Category Archives: Thai Prison Life

Overcrowding in Thai Prisons

This is a rare photograph that gives you a good idea of how overcrowded prisons are in Thailand. Unlike their American or European counterparts, Thai prisoners live in open rooms with no beds or furniture of any kind. They aren’t even given any bedding. Sheets can be bought and some people stuff these with old clothes in order to make pillows. Each cell is about four metres by seven metres. On each side, people are lying side by side with their feet facing the middle. Then, down the center of the cell, there are two rows of other prisoners. There are on average at least 50 prisoners in this one cell. There isn’t enough room for all of them to lie on their back. New prisoners are only allocated another room to lie on their side. They are packed in so tightly that they cannot turn over. If they have any money, they can bribe the cell boss to let them lie on their backs. But, there isn’t enough room for them to all do that.

The prisoners have already eaten and showered by 3.30 p.m. and then they are taken up to their cells. There are only two fans so you can imagine with so many people in the cell that it heats up quickly and the smell from sweaty bodies becomes overpowering. The squat toilet is at the far end of the cell. This has a low wall about two feet high. Imagine what it would be like if you needed to answer the call of nature during the night and had to clamber over all these bodies. At least the lights are kept on all the time. But then, that is also a curse because it makes it difficult to sleep. The prisoners are locked in here for 14 hours per day. They are not allowed to bring any food up to the cells. If you have enough money, you can bribe the cell boss and prison guards to allow you to be transferred to another cell. But, they are all much the same as each other.

It wasn’t always like this. Since the government declared an anti drug policy in 1998, the prison population increased greatly. In fact, 60% of the prison population today are there due to narcotic offences. In the past, property crime was the biggest offence. But now, that is only 19%. As a result, Thailand has one of the highest ratio of prisoners to population in the world. The following is a chart of prison population over the last ten years. At present, there are 139 prisons around the Thailand with 245,033 sq.m. of sleeping space. The Department of Corrections stipulates that each prisoner should have 2.25 sq.m. each. That would mean a maximum prison population of 108,904 prisoners. The statistics show how badly the prisons are overcrowded.

1997 – 125,870 prisoners
1998 – 164,323 prisoners
1999 – 199,542 prisoners
2000 – 217,393 prisoners
2001 – 244,240 prisoners
2002 – 245,801 prisoners
2003 – 210,234 prisoners
2004 – 166,418 prisoners
2005 – 161,879 prisoners
2006 – 151,586 prisoners

Recognizing this problem, the Thai government undertook a number of measures to help reduce overcrowding. In 1999 and 2003 there were collective royal pardons. Then, in late 2003, the Narcotic Rehabilitation Act stipulated that drug offenders, especially those who were drug users, should be sent to Drug Rehabilitation Centers. Although there is a slow downward trend, it is not solving the main problem. The increase of drug offenders was only one reason for the increase in prisoners. There is also the problem of unsentenced offenders who make up a staggering 30% of the prison population. Normally these people should be sent to special remand prisons. But, due to the overcrowding, potentially innocent people are mixed in with hardened criminals. The courts are also crowded, so prisoners who cannot afford the bail may have to wait up to a year in prison awaiting trial. Then they might have to wait another year for their appeal to be heard.

The third reason for overcrowding in Thai prisons is the liberal use of imprisonment as a punishment. Even for petty crimes such as stealing, gambling and offences against traffic laws. In other countries, offenders are often given probation or suspended sentences. In my own province of Samut Prakan, I have been told that nearly twenty foreigners are arrested every month at the airport for stealing and are then sentenced by the courts to a minimum of 6 months. One person I know from America only stole some face wash and he got this sentence. Another was an elderly gentleman from Australia who stole a watch. He said he tried to pay for it straight away and any fine they wanted with his credit cards, but they insisted on arresting him and sending him to court. Then there are people in prison who just didn’t have enough money to pay the fine.

