last decade and her work has aired on NPR stations throughout the West. When she's not sweating deadlines, Robyn sustains her nomadic heart by traveling the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow @TheNomadicHeart

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