Monday, 6 February 2017

Thailand Reforms the Death Penalty for Drugs

With 200,000 inmates - 70% of Thailand's prison population - locked up on mostly low level drug offences, ASEAN authorities are acknowledging how the War on Drugs has failed.  Is Thailand, in 2017, deciding to move forward with a new approach?
Drug Law Reform in Thailand 

On Nov 24th 2016 the NLA approved 'edits' to the 2522 (1979) Narcotics Act by 160 votes to 0.  These reforms were promulgated in the Royal Gazette on Jan 15th 2017.

Appearing subtle at first, the edits reformed the mandatory death penalty for drugs - and a far-reaching change in the wording of the code means that drug users will no longer be automatically prosecuted as drug dealers.

Death Penalty in Thailand

'In 2005, the Thai government reported to the U.N. Human Rights Committee that there was no mandatory death penalty.  In practice, however, Thai lawyers report that judges often impose the death penalty without any consideration of mitigating circumstances when it comes to certain - particularly drug-related - offences.' 
Deathpenaltyworldwide.org 2015

Narcotics Act Reforms announced in January 2017 mean Thailand's ultra-hardline stance of capital punishment for drug dealers may be about to change.

Judges are now being given room to assess individual cases - just as the courts have individually assessed every prisoner's case for amnesty in the last two Royal Pardons (granted graciously to prisoners in Aug 2016 & Dec 2016).

Instead of rigidly sticking to the harsh letter of the law, regardless of the individual's circumstances - as female drug mules, for example - the reforms now give the courts wider sentencing guidelines to work within.

Importantly, the death penalty is no longer mandatory for traffickers or producers of Class 1 narcotic for the purpose of disposal.  The judge can now assess every case on its own merits - and can give a life sentence or the death penalty.

Thailand reforms the death penalty for drugs
 'Minister Paiboon further said that there should no longer be capital punishment, however the Bangkok Post reported the Minister saying that Thailand 
is not ready to abolish the death penalty for drug offences'  IDPC

As President of the Australian Drug Law Reform, Alex Wodak, says of this VolteFace feature on drug law reform in Thailand, the movement is important - as it will affect other countries in the region.

The death penalty didn't get abolished, but it is no longer mandatory for drugs.  Is that not a huge step towards reform?

This change in policy echoes the surprising comments by an Head Judge in Indonesia - in light the country's recent Bali 9 executions - when sentencing 3 drug dealers to life, instead of death, in Dec 2016:
Thailand has a 20 year reform plan and change won't come overnight.  But isn't this reform of the Narcotics Act - away from capital punishment for narcotics offences - worthy of scrutiny and enquiry of what else may be in the planning for the future.

Away From the Streets 
 'A refocussing of law enforcement away from the street towards the organised crime behind the business' Jeremy Douglas UNODC 

High level meetings at the UNODC with senior experts from the six countries of the Mekong MOU - Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam - have 'negotiated a new two year plan to address the regional drug situation'.  

In the 2 months since UNODC analyst Jeremy Douglas outlined this strategy above, there have been several transnational busts in the SE Asian region.  In January alone there have been major busts involving Laos, Thailand, China, Myanmar & Vietnam:

*Laos King Pin arrested in Thailand
*Heroin and Meth from Myanmar seized in Inner Mongolia
*400kg Ketamine seized in China
*'Poison Factory' chemical seizures on Vietnam border, bound for Myanmar

Flash in the pan? Or are we witnessing a real time change in drug policy enforcement - away from the streets to the transnational organised crime behind the scenes?

Paid to Deliver, No Intent to Sell

Remove the intent to sell - and drug mules start to become the lower level offenders they are - more expendable victims than kingpins.  Penalties are still harsh, but have dropped immeasurably with the Jan 2017 Narcotics Act Reforms for traffickers - from an automatic life sentence - to a far wider sentencing range of 10 yrs to life. 
President of Thailand's Supreme Court talking human rights and public health.