Apart from overcrowding, general prison conditions have improved over the years. Beatings by sadistic guards are less common. Even the food can be quite good. One foreign prisoner that I visited a few times at the notorious Bang Kwang Prison said that the best thing was the Thai food that he paid a Thai prisoner to cook for him. Basically if you have money then you can make your life a bit easier. From paying for extra space in the cell and for bedding, to having better food and even clean water to bathe in. But, the majority of the Thai prison population do not have anyone on the outside to support them and many of them are barely surviving.

Click here for my other blogs about the Thai Court System and Thailand Prisons. Some future blogs will include Tips for Surviving in a Thai Prison and How to Visit Bang Kwang Prison.

For more information about life in Thai prisons, please visit our sister site at

A Foreigner at Bang Kwang Prison

Bang kwang

I am not sure if you can call me a veteran prison visitor here in Thailand. Although I probably have over 60 prison visits under my belt, all of these have been to the same prison: Samut Prakan Central Prison. I was again there on Friday and met an Iraqi who was sentenced to one year for a forged passport. Quite common at the moment as they are keen to escape their war-torn country. At the same time, they are worried about being deported back there once their sentence has been completed. Another guy I visited a few times was born in Ghana but grew up in America. Since the age of four he has been using an American passport. But, this now turns out to have been forged. He is doing three years and is very worried about being deported back to Ghana. It may be the place of his birth, but he doesn’t speak the language and he no longer has any relations there. Most of these people ask me to help them contact the United Nations in Bangkok.

A few months back I did an interview with Susan Aldous who wrote the book The Angel of Bang Kwang. I asked her quite a few questions about what it was like to visit Bang Kwang, the notorious maximum security prison in Bangkok. Up to that point I had only visited foreign prisoners who committed petty crimes. Samut Prakan Central Prison is not a maximum security prison. No-one there is serving long sentences. Even that foreign prisoner I wrote about before who was arrested for attempted murder. He just got sentenced to six years and eight months. The prison is almost a second home to me as I have been there so many times now. Everyone there knows me. Even some of the visitors. I was there not long ago and I saw a foreigner with a folder full of printouts from our Thai Prison Life website. He was so happy to see me. As you know, I have been thinking for a few years about going to visit a foreign prisoner at Bang Kwang. I am not sure why I was so nervous. But, I finally got up enough courage to go recently.

I didn’t really want to go and visit an anonymous prisoner who I didn’t know. So, I did my homework first. The prisoner I linked up with was Steve Willcox from the United Kingdom. I first found out about him because his website has a link to our website and I spotted it in the statistics. His website gave the impression that he was making it by himself. It was basically a prison blog which talked about some of the horrific conditions inside the prison. There was even an email address for him. I was sure he wasn’t able to check the email himself, but I sent a letter anyway to introduce myself. The reply came from a young lady who told me that she was updating the website on Steve’s behalf. Basically, he sent out monthly newsletters to her and then she would type them up. She told me that he would love to hear from me as he was keen to have penfriends. She gave me his full address at Bangkwang.

Over the next month or so we wrote back and forth. I think Steve ended up writing more letters than me. And much longer too! I guess he had more time on his hands. A total of 33 years to be precise. I never asked him about what brought him to his present situation. But he volunteered some information anyway. He also told me that he was married to a Thai woman who had given birth to their son after he had been sent to prison. The boy is now four years old. I think surprisingly, she is still standing by him. Despite living far away in Loei in Northeastern-Thailand, she has been going to visit him every month for the past four years. When she can, she also brings along their son. This year Steve applied for a transfer to the UK prison system. At the same time, his wife applied for a visa to move to the UK to live with his parents. They thought that they had a strong case. His parents were acting as sponsors. They had a letter guaranteeing that she had a job waiting for her. They also had the documents showing that their son was a British citizen. Unfortunately, the British Embassy turned down her application. They didn’t say why.

