Contact Visit at a Thai Prison

Prison Factory

Inmates in Thai prisons are confined in their overcrowded cells for at least 14 hours a day. Each room was built to house only 25 prisoners sleeping on the floor with no furniture and only one open toilet in the corner. These days, due to an increase in drug addiction, cells now hold as many as 65 inmates. Floor space is at a premium and new prisoners are only given enough space to sleep on their side, wedged into a narrow space between two other prisoners. A trip to the toilet at night would awake everyone in the cell, where the lights are never turned off. If you have financial support from the outside, then you can “buy” extra space on the floor and a few other comforts such as a mat and an empty pillowcase which you can stuff with clothes.

Most Thai prisoners are set to work in the factories all day doing menial work. They are making furniture or other local products which are then sold for great profit. The prisoners are given a small amount of this profit for their effort. The argument is that they should be grateful that they are being taught a trade. Which, in many cases, can be life saving once they are released from the prison. One of the drawbacks of overcrowding, is that hardened criminals such as murderers, rapists and drug dealers are mixed in with the petty criminals and first time offenders such as drug addicts who may only be 18 years old. Once they leave prison, many of these prisoners have learned the wrong kind of trade and have picked up tips and contacts that will give them a criminal career for life.

Exercise in the Prison Yard

The only break from the tedium of the repetitive and predictable daily schedule are visits from relatives and friends. However, they are only allowed one visit per day and the meeting lasts less than twenty minutes. On busy days, the visits can be cut to less than 15 minutes. In the bigger prisons, each cell block will take turns to have visits so then there might only be an opportunity to have visits twice a week. At the weekend, the prison is closed and the boredom is increased tenfold as the prisoner don’t even have any work to do. A normal visit is not like something you might have seen in Hollywood movies. There is no contact. In older prisons, you are separated by about a meter with thick wire mesh on both sides. You then have to shout to be heard. With at least fifty prisoners and their relatives all shouting to be heard, you can imagine the noise.

These days, many prisons now use a telephone system. You are then separated this time with a thick perspex glass and wire mesh. Once your time is up, the phone lines are cut dead and there is no warning. The only farewell you can give is a wave or try to shout through the perspex. For prisoners that are well-behaved, there is a chance once or twice a year to have a “contact visit”. However, don’t make the mistake in thinking that this is a congenial visit between a husband and his wife that you sometimes hear about in American prisons. A “contact visit” in Thailand is more like an open day at the local prison for relatives to go and sit at tables on the football pitch and eat a meal together. Entertainment is also provided with singing on a temporary stage.

Guards Searching Prisoner’s Lockers

Panrit Daoruang, more popularly known as Gor, has been in prison now for two years for a drug possession charge. He has only one year left to serve now. Although Gor has been a model prisoner helping the guards to communicate with the foreign prisoners and working in the office, he only recently had the chance to have his first contact visit. This is because that for the last two years he has been awaiting the results of his appeal. If knew back then how long that would have taken then he probably wouldn’t have bothered. He wasn’t appealing the guilty verdict but the length of sentence. It was actually his lawyers idea. As his case wasn’t closed until recently, he wasn’t eligible for contact visits. He also didn’t benefit from the nationwide pardon announced on H.M. The King’s birthday late last year. Some people had their sentences reduced or were set free. But, Gor didn’t get anything out of it.

He also won’t get any time off for good behaviour as he has only just been graded. Once a prisoner’s case has been closed, he is given an “average grade”. Then, every six months this is reviewed and can either be increased or decreased depending on their behaviour. If he then gets enough points on his grade, he can apply for parole once he has served at least two thirds of his sentence. By the time Gor’s grade is high enough, it will be time for him to leave anyway. His only hope is that there will be another national pardon which might reduce his sentence or at least revoke the heavy fine that he received. Rumours are flying around the prison at the moment that there might be a pardon to mark the cremation ceremony for H.M. The King’s elder sister. Sometimes they do pardons in order to make merit for a person or an event.

Thai Boxing Instruction

Last month, Gor’s parents asked me if I would be interested to join them for a contact visit to see Gor inside the prison. I immediately said “yes”. Though, to be honest, my interest was more the opportunity to go inside the prison gates than it was to see Gor face to face. But, don’t tell him that. Going along for the visit was also his grandmother, brother and his young daughter, Nong Grace, who is now five years old. Since Gor has been in prison, Nong Grace has been brought up by her grandparents. She also spends about 2-3 hours per day during the week with me and I sometimes take her out at the weekend when I go out for site inspections at tourist attractions around the region. Her English is now very good. She likes English story books and watching English language cartoons on cable t.v.

Click here to read about the contact visit inside the prison.

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