'Flush Them Out of the System'
 
Quantity thresholds have been revoked in the recent Narcotics Act Reforms, and people in possession of Class 1 are now deemed as 'presumed' not 'regarded' to have intent to sell.  These are potentially far reaching edits to the Narcotics Act, in practice and time.

Possession of more than 0.375g of meth (an amount which would get a caution in the West, and has seen many farang locked up in Thailand for the minimum sentence of 2 years on a guilty plea) can now be sentenced from 1yrs to 10 yrs - instead of 4 yrs to life. 

Pleading guilty in Thailand reduces the sentence by 50%, so drug users could potentially be 'flushed out of the system' within 6 months.  Sounds good in principle?


At a Kamlangjai drug policy conference - co-sponsored by drug policy think tank IDPC - in Bangkok in January 2017, leading Thai academic Prof. Sungsidh Piriyarangsan gave a lecture on Controlling Methamphetamine:

'There is no use in putting people who use drugs in prisons.  People who use drugs are not objects.  They are human beings.  We have invested a lot in drug suppression but this has resulted in heavy social and productivity costs.  

To address the drug problem, we need courage, but the right kind of courage - moral courage.  Do the people who can make change have the heart, strength, & courage to put down their own bias and do the right thing?'

Time for Change

Asia Nikkei's Agent of Change 2017, Princess Pa, has been briefing the UN about worldwide prison issues for a decade.  The King's daughter gave the world the Bangkok Rules for minimum treatment and conditions for women in jail.  HRH's Kamlangjai - 'Moral Support' or Inspire Project - recently produced this drug law reform video:


'Everything we know about addiction is wrong' - How Nixon's 40yr war on drugs has been a failure, and the need for a scientific & healthcare approach for drug users, not incarceration.  Thai/English w subtitles, explains drug reform and addiction.

'In Thailand, royally backed initiatives are highly influential among elite lawmakers and treated as sacrosanct,' reports PRI's Global Post, saying this Princess-led campaign has helped to trigger a 'furious rethink' of drug crime policy.

There were over 200,000 drug cases in prison in Thailand in July 2016.

Since then, there have been two Royal Amnesties and an implicitly far-reaching reform of the drug laws - all within the last six months.  With signals that there is more prison and policy reform to come, Thailand could be entering interesting times.

At a time when Mad Dog Duterte is making headlines for his overkill War on Drugs in the Philippines, the rest of the world, ASEAN included, may finally be admitting that Nixon got it all wrong - and now is the time for drug policy reform.

Time for change in 2017?


* Thanks to iLaw for the Thai explanations of the drug law reforms, and to Gloria Lai at IDPC for the English translation!


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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Morning Visit at the Thai Prison

8am at the prison...

Infront of a strategically placed sweat wagon, used to transport inmates in and out of this establishment, 2 guards stand to attention for the morning flag raising ceremony and National Anthem.  In the prison courtyard, the pariah dogs stroll around unaware, unperturbed by the officialdom taking place around them.

A trustee prisoner makes his rounds of the prison shrines, placing marigold flowers as offerings;  lighting incense and candles as he goes.  A Buddhist monk arrives to register for a visit himself.  The manicured gardens and waddling duck ornaments give a sense of peace to the waiting area.  The barbed wire on the compound walls before us is almost disguised from view.

Uniformed guards, male and female, arrive for work, entering through the imposing blue gates that only guards or prisoners will pass through.  The visitor room to the left is innocuous and unimposing by comparison, apart from the bars on the windows.  We wait for our 10 minute visit with an inmate, on a phone, through a glass screen.

10 minutes of escapism for those inside, if we play it right and keep a smile on our face, despite the dread circumstances...

The Thai mama in the waiting area next to me is open to interaction.  She wishes to guide new visitors through the process.  There is always a sense of compassion and humour, even, at the Thai prison.  For a visitor, at least.

A lottery vendor tries his luck on us.  Maybe we will get lucky on our inmate's behalf, if we buy a ticket from him today?  Fate, chance and circumstance...