At the same time, Steve’s application to transfer to the UK went through and last month he heard that he would be moving soon. What should have been a joyous occasion, now turned into mixed blessings. He would be going home to be closer to his parents. But his wife and son would now be on the other side of the world. By this time it was too late and there was nothing he could do to stop the process. He could only hope that his wife’s appeal would be successful. If he had known before that the British Embassy in Bangkok would turn his wife down he might not have applied for the transfer so quickly. Not all British prisoners at Bang Kwang opt to go home. They feel that in Thai prisons they get a certain amount of freedom that they wouldn’t get in an English prison system. Here the prison guards usually leave them alone. Steve once told me in one of his letters that he would miss the food the most. Apparently they paid a Thai ladyboy prisoner who cooked the best Thai food ever. He also said that in England he would be put in a maximum security prison with murderers and rapists. It didn’t matter if the same crime in the UK would only have been a few years. They put you in prisons to match your length of sentence which you then have to serve. Unlike in America where they often re-sentence you and often let you out in less than one year.

After about three or four letters I was ready to meet Steve in person. However, he warned me that there was now a new governor at Bang Kwang who was cracking down on backpackers turning the prison into a tourist attraction. He said that as a result he had hardly had a visit in the last few months. I rang Jeff Mitchell, my contact at the British Embassy, and he confirmed that even with a letter from the embassy they were now refusing visits if you weren’t a relation. I told him I was determined to try and he wished me good luck. I decided I would have a fair chance of getting in. I was going to dress smartly with shirt, tie and jacket. I had also done my homework so that I wouldn’t look like a lost tourist when I arrived. Steve told me that it was best for me to arrive in the morning at 9 a.m. He said that if I did that then we would get a 90 minute visit. In the afternoon you would only get 30 minutes. Even that is pretty good. When I was at Samut Prakan Prison last Wednesday with some people who wanted to visit Gor, we only got 15 minutes!

Visit for more information about life in Thai prisons. We also have many exclusive pictures taken inside the prison courtyard and cells.


Thailand’s Death Penalty

Chavoret Jaruboon preparing to execute a prisoner

This is the second part of the review of The Last Executioner (click here for part one).

Between 1984 and 2002, Chavoret Jaruboon shot dead 55 prisoners. In his autobiography, “The Last Executioner”, he describes some of the more notable cases. Two stories in particular stand out. One of them was of the execution of a man who pleaded his innocence right up to the last moment. He said that the real guilty party was the son of a policeman and that he was beaten into making a confession. During his execution, it looked like he was almost being saved by divine providence. When Chavoret pulled the trigger the gun jammed and it wouldn’t fire. He checked the gun but couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t fire. They then set up the spare machine gun. After it was carefully aimed, Chavoret then pulled the trigger. But, this one jammed too. The prisoner might have been saved, however, a quick thinking guard decided to search the prisoner more thoroughly. They then found a Buddhist amulet called Luang Phor Daeng hidden in his right armpit. They do say that some amulets are powerful enough to protect you from bullets. Or maybe the monk, whose image was on this amulet, was trying to protect an innocent man. Anyway, once the amulet was removed the gun became unjammed and the prisoner was executed.

Probably the most gruesome record of an execution of a prisoner described in the book was of Ginggaew, who was a maid and nanny for a wealthy family. She was only the second woman to have been executed by gun in Thailand. This happened on 13th January 1979, only three months after her arrest. Ginggaew had been fired from her job. She later claimed it was a dispute over the amount of money in her pay packet. She talked to her boyfriend about this and he came up with the plan of kidnapping their son and holding him for ransom. So, Ginggaew picked up the boy from school, like she had done many times in the past. She then left a randsom note that asked for 200,000 baht. The parents were instructed to take a train out of Bangkok, and at a designated place marked by a flag, they were to throw the cash out of the train window. Unfortunately, although the parents were on the train with the cash, they didn’t spot the flag. Enraged, the kidnappers turned on the boy and brutally stabbed him. Ginggaew tried to stop them but she was kicked away. Out of the six gang members who were arrested, three of them were sentenced to death. This included Ginggaew who didn’t take any part in the killing.

