Stickman Readers' Submissions August 26th, 2008

How Going To Jail Reformed My Life

To be in prison is never and nowhere in this world a funny experience. About being a prisoner in Thailand, you can read in this article written [originally in Thai] by a former inmate.

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At 20 years of age I was sent to jail. I clearly remember the night I was taken there. It was quite late in the evening when the truck passed the prison walls, and I recall what seemed to be a vast number of gates I had to pass through. I was shackled and frightened. When it stopped, I saw what was to be my new home: stark grey walls and superintendents dressed in khaki and blue waiting to become my jailors.

As I got off the truck with 5 – 6 other, the superintendents frisked us and took us to the boarding house. It consisted of five buildings with 20 rooms, each one accommodating around 60 people. Although immediately tested out by the room chief, my reputation had preceded me. I had been a Thai boxer and, at first, many of the inmates did not want to have anything to do with me having already heard of my fame. But they did not dare issue any threats as I had many friends on the inside who were also boxers. In fact, many of the roommates even asked me to take care of them.

Prison life is dismal. We had to live on a hard concrete floor within a 50-centimetre space with no room to move. Everyone ate unwashed rice at the canteen. There were at least 20 people to every table. Before eating, we were forced to clap our hands like soldiers. I had never eaten this kind of food before but we had no option. After our meal we went to work. Routinely, we worked in the garden: planting, weeding and cutting grass; some did cleaning work; some had the ungracious task of moving stool tanks to the cesspit; others worked in factories welding and furniture-making.

Every day, at 5pm, fifty of us stripped naked and took a bath together in one large basin. There were some fearsome characters in there: tattooed, muscly, mean and aggressive. The superintendents gave us only 3-5 minutes for bathing and at 7pm, before sleeping, we all prayed together: the prison reverberated with our muffled incantations.

Sunday was what we called “our happy day”: it was the day when there was no work to be done and we could live fairly much as we pleased. Family members were only allowed to visit us on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and we had to shout at each from behind bars under the constant watch of a superintendent.

For those whose families lived far away, letters seemed to be the best form of communication, but all had to be read and checked. Television and radio were of course not available. On Sundays a monk came to teach us and from then on I began to study and educate myself.

But there were always problems: one day, after a prisoner check, Somdet, the room chief, pushed his finger into the face of Ti, one of my friends. They quarreled and Ti jumped up and kicked him. The roommates stepped back and made a circle to watch the fight. The fracas did not go on for too long though, as they were separated before the superintendent arrived, otherwise, both would have been severely punished. But this was a normal event. If a quarrel and a fight occurred, or the conflict became serious, both men would go to the back of the restroom and scrap it out, even using innocuous weapons like a toothbrush to harm each other.

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Many times I saw rookies crying and wanting to commit suicide because of what they perceived to be hard work. To me, I thought most of them had never done a day’s work in their lives. It was a sad and sorry spectacle. For the superintendents, they despised this, and punished them by stamping on them or beating them with a stick.

One day, someone was accused of stealing and was hit so hard he was taken to the hospital. This was a frequent occurrence, but on one particular evening, the superintendent blew his whistle and called all prisoners to line up in a field. Everyone was frisked; every corner was searched. Finally, the missing item was found in a prisoner’s locker. But no one accepted responsibility for fear of the punishment meted out by fellow prisoners or superintendents.

One day I was caught smoking during a routine line-up in the field. The superintendent on duty that day asked who I was. I told him my name and added that I was a subordinate of a far more senior officer, a man who exerted considerable influence and power in the prison. Although he was of lower rank and did not dare mete out too harsh a punishment, he also did not want the case to be considered too lenient in front of the other prisoners. Therefore, I was reprimanded and told to clean all four two-by-twenty-metre basins before nightfall. It was an easy task but at least he saved face.

The moral of this story is, as everyone knows, prison life degenerates the minds of inmates daily: some have contagious diseases such as HIV or AIDS; many others suffer so much from the harshness of their condition their hands and feet start to decompose; all are psychologically scarred by the experience. But whatever happens to you, all prisoners have to confer and rely on themselves; there is no freedom to do anything other. What good came out of it, for me at least, was that I learned to respect the law and control myself with a far clearer conscience. What is even more important is that I learned to forgive others.

I also believe that time spent inside changes people only in the way they want to be changed — for better or worse. For me, I chose the way of bettering my life. The story I want to convey to readers is that I passed through the prison system and came out the other side a reformed man.

In the end, I hope this story will be beneficial to others, as an example to those who may be tempted to take that step in the wrong direction. But first, consider it well. I would not like to think of anyone else having to suffer what I went through.

(Anonymous text, supplied by Raymond Vergé)

Stickman's thoughts:

Thai prisons are very nasty indeed and should be seen as a major deterrent to stay out of trouble!

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