More visitors arrive, it's a family affair:  care worn grandparents and parents;  schoolgirls in pigtails;  teenage boys in sniper T-shirts with deadly slogans, 'One shot, one kill'.  All races and religions sit patiently together:  Thais, Muslims, Burmese...  plus one token farang this morning, me.

More Thais bring me into conversation, laughing with toothless smiles and Buddhist acceptance at our predicament.

The sweat wagon backs up and disappears through the open blue gates - to reappear 10 mins later, full now with remand prisoners in brown uniforms.  The siren sounds as the prison vehicle leaves the compound and transports its wide-eyed human load to court.

And we watch and we wait, considering our lot.

Peaceful,
heart-warming, spine-chilling... a morning visit to the Thai prison.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2016

How Bizarre - Koh Phangan Hippy Markets Past and Present

Now and Then: Sunset Markets on Koh Phangan

Bizarre Bazaar at Seaboard Bungalows Haad Yao
Back in 1989, hippies were gathering at Koh Phangan bungalows near the beach for a social sunset market.  Time leaps forward to 2016 and here we are again - a community of alternative travellers, gathering at bungalows by the beach, for the Bizarre Bazaar!

So how much has changed in 27 years?  And how much have the farang who still gather here in the winter months changed as a community?  I caught up with long termer Eddy, who recently published old photos of Tommy's flea market in the late 1980s.

What do you remember about Tommy's flea market at that time, Eddy?

"The market of the hippies on the grass between Tommy's thatched huts and restaurant was the Haad Rin attraction in those days.  It took place every afternoon and you met people from every corner of the world there; it was usual to see someone you had met, maybe, a few months earlier in Manali."

Hippy Market at Tommy Resort in Haad Rin, late 1980's
Same Same But Different

As we still meet people from all over the world here today.  I arrived to Koh Phangan a few years after Eddy in 1993, but I do remember this early fleamarket, which had moved from Tommy Resort over the headland to Leela Beach, below the Back Yard, by then.

Eddy says, "I remember when they moved the market to Leela Beach, but not the reason why.  I seem to recall they held it only twice a week, on Friday and Sunday, I think. Leela Beach was paradise, I often went there.  There were many Israelis even then.  There was an Osho meditation centre and I believe that's why they called it Leela Beach.

The atmosphere was very relaxing.  Somebody played the guitar or bongos; we played cards or frisbee on the beach.  And there was certainly hoopla in those days, with loud music coming out of the bungalows."

The atmosphere at the Bizarre Bazaar is not so dissimilar.  Instead of guitar and bongos, DJs play the island soundtrack to the weekly gathering, but there are still hoopla and fire spinners, as well as henna tattooists and craft workshops - and cocktails! 

Same same but different?  Welcome to the Bizarre Bazaar 

Creative Koh Phangan

Back in 1989, Eddy particularly remembers an Irish guy who carved jewellery from 500 Italian Lire, which in some ways resembled Thai 10 baht coins. "I bought one myself, and who knows, maybe I still have it - there are still some boxes in my basement where I keep all the memories of that time!"

Koh Phangan still attracts the creative types who craft their own jewellery, weaving macrame and fashioning crystals.  It's natural for Phangan to still attract these types.  Working the European summer, they take time out in winter - and where better to release their creative energies than on the vibrant shores of Koh Phangan?

It has never been any different.  Maybe we are wearing slightly different clothes, maybe we have far too many possessions and are addicted to the internet.  But in an age where we are all becoming digital nomads, it's no surprise to find those who think outside of the box still sitting on the beach on Koh Phangan.

Bizarre Bazaar at Seaboard Bungalows, Haad Yao, 2016
Changing Times

"On the beach at most was a few dozen people, even in high season.  The casino of personal water craft and the constant coming and going of boats along the coast was a normal sight.  There were only a few hundred people at the first full moon."

Eddy continues, "I go back to Koh Phangan only during high season now, to follow closely my business, even if I do not manage it in person. I live beautifully in the months on Koh Phangan.  I have many old friends who still live on the island, although many of them are gone now.