At this time, Chavoret had been promoted from prisoner escort to gun aimer. This is his account of that execution: “As she approached the room she had to be revived from another faint. I found this very difficult to deal with. Between us we finally got the stricken woman to the cross. She cried while they bound her at the waist, shoulders, and elbows. Her arms were brought up over the beam in a position of prayer. Still, she struggled and tried vainly to break free. The escorts pulled across the screen and fixed it so that the white square indicated where her heart was. They then stepped away out of range. I walked to the gun to load it and aim it at the target on the screen. I was aware that Ginggaew was still struggling. I secured the gun over her stifled sobs, locking it into position. When I was satisfied, I nodded at Prathom to take over. He took his position and at 5.40 p.m. exactly he released ten bullets into Ginggaew’s body”

The doctor went over to her body to check for a pulse. After he had pronounced her dead, her body was brought down from the cross and carried to the morgue in the adjacent room. Her chest was riddled with bullets and there was blood everywhere. The escort then went to bring in the next prisoner. While this man was being tied to the cross, everyone was distracted by a noise from the morgue. Looking through the open door they could see that Ginggaew was trying to raise herself from the slab. The escorts rushed back into the room. One of them turned her over and put pressure on her chest to make the blood gush out faster. Another tried to strangle her. But, Chavoret told them to stop. It was wrong of them to kill her in this manner. By this time the second prisoner had been shot and then removed to the morgue. So, they took her back to the execution room, tied her back to the cross and then all fifteen bullets were fired into her body. This time the doctor said she was definitely dead.

Fortunately, this barbaric method of execution has now been outlawed in Thailand. This was then replaced by lethal injection which was considered to be more humane. Though civil rights groups in American are campaigning that it is actual a painful way to die. According to the Department of Corrections, a prisoner is injected with three kinds of drugs consisting of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The first drug is a barbiturate which makes the prisoner unconscious. The second one is a muscle relaxant which can paralyze the entire muscle and stop breathing. The last one stops the heart and causes cardiac arrest. Hopefully there will be a time when the death penalty will be abolished in Thailand. For eight years during the 1990’s, it looked like that Thailand would no longer execute any of their prisoners on death row. However, 48 prisoners were then executed between 1997 and 2004. This suddenly stopped again, though who knows whether they will restart.

Some people objected to the previous book I reviewed called Escape by David McMillan. They argued that a criminal shouldn’t make money from his crime. However, I argued that his book was of historical importance as it is an account of the only foreigner to have escaped from Klong Prem Prison. Some people have also protested against the subject matter of The Last Executioner. They say that this gruesome tale shouldn’t be told. Nor should the executioner benefit from it. However, again I think this book is of historical importance. It is a record of execution methods in Thailand in the twentieth century told from the point of view of the executioner. To his credit, Chavoret never glamorizes his job nor dwells on death. He did not choose the job for himself. He only accepted it as it was seen as promotion and meant that the extra cash (2000 baht bonus per execution) could be used to put his three children through school. Now with royalties from this book, he could probably contribute to his grandchildren’s education.

“The Last Executioner” has been well written in the first person by ghost writer Nicola Pierce. This was the same writer that collaborated on the previous book I reviewed called “The Angel of Bang Kwang”. If you are interested in this genre, then I would highly recommend this book. It not only tells you about life growing up in the 60’s in Thailand, but also a slice of the history of Bang Kwang. After all, Chavoret has been working there now for more than 35 years in various roles. For the last six years he has been head of the Foreign Affairs Section at the prison. Apparently there are now over 10,000 foreign criminals in Thailand. A comment that he makes about the foreigners in his prison is that they like to complain a lot. Which is probably true. Thai prisoners tend to accept their fate more. However, this wasn’t the case in 1985 during the now famous Bang Kwang riots where seven prisoners were shot dead. Overall the book was fast paced and I finished reading within one day.

Today, Chavoret Jaruboon is sometimes seen at the front gate of Bang Kwang welcoming foreign visitors to his prison. I am going to try and set up an interview with him which should prove fascinating to read. I would also like to interview Nicola Pierce if that is possible as she is about to release her third book on Thailand. I will tell you more about this later as it develops. I will also be bringing you reports of a visit to this maximum security prison and an interview with one of the prisoners there.

