Surviving in a Thai Prison

April 18, 2007
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Over the years, there have been many books about life in a Thai prison written by foreigners. They talk about sadistic guards and having to eat cockroaches in order to survive. The reality is far different. These prison blogs are the only account of life on the inside as written by a Thai person in the English language. Nothing has been sensationalized. The prisoner is the well known Internet celebrity Panrit “Gor” Daoruang who leaped to fame for his personal blog at www.ThailandLife.com. Panrit, who was previously known as Nattawud before a monk suggested he should change his name for good luck, has been writing about his life for the past ten years since the age of only twelve. When he was only 16, this Thai teenager was invited by the Bangkok Post to write a weekly column about his life. Gor’s autobiography is due to hit the bookstores in May 2007. It tells the story of his teenage years and the events that lead up to his imprisonment. Gor is currently writing the second volume which is about his life in a Thai prison. I am really jealous that he has already published his autobiography at the age of 21.

I have been visiting Gor and other foreign prisoners in Samut Prakan Central Prison for about six months now. Everyone knows me there. Of course I would much prefer to fly under the radar, but as I seem to be the only foreigner each time I go, it is rather difficult to remain inconspicuous. The first few times I visited the prison I was really nervous. It is not exactly like going to visit the dentists. In some ways it is worse. In Thai society there is a lot of stigma involved. I have been having trouble persuading Thai friends to go along too. Some are even worried about writing letters to the prison in case a neighbour spots the address. It doesn’t worry me so much. I am more worried of being wrongly accused of something and ending up on the wrong side of the wall myself! Everytime I drive to the prison I always drive with the utmost care so that I don’t run anyone down. Now that I have been there many times things are more relaxed. I took a foreigner there the other month and he said that he was pleasantly surprised that all of the visitors were quite respectable. The prison staff are also quite pleasent and chatty.

The following are some of Gor’s prison blogs that he dictated to me during my visits.

It is now 6 months since you have been in prison. Can you give us an idea of what is happening in your life now?

Well, at the moment I have a really bad toothache. For people living on the outside, a toothache is not really a big deal. You can visit your local drug store to get some pain killer or go to your dentist if it gets really bad. However, here in prison, we have to wait for the doctor to visit our section on Mondays. If we are ill, or think we are going to be ill, we can apply for a doctor’s appointment on Friday afternoon. Then we are allowed to go and see him on the Monday. However, there isn’t usually much he can do to help. He usually just gives us a Paracetamol. This is mainly for headaches but he will give it to you for most problems. This is because he has now run out of the proper drugs. There is no more money for the prison to buy any more medicine and we will have to wait for about two months for the next shipment. These deliveries are only two or three times a year. It is free so we cannot really complain. If you are ill during the week, you can ask special permission to go and visit the doctor in a neighbouring area on Thursdays. However, everyone has to go there at the same time. Most people have problems like sore throat, headache and skin infections. As there are 50 people in a cell, diseases spread fast.

On your website, people have been donating money to help support you. Can you tell us how this money is being spent?

First I want to say a big “thank you” to the people that have been helping me and my daughter during this difficult period of my life. I really do appreciate people thinking of me at this time. It brings tears to my eyes how generous people are being. I won’t forget their kindness. I would like to write to them, but I am only allowed to send out one letter per week. At the moment they won’t let me write a letter in English because none of the guards can read English.

In prison, everyone is allowed to have a bank account. The money belongs to us but we are not allowed to actually touch any cash. So, if we would like some money to buy some lunch, we need to ask the cell boss for a voucher in the morning. We then get this in the afternoon of the following day. So, you need to plan ahead. From the money that is donated to me, 4,000 baht is put in my account each month. I then buy at least 100 baht worth of vouchers every day. I mainly use this for food. That is breakfast and dinner. A plate of curry and rice is 25 baht. Then there are sweets too. I also buy food for the people that help me. For lunch I often eat food that is left over from the guards where I work. I also buy packets of cigarettes which is like cash inside. I use these to pay people to do favours for me.

Sometimes there are other things I need to buy. Like the other day I had to buy a new padlock for my locker because I lost the key. Or I might buy some shampoo or soap or boxer shorts. Today I will have to buy some new shoes. My last pair were confiscated by a guard. You are not really supposed to take your shoes up to the cell. The guards usually let me as they know me. But today there was a strict guard and he took my shoes and threw them away. Although we are allowed as much as we like in the bank account, we are not allowed to take out more than 200 baht per day (about $5).We also have to spend all the vouchers that day or we will lose the money. In order to survive, it is really important to have people on the outside helping you. The prison only gets 33 baht per prisoner per day from the government in order to feed and house everyone. Obviously less than $1 budget per day isn’t a lot and so the food and living conditions are very bad.

Satellite view of Samut Prakan Central Prison. Klong Dan

 

The only way we can get extra food in one day is if someone from the outside buys something in the prison shop. Steve (from thai-blogs.com) kindly bought me some curries and fruit the other day. If people buy us something like soap or mama noodles we get it that afternoon. If they bought us a meal, we then get it the following day. People can also send us things through the post office. Though they have to make sure that there is no metal or silver foil in the parcel. For example, the foil sealing a tube of toothpaste will set off the alarms and the parcel will be sent back. Once I even had a book sent to me that had a silver sticker on it. That was also returned to sender.

With the money left over, I usually ask for books to be sent to me. It is very boring in prison and reading is one way to pass the time. I just asked for another of the Harry Potter books to be sent to me. I like them because they are very thick. I was also sent a Thai chess set. Then each month I also have some money sent to my mother who is looking after Nong Grace. She will be starting Kindergarten in May and so there are lots of things to buy for her. I want her to learn English so we bought flashcards, video CDs, computer software and books.

Are there a lot of foreigners in the prison now?

There are hundreds and hundreds of them. They come nearly every day now. I think this is because the new airport is in Samut Prakan Province. Most foreigners are from the neighbouring countries. There are also a lot of Africans. New foreigners come every day and it is my job to interview them and to take down their details. At the moment we have only three farang prisoners. The one that has been here the longest is from Scotland. He had a problem with his Thai girlfriend and was later robbed by her friends. On the way home, at the airport, he was really depressed and got drunk. He then got into an argument with the waiters. They started fighting and the guy from Scotland grabbed a knife from the counter top and cut the waiter’s arm. Not too seriously. However, he is here now for attempted murder. He has been here for about five months and it will probably be a year before he goes to trial. I feel very sorry for him and try to help.

The other two foreigners haven’t been here long. One guy from Australia stole something at the airport. He has already been sentenced to 6 months. The other guy is from America. I am not sure yet, but I think there is something wrong with his visa. He hasn’t been sentenced yet, but people with passport problems all get a minimum of one year in prison. But, if you are 19 or younger you are given 6 months in prison. I will try and find out more about him. Anyone who is caught with a lot of drugs at the airport are not sent here. We are not a maximum security prison. Our local one is in Rayong which is for prisoners with a sentence of 25 years or more. Some visitors to my website have been sending me English novels. I have then been passing them on to the foreign prisoners.

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