I find that, with very few exceptions, there is no resemblance to the new generations of tourists and new residents on the island - who are often the children of those who discovered this beautiful paradise - and my son is a classic example of this.

We had the spirit of adventure, there was much fellowship and we were happy with anything - now everything has changed, they are all splattered and drink like sinks."

Lazy Tuesday afternoons at Seaboard Bungalows weekly gathering
The community that gathers at Bizarre Bazaar still owns the qualities Eddy holds dear - the spirit of adventure, the fellowship, the innate happiness - and don't we all get disillusioned with the next generation trashing beauty in its path?

But they are here today, gone after the next Full Moon Party.  While we remain... still seeking each other out, still feeling the Koh Phangan connection.  Still gathering at bungalows near the beach, three decades later, for a social sunset bazaar.

Long Live the creative Koh Phangan energy, still permeating our travelling souls - and big love to Eddy - for remembering how it wasn't so very different all those moons ago.

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Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Workshop 101: How to Help Your Friend in Crisis

Paradise to Nightmare in a split-second, Heaven to Hell in a heart beat...  How many of us have felt our hearts drop to our stomachs as we realise one of our community has gone down.  Circles of fate - or, some would say, inevitability - begin to tighten around us.  A crushing realisation descends that, this time, one of us is in trouble.

The initial horror, panic and disbelief is nothing compared to what follows, I promise.  There are pitfalls aplenty on the prison roller coaster;  but if we support each other, we can perhaps ride a wave of calm through the panic.  We can survive, and in the process help each other to survive.

Caught in the Headlights like a Rabbit or Called to Action?

At times like this, when there has been a seasonal uptrend of farang getting arrested - all of them going through the Police Station - Jail - IDC route to eventual deportation, it’s time to put all the information in place for those wishing to help their friends.

It’s easier to turn away, for sure.  After the initial rush of offers to help, maybe this will encourage more people to buy food and water and visit their friends, once in a while.  Whether your friend has been arrested, is in a police station, is in jail or has been transferred to IDC...

Here’s how to help him through the toughest conditions he's ever experienced:

Buy Food and Water

If someone you know has landed in prison, he needs a visit, quick - to buy him food and water - and whatever else he needs from the prison shop;  toothbrushes, blankets, etc.  (Prison rules are always in flux, but if you can buy your friend 3 blankets when he first goes in, you may be doing him a massive favour.)

Prison drinking water supply is tap water only, unless he has money in his account to buy bottled water.  Aim to buy your friend a 6-pack of water every time you visit him.  Costs 72 baht at the prison shop.

For examples of what to buy at the prison shop - and how to buy it - see: How to buy inmates food and water.

NB:  You can only buy items from the prison counter.  No goods from outside are allowed in at all - unlike at the police station, where you can take in what food you like.

Don’t be a jerk at the police station and think you can have one over on the guards.  They have seen every trick in the farang book, and it is naive at best - and dangerous at worst - to think otherwise!


It’s also worth remembering that loud voices, anger and wild shows of emotion at any government institution will often make matters worse for those left behind bars.  Keeping a calm head and smiling your way through adversity is the best favour you can do for your friend, even though it surely isn’t a laughing matter.

If you are looking for legal advice, talk to a lawyer.  While the court proceedings are taking place, your friend still needs prison / police cell support, and this is the aim of this blog.  Our focus is on Support in a bad situation, not Escape, which we accept is beyond our limits...

Support your Friend in a Bad Situation - Visit Them


Visiting hours at Samui Prison are Mon - Weds - Fri, morning and afternoon. Arrive by 8.30am to register for morning visits, and 12.30 for afternoon visits.

For a full guide see How to Visit Koh Samui Prison and to know what your visit means to another read What To Expect On A Prison Visit.

Details of Chumphon Prison are here, as is the Lomprayah ferry timetable.  Visiting is 8.30am - 4pm, closed weekends.