The actual gun used in these executions is on display in the Prison Museum. They also have the sword that was used for beheading. You can see pictures of these items as well as forms of tortue in our other website at To find the location of Bang Kwang Prison on Google Earth, please visit our website at I have also added detailed maps marking locations in the prison as well as the execution chamber.

“The Last Executioner” by Chavoret Jaruboon and Nicola Pierce is published by Maverick House. It is available in all good bookstores at online at Amazon. All pictures are from the book. Thanks to the publishers for sending us a review copy.


Thailand’s Last Executioner

Chavoret Jaruboon’s memoirs in English and Thai

Up until 1934, the official method of execution in Thailand was by decapitating (see The Last Public Beheading). This was then considered to be barbaric and the method was changed. Over a period of 71 years, a total of 319 prisoners were then executed in Thailand by firing squad. Despite its name, this form of execution wasn’t carried out by a line of men carrying rifles. In Thailand, a single sub-machine gun was used from a distance of about four metres. A total of 15 bullets were loaded though only about 8 or so were needed from a single burst. The last execution by this method was carried out as late as 11th December 2002. The last executioner to use this method in Thailand was Chavoret Jaruboon. An English version of his autobiography called “The Last Executioner” has recently been published by Maverick House and is already on the bestseller list. I was pleased to receive a copy of this book from the publisher in order to write a review for Recently I have read a number of prison books set in Thailand and it was certainly interesting for me to read a different side of the story from this unique perspective. Most books are written by former foreign prisoners. This is the first book I have seen that is written by a Thai prison guard.

Chavoret Jaruboon was born in 1948 in a poor neighbourhood of Bangkok. His mother was a Muslim and his father a Buddhist. Their marriage didn’t work and he was brought up by his father. As a boy, he wanted to be a teacher like his father. However, he left school early to pursue his interest in music. He travelled the country playing bass guitar in a rock band. Most of his audiences were American servicemen who were in Thailand at that time for a bit of R&R during the Vietnam War. This was where he perfected his English which proved useful later in his life when he became head of the Foreign Affairs Section at Bang Kwang Prison. Chavoret said he had great fun with the Americans who taught him how to curse fluently in English. Many of them became good friends and introduced him to the latest songs from America. As a band member, he was earning good money which he naturally spent on the latest fashions and entertaining ladies. He admitted that he lost his virginity here to a bar girl. Unlike his Western counterparts, he made sure that he sent money home regularly to his father. As a result he had no savings of his own.

All good things come to an end and he soon found himself back in Bangkok. At the age of twenty one, he was called up for compulsory military service for two years. He joined the air force and was stationed not too far away at a base in Nakhon Pathom. This allowed him to return to Bangkok every weekend. His girlfriend, Tew, from his rock band days, had moved into the family home to help look after his elderly father. Chavoret admits that he was a bit ahead of his time as they lived together first before they got married. In fact, they didn’t register their marriage until after the birth of their second son. His military years weren’t enjoyable though he did find the paramedic course interesting. Whilst he was in the air force, his father died suddenly one day. It was only then that he realized how popular and loved his father was by his former students which included the governor of Ubon Ratchathani. After his graduation in 1971, he tried unsuccessfully to put together another band. However, with the Americans now gone there wasn’t so much of a demand for rock bands or Elvis impersonators. After a brief stint working as an interpreter for a bad-tempered farang, he found himself back in Bangkok as an un-employed youth. It was then that his cousin suggested to him that he should apply for the job as a prison guard. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The executioner as a cowboy

