The Courthouse Lockup

This is now the final part of the series of blogs I have written about my two days in a Criminal Court in Thailand. The time between the court case and the reading of the verdict was an agonizing nine days. Defendant number two obviously didn’t get much sleep in the days leading up to the verdict. At 9.34 a.m. on Thursday 10th September 2006, defendant number two was sentenced to three years in prison. It was a shock for all of us, but at the same time strangely relieving. Not only because it was finally over, but also because it could have been a lot worse. With good behaviour he could get out in two years. For us it was the end of a one year wait. He had originally been arrested on August 14th 2005, one year ago. He had been beaten up by one of the policemen in order to extract a confession. His parents bailed him out using their house as security.

We left my former student in the courtroom and made our way down to the ground floor. His aunt had been the one organizing the paperwork and lawyers and she got to work immediately sorting out the next step. Three things needed to be done. Separating the evidence, applying for the appeal court and applying for bail. I didn’t think it would take so long so I decided to hang around. But, lunch time came and they were no further forward. The paperwork wasn’t in order and they had to resubmit it after lunch. His mother then asked me if I wanted to go and visit him in the lockup. I said no initially as the thought of going to that place freaked me out. But then I changed my mind. It was bound to be a lot worse for him.

So, she went off to get a number for the queue. Relatives are allowed to bring food for their lunch. So, she also went to get some fried rice. Then we went to the waiting area. His girlfriend and brother went too. It was the smell that hit me first. It was so out of place in Thailand. Thai people are normally very hygienic and shower several times a day. But, this stench was bad. By this time they had already started calling out numbers and people were going in about ten at a time. Every time they opened the door the smell became worse. It was obvious that the lock-up was behind this wall. I could hear people shouting. At the top of the wall there were vents which explained the smell. About ten minutes later they called our number and we went in.

The area we went into was dimly lit. We were told to go to the left for the male prisoners. In front of us was a thick wire mesh that went from floor to ceiling. There was then a two metre wide corridor which was patrolled by guards. Then on the other side there was another wire mesh. The sparse room on the other side was large. The prisoners are not told when someone has come to visit them so you have to try your best to attract their attention. They then come to the wire mesh where there is a row of telephones. This is how we communicated. However, the line wasn’t that good so everyone had to shout. And because everyone was shouting it made it difficult to hear. It didn’t help that there were also 80 or so other prisoners in the room also talking loudly to each other. I didn’t say anything. What could I say? I just smiled and nodded at him and then left. It was very upsetting.

The afternoon dragged on and they weren’t getting anywhere with the paperwork. It was now a race against time. There are two prison buses per day. The first one leaves at lunch time. The last one leaves at 4.30 p.m. We all knew that once he enters the prison and gets processed, the harder it will be to get bail. Time was running out fast. The paperwork was wrong again. There was an error in one of the documents. The junior lawyer ran back to his office to get it retyped. But, we all knew it was too late. In the distance we could hear the distinct sound of the chains. They had started to move. They were getting ready to load the prisoners onto the bus. I went outside and stood near the fence separating us and the prison bus. It started to spit with rain but I didn’t care.

About ten minutes later the first prisoners emerged from the building in pairs. They were holding hands like Sunday school students about to go on a picnic. However, they wore prison clothes and were shackled at the feet. They hopped up the steps of the bus as if they had done that many times before. I had looked for my student but couldn’t see him. We waited another ten minutes and then finally the next group of prisoners came out. These were the ones that had been sentenced on that day and weren’t wearing the brown prison clothes. They also weren’t shackled. However, they were stripped to the waist and came running out of the building in pairs with their arms around each others shoulders.

We moved around to the side of the bus. Some relatives were already talking to their loved ones. We couldn’t really see inside the bus. All we could see were their fingers poking out through the wire mesh and their faces. You had to shout to be heard. His girlfriend was standing beside me. Her eyes were red but she wasn’t visibly crying. She was trying her best to smile. They weren’t saying much. What could you say? Looking back behind me I could see his mother standing with the rest of his relatives. She was crying hard and they were trying to comfort her. We all knew that this moment was going to come but it was still shocking nevertheless. I tried my best not to think too much and just kept my chin up. I had no idea what lay ahead for him. All I knew was from the books I had read and the movies I had seen. I knew full well that the environment he was about to enter was full of danger.

As the bus pulled out I waved and said a silent prayer. He was now heading to the prison and there was nothing any of us could do. I wondered what it was going to be like for him, his first night in a Thai prison.

To be continued….

8 responses to “The Courthouse Lockup