Criminal Court in Samut Prakan, alongside the Chao Phraya River
I had last seen my former student at the Criminal Court in Samut Prakan. He was no longer “defendant number two” as he had already been tried and convicted. The judge had sentenced him to three years and a fine of 200,000 baht (about $5,400 which is two years wages in Thailand). He had just turned 19 when he was arrested by the police. In America he would have probably got community service, or at least a suspended sentence. I watched in the rain as he boarded the bus for Klong Dan Prison. His baby daughter had come to the courthouse for the trial, but she wasn’t here on the day that he was dragged off to prison. Maybe just as well. How do you explain to an innocent child that she won’t see her father for a long time. Her mother had already abandoned her when she was only one year old. Now her father was leaving too. For the next three years he will be sharing a cramped cell with 50 adult prisoners. His teenage years finally over.
The sentencing was on Thursday 10th September. We had tried everything we could to get him out of going to prison on that day. But, the attempts to get him out on bail for the appeal court failed because the paperwork wasn’t in order. We were told to return on Monday to resubmit the documents. But, we all knew that once he had entered the prison and had been processed, the harder it would be for us to bail him out. When I arrived at the courthouse in the afternoon of Monday 14th September I could see by the glum expressions on his parents faces that their bid had failed. This was no longer going to be a simple task and it could drag on for a long time. I asked how he was doing as I knew that they had gone to visit him at the prison on Friday. She then tearfully said it was bad. Someone had already tried to rape * him. His aunt then said that she was going to the prison the next day to find out what she could do. Her father is a village headman and they hoped that he might be able to use his influence to do something.
Then his mother said, Do you want to go and visit him? I said, “Where? Do you mean here at the courthouse?” She said “yes”. He had apparently been brought back to the courthouse on the off chance that he would be granted bail. I was feeling a bit braver compared to last time so I followed her to the waiting area in front of the lockup. This time I was expecting the smell so it didn’t throw me so much. She gave the guard her i.d. card and then got a queue number from him in return. She said that she had already been in to see him so I would be going in alone. I wasn’t at all nervous this time as I knew what to expect. Obviously everyone was staring at me as I was the only foreigner there. But, I just ignored it all. About five minutes later my number was called and the friendly guard waved me through the door to the lockup on the other side.
Now this was a bit nerve racking. He didn’t know I was coming and I wasn’t sure if I would recognize him. It wasn’t just the thick wire mesh and the dimly lit room. Nor the two metre wide corridor between us. I knew that he would no longer be wearing civilian clothes. He would be wearing the brown prison uniform. He would also be shackled at his feet. Plus I knew that they would have shaved off his hair. I walked up and down the wire fence a few times desperately trying to spot him. On the other side all I could see were dozens and dozens of faces staring back at me. All of them looking much the same in the dim light. Then there was a glimmer of recognition and my former student stood up and came to the wire fence.
As I told you before, the only way we could communicate was with the use of telephones. But as the line wasn’t that good, and because there were about a hundred prisoners milling around behind him, we had to shout to be heard. How on earth you can have a normal conversation by shouting I have no idea. “How are you doing?”, I shouted. ” Doing good” he replied. We only had ten minutes so we couldn’t talk for long. I couldn’t bring myself to ask him about conditions in the prison. It was a sensitive subject and certainly something you couldn’t shout about. “What did you say? Someone tried to rape you? Shout it again.”
He told me that he was worried about his daughter. Since his wife had run off with another man, his daughter had been living with his parents. They were only teenagers when they got married. Their baby daughter had been born out of wedlock which is increasingly becoming a common story these days in Thailand. His parents barely had enough money to look after themselves, so he had been giving them most of his wages up to now. He made me promise that I would do everything I could to make sure his baby daughter was well looked after. I couldn’t hear what he said at first and so he had to shout again. I assured him I would look after her for him until he got out. That is when he started to cry and things went downhill from there. He also said he was worried about his new girlfriend of 10 months. He feared that she wouldn’t wait for him. He was sobbing more now and I was finding it difficult to hear him. I told him again that I would look out for his family and said that I would go and visit him at Klong Dan Prison on Friday.
Tomorrow I will tell you about what it is like to visit a Thai prison.
(*) A few months later I asked him about this attempted “rape” incident. He told me that he realised later that they were only trying to tease him. It is a kind of hazing they do for all new inmates. This kind of thing has such a bad reputation that it scares most new prisoners. In reality, cases of rape in this prison are very rare. If it happens, he told me, it is more likely to happen to a young male from Myanmar. Due to the language problem, they won’t usually report the incident. Plus, after 48 days they are deported back to their homecountry. Everyone knows that.