“The Last Executioner” is not all about the carrying out of the death sentence in Thailand. Chavoret has also written about life in Bang Kwang Prison both for the prisoners and guards. He describes how they are only given a budget of 27 baht per day to feed the prisoners. Many of them have to supplement this by buying extra food. Prisoners with no money to buy food can only survive by doing odd jobs for the wealthier prisoners. The guards themselves were poorly paid and often looked for a way to earn extra money. Chavoret admits that some of his fellow guards were corrupt and acted as couriers for the prisoners bringing them drugs and other illicit items. One guard in particular is worthy of mention. His name is Prauth Sanun and he was on the execution team with Chavoret. On occasion he too had pulled the trigger to execute a drug dealer. You would think that he of all people would know and understand the consequences of selling drugs. However, he was later arrested in a police sting carrying 700,000 amphetamine pills. He is now on death row not knowing which day will be his last. Death penalty advocates maintain that capital punishment is needed as a deterrent against heinous crimes. Obviously they need to study this case.

For myself I am strongly against the death penalty for any crime. My main concern is that an innocent person could be executed. In the not too distant past, there have been summary executions of prisoners in Thailand who didn’t have proper time to defend themselves nor launch an appeal. Even Chavoret himself admitted that there was a chance that a prisoner could have been innocent, though he chose not to become personally involved with any of his victims until after he had carried out the sentence. He believed in “an eye for an eye” and although he said the death penalty wasn’t perfect, it was the best they had in the absence of an alternative. Although it is considered a sin for a Buddhist to kill someone, they also believed in karma. This is their past misdeeds catching up with them. Some Buddhists also believe that you are fortunate to know the time of your death. If you are prepared for it and are of a positive mind when you die, then you will be born into a better place in your next life. Obviously, prisoners on Death Row would disagree. The following testament is written by someone who was on Death Row for a while. As he is still in Bang Kwang he wishes to remain anonymous.

“Most times we did not know when they were coming. Sometimes they would lock us down early but would use an excuse like important visitors were coming into the building. They would tell us that we had nothing to fear and that we should remain calm. They would always come at 4:30 p.m. and the sound of the steel bars and chains being unlocked and removed from the door would strike fear and terror into the hearts of every man on the Row. The trouble was that those men who had exhausted all possible avenues of reprieve and were on the ‘Blacklist’ were spread equally amongst each of the 20 or 50 cells. There were usually 3 – 4 blacklisted guys in each cell so of course when we would hear the block door being unlocked the entire block would fall into a fearful silence. Even those guys who knew it wasn’t their time would be overwhelmed with fear because of the hysteria generated. Fear is infectious and each time was mental torture because we all knew that some day it would be our turn. The group of five or six Special Officers would walk slowly up the aisle until they reached the cell that contained the guy whose god had finally called him. There would be a kind of vacuum in the block where every condemned man had breathed in and failed to exhale again. We could all, every last one of us; hear our own hearts beating so loudly in our chests that it was deafening. The man would be called to the cell door, handcuffed then led away to oblivion. You could cut the relief with a knife but what a terrible relief. Another of us had gone forever. I saw 21 men go this way during my time on Death Row. Every last one of them walked calmly and silently to their fate. In their heads and hearts they were already dead.”

Chavoret wasn’t always an executioner. One of his first jobs at the prison was as an escort for the condemned. This is his version of this same event from the point of view of the guard: “Being an escort can be a tricky business. It’s probably one of the most emotional roles in the whole process of execution because you personally pick up the prisoner from his cell. In other words, you are death’s messenger. Then you can end up spending a lot of time with the prisoner before he dies. When it is time the escort brings the condemned into the execution room and ties him to the cross. After the prisoner has been confirmed dead by the doctor, it is the escort who unties him and lays him down on the floor. Even the executioner does not have to see the body after he has done the job.” From the execution room, there is a side door that is used to take the body out to a temple and crematorium which is conveniently located next door. Surprisingly, all executions in Thailand are carried out by this same team. If the prisoners are unable to come to Bangkok, then the Bang Kwang crew have been known to go on road trips with their machine gun and wooden cross.

Click here for part two>>>>>>

The Last Executioner: Memoirs of Thailand’s Last Prison Executioner


Visiting Foreign Prisoners

Susan Aldous

I was talking yesterday with Susan Aldous, the Angel of Bang Kwang prison. Today is the conclusion of my interview with her.

