Last month I was telling you about the court case of one of my former students. He had been arrested last year for possession of drugs. The police found amphetamines pills on him. These are known locally as “yaa baa” or “crazy medicine”. The pills are not as strong as other drugs like heroin but they are addictive nevertheless. They were popular with truck drivers as it enabled them to stay awake all night. However, there were side affects which affected the brain and rational thinking. My former student first became addicted to “yaa baa” when he was 15. Many of his school friends at that time were also taking the drug. He tried to quit many times but it was very difficult.
After he was arrested in August last year he did in fact manage to turn his life around. For the year that he was out on bail, he managed to stay clean and was able to concentrate on his family and work. His court case was a few months ago. At that time we didn’t know what the judge would do. In many countries he would have just been given a warning or at the least community service. But, in Thailand, penalties for drugs are harsh. I have heard of sentences of 15 years just for a handful of pills. In the end I think he was lucky. I think the judge took into account that he had a regular job with a responsible position, had a family to support and that this was his first offence. He had also taken the advice of the judge and pleaded guilty. My former student was sentenced to three years in prison. His friend, who pleaded not guilty, was sentenced to six years.
I have already written about my experience of visiting him in the Thai prison for the first time. Over the past month I have been visiting him regularly in order to interview him about his life in prison. This wasn’t easy for me to do. Prisoners are only allowed one visit per day and each visit is only 15-20 minutes long. I wasn’t allowed to take a recording device so I had to write all of his answers down longhand. Then when I returned home I typed it up. The first interview is now over and you can read it below. I took it to him this morning in order to check the details. This first story is about his first day in an adult prison. If you would like to read the background story then you can now visit the website that we have set up for him. Details are at the bottom of this page.
What was going through your head when you left the courthouse on the prison bus? I was in complete shock. It felt like the world as I knew it was coming to an end. I had known for a year that this day would come but I tried to block it from my mind. I knew I would never see anything the same again. It was like a nightmare and I couldn’t wake up. I don’t remember driving through the city.
What happened when you first arrived at the prison? They took us to an area where we were told to take off all our clothes. We were then given a full body search by the prison guards. Not just the new prisoners but the older ones too that had been to the courthouse. I was then given some brown prison clothes. These were a simple shirt and shorts. Then all of the new prisoners were interviewed and a record made by some other people. I thought they were guards at first but I later found out that they were trustees. These are prisoners who have some power like the guards. They took down details like my name and address, occupation and the name of my parents. I was then fingerprinted. After this the trustees took us to an open area on the ground floor of one of the prison buildings. This is like a canteen. We were given brown rice and a kind of soup.
Where were you taken next? They took us up to our cell. For the first few days all of the new prisoners are kept together and then split up around the prison. We were taken to a cell that already looked full but I later found out was only half full. It was already early evening by this time and all of the prisoners had already been locked up in their cells. They were watching a movie on VCD. The cell boss told us where we could sleep on the floor. There was no mattress, no blankets and no pillows. The space we were allowed was marked by the blanket of a prisoner on either side. They had been here longer and had bought extra space so they were able to sleep on their backs. I was only allowed to sleep on my side. We slept head to foot. Meaning the feet of the prisoners on either side were near my head. I recognized one of the prisoners in the cell as a friend of my friend. We talked and watched t.v. for a while. Then at 9 p.m. the television in every cell was turned off and the cell boss told us to go to sleep. However, the light in the cell was kept on all night.
I will post part two tomorrow. A number of you already know my former student through his websites and his work in promoting life in Thailand and the Thai language. As you can imagine, life in a Thai prison is pretty mundane and the highlight of their day is receiving visitors and letters. If you have the time, he would be delighted to receive a letter from you. Or even a postcard of your local area. You can find out more information about this on the website www.ThaiPrisonLife.com.