If you’re taking food and water to Bo Phut police station (near Chaweng Lake), visiting times are 8 - 9am, 12 - 1pm & 4 - 5pm.  Always stay polite and keep smiling, even when you are made to wait... or when things aren’t going your way.

The last port of call is How to Visit IDC - Immigration Jail in Bangkok.  Everyone goes through here before being deported to their home country, lucky them!

Make Someones Day - Send a Postcard

As the days and weeks go by, you may find yourself thinking of your friend.  It will take half an hour of your day to buy a postcard, then sit down and write it - but that half hour well spent may keep someone inside going for weeks.

There is a fully active PO Box in Lamai which is used by inmates to send letters to friends and family.  10 letters were received in the last week.  All that is needed is an email or Facebook contact, and letters are sent quickly to their worldwide destinations.

Loved ones, in return, can Email an Inmate here:  kohsamuiinmates@gmail.com



If you are on the Thai islands, it costs 3 baht to send a standard letter or postcard.  All you need is your inmate’s name and the prison address.

Koh Samui District Prison
95 Moo 5
T. Maret
Koh Samui
84310
 
Chumphon Provincial Prison
เรือนจำจังหวัดชุมพร
Provincial Highway 4001
Bang Mak
Muang Chumphon
Chumphon
86000

That's the half hour of you time, but buddy, can you also spare a dime?...

Pay a Few Hundred Baht in their Prison Account for Meals

Prison food isn’t exactly described as haute cuisine at the best of times - especially not by farang with Western tastes in Thai jail.  But with money in their accounts, inmates can buy much needed, nutritious, extra meals from the prison shop.

It can take a month to set up a new inmate’s account.  It may be a case of asking politely at the prison pay-in window until finally, one day, you get a yes, their account is open.  As soon as they have money in their account, they can spend a daily limit of 300 baht.

* Whenever we visit we try to spend a couple of hundred baht per inmate, paying into accounts and buying luxury essentials like water, peanuts and coffee.  If you can afford more than that, great.  Maximum deposit is 5000 baht
per visit.

There are 2 other ways you can send money to an inmate’s account:


1) PayPal to kohsamuiinmates@gmail.com . Put your friend’s name in the comment field and we will make sure that he receives it, either on a visit or by post.

2) Go to any Thai post office with the same info you would need to send a postcard - his name and prison address.  Ask to send a money order by EMS.  Don’t send more than the maximum 3000 baht, and yes, we can confirm it always arrives.

Finally, come and support us at Bizarre Bazaar!


 ‘Is it only a dream that there’ll be no more turning away?’  Pink Floyd
Look for the donation box at Seaboard Bungalows’ weekly flea market.  Grab yourself a beautiful bargain and help someone out in the process!  At the Samui Prisoners Support stand all donations go towards buying food and water for farang prisoners in Koh Samui jail - and beyond.

For those actively wanting to help their friends in crisis, find Samui Prisoners Support group on facebook.  It's intentionally a small group - a safe haven for inmates' families - but those who really want to help their friends are always welcome to join!

And if you need more info, hit me up!  More info on the Samui Prisoners Support page.

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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Day In The Life in Koh Samui Prison

A Day In The Life In Koh Samui Prison

Two former Koh Samui Prison inmates contributed to this.  One, *T,  gave us the timetable (in bold), while another, *J, gave us his colloquial take on day to day occurrences, which was too good to edit - his discernible English accent should be apparent.  Italics are my thoughts or questions added into the mix.

 

6am: The captain wakes us up by blowing the whistle.

Wake up bell at about 6am. 
Cells are unlocked at 6.30am.
6am-6.45am: counting before leaving the room.
The cells are bloody irritating, 45 people all wanting to have an early morning piss, and some people insist on having a shower in the one and only toilet in the cell.

8am: Singing the Thai National Anthem, followed up by Buddhist prayers and the 2nd counting.

Everyone goes downstairs and at 8am they play the National Anthem on recorders.
  
Q: As in the musical instrument we used to play at school?