What do the prison guards really think about complete strangers visiting the prisoners?

I think they’d rather not have to deal with them.

Are backpacker visitors doing more harm than good?

Bang Kwang will barely let in visitors at present who are not related. Backpackers were often seen as a nuisance by the guards, noisy, rude and outspokenly voicing their disgust at times. This did not go over well. However, many were kind and the inmates were certainly thankful for the time away from inside life. It was a mixed bag. If they came nicely dressed, were polite and also kind and non-judgmental to inmates, they provided a great service. I always felt that it was tremendous that they took time to reach out to someone in need 
Is Bang Kwang and other prisons in danger of becoming a tourist attraction?

It was…not any more, at least with the new administration at Bang Kwang. It’s closing down to non-official outsiders, harder to get into and we have no idea how long this will go on for. Other prisons are easier to access, but involve longer waits, shorter visits and not always easy to find your way around. I do not see it as being as fashionable as it was some years ago.

When you go to visit a prisoner, does it matter to you what crime he has committed?

I do not agree with crime obviously, and I think it’s important for all of us to admit to our own our mistakes, attitudes or crimes if we are going to grow or change. However, the men and women inside have been sentenced, given judgment by society and now it’s my turn to come in and help treat folk as human beings. I treat a street murderer with as much care as I would a murderous arms dealer. I treat a drug dealer with as much respect as I would a pharmaceutical salesman. I believe in redemption and you cannot lift someone up if you are looking down on them, you have to be on the same level looking eye to eye, heart to heart. At times they are my teachers.

Some people argue that these people committed a crime against society and that they deserve whatever punishment that they receive. And that they shouldn’t expect any sympathy from us. What do you say?

We need to contain dangerous criminals for the good of society, but we also need to care for people and treat folk the way we would want them to act. We must set the example, and if we do that, we can then expect accountability and behavioral changes.

You are described as a devout Christian. Do you see this as your duty to help others, or would you be doing this anyway?

I wouldn’t have been alive to help anyone, if I’d not have had my turn about. With that said, I would encourage anyone of any religious persuasion or not to love and help others, it’s the best drug of choice and makes life purposeful and we should all feel compelled to be a part of the solution rather than the problem.

Susan Aldous

Helping Inmates of Bang Kwang with Eyesight Problems

I am not sure if I could personally go and visit a complete stranger at Bang Kwang. Nor am I sure if I would feel right about supporting someone who has been convicted of drug trafficking or a sex offence.

And I would respect that as your convictions, but sometimes it’s good to look behind what folk have done and see why or what was in their background and then make an educated judgment as to whether they should be visited or not—and some folks are actually innocent. There are some inmates whom I would not visit again, not just because of their crime either but because of their character and attitudes. As for myself, I go by the edict that the healthy do not need a doctor.
How would you persuade me to go?

I wouldn’t, it’s not for everyone, it’s not even good for some would be visitors as they cannot handle it emotionally and come out worse for it. I would just be an example and hopefully you would want to at least be open to see why I do go and why many others do as well. My goal is to activate folk to work towards something positive, anything, whatever they feel called to, to make society better, to show love and care for those in need. We can start at home, in our office or on the street it does not always need to be in a prison.

Apart from helping the prisoner, do you think I would personally gain anything from this visit?

It would depend on your attitude when going in and your openness to the one you were meeting and it would depend on whom you met and the actual experience. Some visitors come out exhausted, angry and feel emotionally drained; they never want to go back. Others come out devastated over the situation and are genuinely surprised to meet an inmate who is ‘good folk’. They in turn continue a friendship from a distance via mail and this brings them happiness. Others, carry the conviction that they can be a serious helper at ground zero to one in need and through that I think you or anyone else would feel a lot better about life, self and towards those whom society judges as ‘bad’. It’s like perfume; you cannot pour it on others without spilling a few drops on yourself.

How did the visits change you?

