This picture of the prison cell is scanned from a brochure. It gives you an idea about the size of the cell. Behind the photographer is the open toilet. The width of the cell is 4 metres. The length is about 8 metres. You probably can see about 5 metres in this picture. So, this shows more than half of the cell. However, you can only see enough sleeping mats for 23 people. This cell has over 50 people! This is a bit of a propaganda picture. There are in fact two rows in the middle which doesn’t give them much room to walk to the toilet. Also, no-one has comfortable beds and pillows like this. About 60% of the prisoners in his cell sleep on the bare floor. They also sleep on their side because there isn’t enough room. The only people that sleep on their back are prisoners who have bought extra space.
This is continuing the story of An Average day for a Thai Prisoner in a prison in Thailand. This is a real person who is known by thousands of people around the world. It is not a fictional story and is happening now. For full background information and the archives, please visit www.ThaiPrisonLife.com.
These are his words…..
After breakfast, the new prisoners have to line up in the parade ground for the first month for the national anthem at 8 a.m. They also have to do army exercises. I don’t have to do this as I have a job in the office. When we hear the national anthem, we have to stand to attention wherever we are. Then, as soon as it is over, I then go to my work place. Before I forget, I should tell you how we are supposed to behave in front of the guards. In some ways it is a bit like at school. If a guard walks past us we should turn to the side and stop to allow him room. If we walk past a guard who is standing still, we should go up to him, give a short bow, and then walk on.
This morning, I was only at work for about fifteen minutes when my name was called to go to the visitor’s room. At the moment I have visitors about three or four times a week so I keep my prison uniform at the office just in case. Inside the prison we are allowed to wear our normal clothes. However, the visitor’s room is on the other side of the wall so we have to change first. It is the same if we have to go to court. This only takes a minute and then I head over to the control area by the front gate. There are two visitor rooms. At 8.30 a.m. we are let in for the first round of the day. There are thirteen rounds in the morning for male prisoners. You are only allowed one visitor per day. At that stage we don’t know who has come to visit us. Less than a minute later the relatives and friends of the prisoners come running up to the window. We get exactly 20 minutes to talk before the phone lines are cut. So, everyone is quick. Having visitors and receiving mail is the highlight of my day. It doesn’t happen every day so I look forward to when it does happen.
During the week I work in the records office. In the office there is one other prisoner who works with me. My grandfather knows a guard and he got me this job. I spend most of my day writing or typing up records, either for new prisoners or for prisoners who are transferring to other prisons. After the guards found out that I am fluent in English they made me the official translator. So, whenever a foreign prisoner comes to the prison for the first time, I am called to the control area to interview them. I have to ask them questions and then write down the answers in Thai. There are 30 prisoners from places like Singapore, Hong Kong, the Middle East and Africa. There are also two farang prisoners. One of them used to teach English in Northern Thailand. He said he recognized me because he used to use my Bangkok Post column with his students. Another of the foreign prisoners also recognized me. It is funny because I have never been recognized on the street before. But, as soon I go to prison they start recognizing me. In total there are 590 foreign prisoners. However, most of these are from neighbouring countries like Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
I spend most of my day around the office. Sometimes one of the foreign prisoners will come to me for help. Other times the guards will call for me over the loudspeakers to go and assist them with a foreign prisoner. So, I am kept busy. Now it is starting to be very hard work as some of the foreign prisoners are becoming annoying. They demand so much and don’t understand why things cannot be done straight away. They sometimes get angry with me but there is nothing can do. I am a prisoner too. At the moment they get some special privileges. But I heard one of the guards say that this might stop soon as they complain too much. We don’t really get a proper lunch break. I usually eat outside the office. Sometimes I go and buy food for myself but other times the guards give us their left over food. I am also a bit like an office boy because the guards get me to run errands for them.
I finish work at about 3 p.m. This is when we all go to take a shower. We also have our last meal for the day at that time. By 4 p.m. we have to line up on the second floor of our building. We line up with other people from our cell. This area is like a factory floor because some people work here during the day. We are then taken up to our cell where we are locked in. Another head count is then done to make sure that we are all there. About this time they turn on the television. This is either a karaoke song or a movie. It is usually turned on until about 9 p.m. Sometimes they are late turning it on. The thing I don’t like is that they don’t wait until the end of the movie before they switch it off. So we often don’t know what happens at the end. Everyone in the cell has to take turns standing guard during the night for one hour. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can always bribe someone else to take your turn.
At the moment I am reading my Harry Potter book a lot. I have nearly finished it. Hopefully someone can send me the next book as you cannot buy books inside prison. I also sometimes play chess. At about 8.30 p.m. our cell boss tells everyone to go to sleep. However, I cannot get to sleep until after 9.30 p.m. It wasn’t easy sleeping at first because they keep the light on all night. We are locked in this cell for about 14 hours. Our cell has a window and I can look out at the road beyond the wall. Sometimes I can see a bus driving past. During the night I often dream of leaving the prison and catching that bus. But, I know that won’t happen for a long time.
At 6.30 a.m. we are let out and the day starts again. When I was a free person I always looked forward to the weekends. But, not so much in prison. At the weekend there isn’t much to do. We aren’t allowed visitors and we don’t go to work. We cannot hang around the cell. Everyone has to go down to the ground floor. In my section there are over 1,600 people. There isn’t a lot of space. It is also very noisy at the weekend. Some people play football and others play takraw. I sometimes play football but I often just watch. Some people gamble by playing “hi-lo” with tamarind seeds. But, this is against the rules. The other weekend a fight broke out between two of the football players. One of them nearly got killed. I guess that was the highlight of that day.
Day to day life is much the same for him. Very mundane and boring. As he said in the blog, it is really exciting for him when his name is called to pick up some letters. If you have the time, please consider sending him a letter or a new year’s card. You can find the address here.
For the next Thai Prison Blog, we would like to invite you to email us your questions and we will then try and put together a kind of FAQ on Thai Prisons.