Yes, exactly, played into microphones.
Everybody stands in lines of about 40 prisoners and a count is made of everyone.  
After the 8am count (weekdays only) you have to put on your prison uniform until 1pm: blue for convicts, brown for those on remand.

* Counting also happens at 11am, 1pm and 4pm during the week.

The shop opens after the count at 8am but they don’t serve until about 9am because prisoners going to court or school are served first.  The shop has basics like soap, razors, etc, and has some food - but really only biscuits, crisps and fizzy drinks.

When you are on remand you have to go to court every 12 days: they will make you shave if your beard or hair is too long.  Prisoners due in court go to a room downstairs to have shackles put in place.

I’m imagining a weird blacksmith’s forge, but *J explains:

It's like a giant nutcracker, they slide the hoop of metal over your foot then press down on this machine which makes the coil smaller.  Only did it once.  Not heavy, but uncomfortable.  Not good.  Scraped my ankles up.

8.30am: After counting, breakfast.

Breakfast is about 8.30am.  Nasty looking rice and foul smelling broth with a few bones in it, same as dinner; sometimes you might be lucky and get a bit of chicken attached to the bones.  Plates and bowls are distributed amongst the tables there and it’s a question of sitting down and choosing a rice plate and a bowl.

Most of the farangs - and quite a few other inmates - order food in from outside.
Orders are taken the day before and a few of us pay the local businessman, Amon (half Thai, half Italian, raised in Germany) a surcharge for him to order for us - as it can take between 10 minutes and 2 hours of queuing to order food.

Dinner Time: Koh Samui Prison Menu






Q: Is Amon like the Samui Prison version of King Rat?  Ever read that James Clavell book about Changi Prisoner of War camp, Singapore in WW2?

Haven’t read the book; he’s not the king of the prison - but he’s the guy to go to if you want or need something.  He organises the food from outside for a lot of people, he’s always trying to sell t-shirts, etc.  He’s a top guy, funny.

* Amon is no longer in Koh Samui Prison (released or transferred, not sure which). Two scanning stations were introduced at the shop since then which has speeded up queuing immeasurably.

11am: 3rd counting.

Q: What do you have to shout out at the count?

Just the number you are in line in Thai.
If they think you can’t speak Thai they call your number for you. 
You stand up while you’re waiting and crouch or sit down after you call your number, which is when some of the juvenile inmates flick stones at people.  Thai and Burmese inmates’ biggest game is flicking elastic bands, gives you some idea of their IQ.

The prison is mostly a big, big kindergarten for adults.  That’s just my opinion.  I reckon Western prisons are more tough and mental.

As *T said, it was like a kindergarten.  There were very few educated Thai people there, I didn’t see any of them reading a book.  Especially at the 4pm count - when we sat down under cover near the cell entrance, the Thais and Burmese were a nightmare running around.

11.45am: lunch.

I would order 2 meals a day from the outside for 120 baht. 
These would be their version of KFC - which was breaded chicken, rice and an egg or ‘khao mok gai’, yellow chicken with yellow rice.  They did do sandwiches and massaman curry, etc, but I like my chicken, lol.  

1pm: 4th counting.

Most of the time is spent either chatting, reading or at the makeshift gym area which is very limited: concrete blocks on a metal bar style.

Can't quite picture it.

Two bar bells, instead of metal discs they have formed concrete on the end of the metal. 
Imagine Fred Flintstone’s gym: just 2 bar bells and some water bottles filled with sand.

* Update Jan 2016: The prison recently provided 40kg of proper weights, a punch bag, and one pair of boxing gloves for inmates' use.
* Update June 2016: all gym equipment confiscated, prison rules forever in flux.

Jailhouse Boogie: Paradise In A Cage
 Q: What happens when you get a visit?  Call on the tannoy?  

Yes, you get called on the P.A system (not tannoy, thats a brand name, bit of Alan Partridge there, ha ha).  Quite often I didn’t hear it due to being in the farang area, which was a bit round the corner.  But someone would hear it and let you know.