I went to make a difference and it changed me. It made a huge difference to me. I could no longer ignore that these situations existed and I was already a full time volunteer. It opened my life, my heart and my mind to a new world. I learnt patience, love and consistency; I learnt to give even when it hurt. I learnt to handle difficult folk, situations and disappointment. I experienced great joy and friendship.

What do you talk about to a complete stranger?

Them, I talk about them. I talk about me, my life, what I do, but mostly I want to know about them, what makes them tick, showing genuine outgoing concern and love touches lives. I laugh, I joke, and I enquire. Just like I would anyone else I met in any social situation. Current events, politics, music, sport, life!

Are there any subjects that we shouldn’t talk about with them?

That would vary from person to person just like in general society. Perhaps your latest sexscapade or babbling about yourself and your problems would be inappropriate as would hours of negative diatribes about the unfairness of the legal system; they know that already I think.

How often do you visit Bang Kwang these days?

About once a week or two at most and then some weeks not at all. Additionally, sometimes special projects take me back to those big yellow doors…

Some people think it is strange that you visit prisoners in Thailand. They say that you wouldn’t visit prisoners in your home country.  I wouldn’t dream of visiting prisons in America or Australia. Why is Thailand different? And would you personally visit prisoners in other countries?

I first visited a prison in Melbourne years ago when I was 16-years-old; it has since been closed down due to the horrid conditions. I have visited in the USA and write to death row inmates there as well, I also visited Panama too when I was passing through for a few days, id’ go to any prison, I just happen to live in Thailand. Why would I not want to go to other prisons?

What is the project that is taking up most of your time at the moment?

At present its humanized health care projects through reform, visiting patients, and women’s issues, HIV and sex worker issues, teaching officials and then inmate work.  As well as writing two more books.

What are future plans?

Recently a gentleman in Japan, via his blog asked me the same thing; this is how I answered him.

On the personal front: I want to see my daughter grow up and find her niche in life. She is incredibly talented and writes amazingly well, so maybe that’s her thing. Who knows, but we are on one amazing journey to find out.
Take a real holiday.
I love to study, so most likely will do some more of that when the right doors open.
Take a real holiday.
I would like to establish a more stable financial base.
Take a real holiday.
Dare I say it? Perhaps even fall in love again.
Take a real holiday…it’d be nice to even be able to conceptualize what a real holiday looks like at least.
Take a real holiday! Did I already say that?
Improve my Thai and perhaps even learn how to spell in English. The first, being a more achievable goal and then take a holiday.
Work wise: I want to continue working towards seeing the death penalty abolished and working standardized prisoner exchange treaties globally in place. Also, fair treatment for the incarcerated, mentally ill and whoever suffers due to lack of love and justice!
Yeah, yeah, I know I sound like Miss Congeniality’s Sandra Bullock’s antithesis. And with such goals in mind, there goes the holiday! Better to wear out than rust out at least.
Currently, I am having a part in creating two new books. One is giving a voice to Thailand’s Ladyboys and the second is the story of a male sex worker, which all play into some of my outreach programs. This has been extremely interesting and a real learning curve for me, more to come I am sure.
I just want to keep on doing what I am doing, and keep on loving it as much as I do and I am very open to whatever form it all may take as time moves along.
I am satisfied enough to be content and dissatisfied enough to keep on reaching out to accomplish more.
Something that I really love about my life is that no matter what horrid things, difficulties or obstacles happen, I can always eventually reframe them and use them to empathize with those who are in need of encouragement or answers.
I look forward to the future with great hope and expectancy.

Is your daughter now following in your footsteps?

She is not, but at times she goes with me to prisons or the shelter, she certainly counsels her friends and even strangers in a manner which she surely has imbibed from being around me. She is her own person and as a teenager is finding her way. 


That is the conclusion of my interview with Susan Aldous. Her book, The Angel of Bang Kwang, was recently published by Maverick House. I haven’t yet decided whether I will go and visit a prisoner at Bang Kwang. However, I think I am now a step closer to doing this. If I do get to go and visit, I will tell you all about that experience here.