A Visit to A Thai Prison
I paid a visit the other day to Bang Klang Prison in Nonthaburi. I am working on the sequel to Skytrain to Murder and in that novel my detective has to get some information from a prisoner there so naturally that meant I had to go there. (I don't know yet what information he has to get but I usually write in the dark by instinct and hope and pray that I know what I'm doing.)
I dutifully read various websites about visiting farang prisoners in Thai prisons and then called the American Embassy. According to the fellow there, there were no Americans in that particular prison at the moment. (Have all Americans suddenly become drug-free? Great news!) And the Americans in the nearby prison, Klong Prem, don't really welcome visitors (which is strange considering that prisoners on websites ask for them but what do I know?). So I called the British Embassy and, thank whatever gods may be, they have prisoners all over the place in Thailand, north to south, east to west. And, yes, sure, they would like a visit from someone.
So I got my letter from the British Embassy (once I managed to find their new location on Wireless not far from Nai Lert Park hotel (formerly the Hilton) and they faxed the necessary papers on to the prison and eventually off I went early one morning with passport, copy of a page of the passport, and letter in hand. I took the Skytrain out to Chatuchak and then a looong taxi ride to the prison. The usual Kafkaesque, of course: wrong gate, wrong office, didn't get paper signed, go back across street to have it stamped, take all money out of pockets including credit cards, leave them in the locker (says the not-bad-looking woman patting me down thoroughly) Yum, yum.
Although not many years ago you had to shout through a fence to the prisoners and they shouted back and the noise was horrible and the Nigerians with their booming voices got the best of it, now it is more modern and there is glass and (Panasonic) phones. The prisoner I visited is in for about 40 years, having served maybe ten already. He was in a pub in Britain and needed money for rent, etc., and somebody told him they knew how he could make fast money. Needless to say, the drug deal didn't work well as the Thai authorities caught him when he was heading back out after spending two weeks in Bangkok. I told him, well, at least you had two weeks to spend with gorgeous Thai women; better than nothing. But he said he hadn't been paid and needed to save so didn't do much at all during those two weeks. Yikes!
Like many of the prisoners, he has no self-pity and admits what he did. He only says that for the one mistake he made, 40 years is too much. Also, other countries have some kind of system that when you are sent back to those countries to serve out the rest of your time, you get out quite soon; not the British. So, all in all, you cannot help feeling sorry for a guy who lost the best years of his life because he made one mistake. Especially when they neither deny the charge nor expect pity from anyone. Although the prison is overcrowded, it seems there is no brutality or unnecessary harassment of prisoners as has been alleged in another prison.
I left four of my books with him and will go back out in about a month. He knows there is nothing I can do for him and in any case I never promise more than I can deliver. Many of the prisoners do get their length of stay cut a bit by various Royal Pardons whenever they come along.
Working in the office where I left the books off to be checked (to make sure that nothing was hidden in them, etc.) was none other than the former executioner and author, Chavoret Jaruboon. He wrote the book, The Last Executioner, which I am reading now (a good read!). That is, he was the last executioner who shot prisoners; now it is lethal injection. In the beginning, he used a noisy HK MP5 but later switched to a silenced more modern weapon HK MP-5 9 parabellum. In 2003, the change was made to lethal injection.
I told him that I remembered 42 years ago paddling a boat in a klong out that way and being told there was a prison on the klong. He said something about there being a museum on that klong now. Thanks, I needed that, as if I don't feel old already. In his youth, he played guitar in bands that entertained Americans at army bases, and at various bars around the country, including Patpong. I might actually have enjoyed his music way back when he and I were younguns.
As for those of you into drugs, remember that the various laws decide whether or not the amount you had when caught was for personal use or not. So even if you had no intention to distribute, you might well be charged with both possession and distribution of drugs, resulting in a much longer prison sentence, decades, perhaps. In Thailand, you do not want to muck about with drugs!
2014 Note: Happy to say the British prisoner I visited was let out a bit early, after 14 and a half years! Had his first beer on the plane ride out. Sorry to say khun Chavoret passed away with cancer in 2013.