Surviving in a Thai Prison

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 according to the Thai Prison Blogs over at our sister site www.ThaiPrisonLife.com. 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. Well, most of them.

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 www.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 www.ThaiPrisonLife.com have been sending me English novels. I have then been passing them on to the foreign prisoners.

Click for Part Two >>>

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Tomorrow we will touch on the subject of ladyboys, gang rapes and how Gor got a promotion. I will also ask him how he spent Songkran in a Thai prison.

You can read more about Gor in his autobiography called “Thailand Life” which will be published in May 2007. It will be available in all good book stores in Thailand and on the Internet at www.BuyThaiBooks.com. The archives for these Prison Blogs can be found at www.ThaiPrisonLife.com.

Please consider sending Gor a postcard to this address:

Panrit Daoruang (Dan 2, 2/2)
Samut Prakan Central Prison
333 Sukhumwit Road, Tambon Klong Dan,
Amphoe Bang Bo, Samut Prakan Province, 10550 Thailand

12 responses to “Surviving in a Thai Prison

  1. Thanks Richard for bringing these updates. I was wondering how Gor was surviving in prison. The time has gone quickly though I guess not so fast for him. I will certainly send him a postcard. I look forward to reading his book.

  2. “Tomorrow we will touch on the subject of ladyboys, gang rapes and how Gor got a promotion.”

    Not exactly your typical thai.blogs.com stay tuned for part two message!

    I find these blogs fascinating. Congrats too on the book to you and Gor both Richard! That’s great. I’ll certainly pick up a copy.

  3. Thanks for showing us how it is. It is good that Gor is doing what he can for the foreigners in the prison. I can imagine what it is like being so far from home. Please let us know when his book comes out.

  4. @ Wow – yes sorry that was a little bit melodramatic. You can of course trust us to cover these topics with the utmost delicacy. Which will of course leave some people disappointed. For them they will have to wait for the second book which should be out towards the end of 2008. Maybe earlier if we are lucky. Obviously Gor cannot reveal literally everything while he is still in prison.

    @ Jackie – We will announce here for sure when his autobiography comes out. It is at the printers at the moment. The publisher has already sent me the cover which is looking good. Apparently I will receive the gallery today which is a kind of a mock-up of how the book will look. Then I will take that to show Gor tomorrow. If he approves, then the book could be printed and bound within a week. Gor is obviously getting very excited about this and cannot wait to see the finished book.

    @ Steve Suphan – Gor really appreciated your visit. Even though he has been receiving quite a few letters, you are actually the first one to visit from the blogs/forums. Others keep promising but none have shown up yet. Gor said the reason the visit was cut short was becase so many people were visiting before Songkran holiday. Normally they do 13 rounds of visits in the morning but that day they squeezed in 20 rounds.

    I too was surprised how respectable looking most of the visitors/relatives were in the waiting room. I am not sure how one would spot a criminal but most of these people looked like anyone you would meet at the shopping mall. Though I did spot one toddler who was playing with a toy gun. I wonder what he is going to be when he grows up!

  5. Steve Suphan

    As Gor mentioned,I went to visit him alongside Richard a short while ago. I was surprised to find Gor in a jolly mood and he didnt seem to me to be too much down in the dumps.

    Even though the official sign says 20 minutes per visit, myself and Richard ended up with only 12 – which isnt exactly too long to
    speak with someone you havent met for the past 6 months.

    One thing that surprised me while waiting for the visit was that some of the other visitors
    looked like they were well-to-do city folk. Of course, before i went i imagined all the other visitors to kinda like junkie friends of the inmates etc…

    Anyway, Richard is taking care of N’Grace really well and i was delighted to see how her English skills were developing so rapidly. It was kinda like Richard was adopting her. Keep up the good work Richard.

    If Gor continues behaving well, we could be seeing him sooner rather than later.

  6. “If Gor continues behaving well, we could be seeing him sooner rather than later.”

    Amen to that, Steve, and thanks for the update Richard.

  7. Richard thanks for updating Gor’s situation to us, and like Steve I hope he may get out sooner then we hoped.

    Gor mentioned how he wants more Harry Potter books, I was wondering if anyone thought of getting him the newest one *Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows* that I believe comes out at the end of July, or will that come out of the money that is being donated to him. Either way I though it would be nice for him to have the newest book as soon as is available.

    That of course if he allready finished all the other ones preceeding the latest book.

    My regards to him, I wish him all the best that he can possible get and more. I hope to one day be able to finally meet the person responsable for my undying love to Thailand.

    Richard thank you for all the updates, can’t wait until I know more about Gor. Thank you.

  8. I have to agree with Zuleyka. Gor first introduced me to Thailand on his website when I was doing a project back in high school about eight years ago. Then later he taught me Thai when I was preparing my first trip to Thailand. I just got married and we will be going to Thailand on our honeymoon. My love of Thailand and its people are mainly because of Gor. I cried genuine tears when I first read that he had gone to prison. After all he has done for Thailand. I am glad to read here that he is doing okay. I pray for him often. I hope that we can visit him during our holiday.

  9. @ Zuleyka – Gor has already read all of the Harry Potter books. If you read the drug interviews you will see that Harry Potter was not only his first novel, but also helped him keep away from drugs. He has only been reading the Thai translation so far. But he is excited to be able to read the English version when it comes out in July. We will be buying it for him with the money that people have donated to help support him and his daughter.

    @ Sasha – If you wish to visit Gor then please contact me in advance so that we can arrange your visit. Thanks for your thoughts about Gor. He does appreciate people thinking about him. Please consider sending him a postcard. His address is on the blog.

  10. Johan "Jay" Funk

    I was relased from the grips of Dan 2 on the 19th of May. Richard, I believe you would be visiting me this Friday if I had stayed.
    Like many people inside, Gor befriended my and asked that I give him some feed back about his first published book. I was impressed to say the least and am humbly respectful and greatful that you, Richard were brought into Gors life. Gor will be ok despite the long days he has before him. I know, as dose he that this is all temporary. I feel grief for many people inside the barbewire walls of S.P.C.P and want to cry everyday when I think of the good people I met who are facing one year for faulty passports. I know this is a serious offense but feel for the families who have no clue as to their loved ones whereabouts. As a forigner it is impossible to make a phone call or even send a letter outside Bangkok once inside. What ever you believe in, who ever you belive in, please pray, think, send love and white light to all those in need who are for now, inside of a Thai Prison, or why not, Any Prison. To any and all who read these words, charish your freedom give more than you take and love one an other with all your heart.

  11. I am glad to hear that you are now free.

  12. @ Johan – I visited Gor this morning in the prison. He told me all about you. He says he misses you already and would like you to keep in touch. He wishes you well with your court case and he hopes that you will be able to stay free. I’ll be visiting Michael and Darren this Friday. New people are coming all the time.