You had to go into 'the cage' with the other inmates who had visits and crouch down - and then count; then go through the gate to the area where they have schooling, counting as you stepped through; then walk in line to the area where you are taken for paperwork and fingerprinting when you first enter the prison.

You crouch or sit down there and you are given a number which is your particular telephone booth number on the visit. 

2pm-3pm: shower

The shower area opens up twice each day, from 9-10am and 2-3.30pm approx.  During the week many of the inmates work in a nearby factory so it’s pretty quiet, but weekends are a lot more noisy.

Q: Is it a mad scramble?  Are there running showers or is it trough and scoop?

About 16 showers and 2 troughs, it is a bit mad.  You can go when everyone has dinner but good chance there will be no water left.  Everyone showers wearing their shorts, maybe a bit shy, ha ha.

In Surat years ago they had whistles.  1) Get wet - 2) Soap - 3) Rinse.  And if you didn't get the soap off in time you were sticky all day...

Didn’t get that when I was there but a long term inmate said that when the water is low then that happens.

Q: Is there algae on the troughs?  Did you wash and drink from them?

No algae, the trough is used for water for the laundry - so it gets empty twice every day.
The trough always gets filled up, but sometimes if you were late to shower it was nearly empty.  Nobody drinks from the troughs as we can take bottled water to the cells.

How To Buy Inmates Fruit and Water
There is a water tap with a filter downstairs but not sure how clean it is, I know a few of the farang got a dodgy tummy from the general drinking water.  I would never drink water from a tap in Thailand anyway.

* Lots of improvements at Koh Samui Prison for the recent centenniary of the prison service in Oct - 20 ceramic sinks and a new shower trough were installed, cells got painted and TVs were installed everywhere.  They threw out all the books to tidy up, though.

3pm: dinner 

Dinner is served at 3pm.

Guards keep themselves to themselves, normally playing chess or something.  Pretty chilled out really.  But when you come back from the regular court visit in shackles, you have to drop your drawers and spread your cheeks, lol.  No touching though.

It’s so boring in there.  But we are able to read books, work out with a few equipments, play a ball game (like petanque), play chess or talk.  

Lots of talking.  We can see the mountain from the yard.  When we are in our rooms, we can see trees and sometimes the sunset. 

4pm: back to our rooms.


At 4pm everyone sits in their respective cell groups, in line near the cell block entrance. 
This is where it gets difficult.  Basic rules: smoking is allowed downstairs in the general prison area (although lighters are not allowed, clever eh?)...

No smoking in the cells from approx. 4.30pm when you go up until 6.30am when you come down again.  Not easy; also no food allowed, only water and a book. 

Many people try to smuggle cigarettes up; there are basic body searches on the way to the cell.  Some are caught, me included once.

The funniest thing though - when I got caught I had to do some press ups in the corridor.  Everyone has to take their t-shirts off to get searched.  The ladyboys go up to their room after the farang - so I saw all the blokes with shaved heads and fake tits go past, hilarious.

Punishments vary depending on the prison guard who makes the discovery. 
I got away with a few press ups and star jumps, others are not so fortunate.

We can bring books to the room and/or watch TV, sometimes with English subtitles, but mostly without.

The TV goes on about 5pm until about 9pm but it’s not general TV.  It’s downloaded onto USB and controlled by the staff - so mainly Thai TV programmes.  Sometimes a movie.

During this time some of the inmates decide to shower; some of the Asian inmates sometimes decide to have a wank - with quite often a number of the Thais or Burmese watching them.  You can hear prisoners in other cells but you can’t see them.

Thai Prison Time: The Inside Story
9pm: sleep - no noise.

Quiet is ordered at 9pm.

The lights never go off, sleeping is a nightmare.  Those on the raised part of the cell are lucky; only 8 can go up there. 

On the floor there are a standard 16 spaces plus people laying 2 by 2 in the aisle.  There are about 12 hammocks.  I spent all my time there legs in the toilet, feet from other prisoners in my face.  The width of my 'space' was about 14 inches wide.  At one point in the cell you could not extend your legs it was so full.

Blankets are always good as they can be put together to make a mattress.  I had a few blankets but not enough, grossly uncomfortable.

* Prison regulations have been enforced.  There are no longer any hammocks in the cells and inmates are limited to 3 blankets each - one for a cover, one to sleep on and one as a pillow.

I might have got some of the timings wrong on counts, breakfast, showers, etc.

Hope this helps, *J.


FYI: Although this post has been ready to go since last July, it hasn’t been published until now out of respect for the Burmese case and recent death penalty.  

As much as inmates’ families needed to hear this info earlier, the time wasn’t right.  There was enough of a media circus as it was, and we had no intention of adding to it further, if we could help it.

To be honest we need a bit of light relief and this made me laugh when I read it again.  Maybe that's just my warped sense of British humour.  Big love to the inmates for sharing - as always.  On with the support!

 Samui Prisoners Support regularly visits Koh Samui Prison to buy inmates water and supplies.
PayPal donations gratefully always accepted: kohsamuiinmates@gmail.com


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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dinner Time: Koh Samui Prison Menu

"Nasty looking rice and foul smelling broth with a few bones in it, same as dinner.  Sometimes you might be lucky and get a piece of chicken attached to the bones.."

Transfer from Samui to IDC: pit stop in Surat police cells...
I'd heard about prison food before.  So when an ex-Samui inmate sent me this photo of food in Surat Thani police station recently, I couldn't help but ask for more details.  I think a few of us will be more than surprised by the answers!!  My Qs in italics...

Prison Diet

Is the food in Koh Samui Prison like this?

Samui is better.  Sometimes it can be like this, but you can also order food from the shop.  You can order many different kinds of food from the shop, it's not too bad.  It's not easy (you have to queue for up to 2 hrs to order) but a 'local businessman' provides a service and will queue for you, for a fee.

What do they have?  Chicken and rice?

All kinds of Thai food... and burgers and pizza.  The captains' wives make the extra food.  Once they asked everybody to write down what we liked and now they will make it for us.  OK quality, 40 baht.  60 baht if you can afford to order with the queue service.
  
Burgers and pizza??

Yes.
Burgers, ok.
Pizza, sometimes good.
Lasagna, very good.
And a bakery...

Can you write down the menu from the shop?

It is very big, I don't remember...

Koh Samui Prison Menu

Vegetable Soup
Rice with Fried Pork
Rice, Chicken and Soup
Fried Rice with Pork
Coconut Curry
Fried Fish
Thai Salads

And they change the menu all the time...

Massaman Curry with Chicken and Potato
Khao Muu Daeng - Rice with Red Pork
Prison Style KFC Chicken
Chicken with Garlic Pepper on Rice
Pork Barbecue on Sticks
Thai Sausage
Sticky Rice with Pork
Deep Fried Chicken with Sticky Rice

And for dessert....

Bakery items like Fruit Puff
Bread with Sweet Milk
You can order real Birthday Cakes, any size.

I am not joking.
It is not all.
Sandwiches with Tuna and Crab Sticks...

Haha, gourmet dinner.  And I thought you guys were eating rice and fish heads.  Amazing.  Good news.  Families will be happy to hear that, thanks for the info!


Samui Prisoners Support group visits the prison regularly to buy supplies.
 PayPal donations gratefully accepted: kohsamuiinmates@gmail.com

NB: Info on this page is for the benefit of families and supporters of Koh Samui Prison inmates. If you are interested in being of assistance or if we can be of assistance to you please email us on : kohsamuiinmates@gmail.com

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Friday, 14 August 2015

Reality Hits Home - Life After Thai Jail

9 months after his release from Koh Samui jail, the conversations with *Alex continue - read his first compelling interview here: Thai Prison Time: The Inside Story.

Now hitting a brick wall of extreme boredom, *Alex reconciliates 'life on the out' with the life of freedom he'd been dreaming about for so long…

life after thai prison
Life after incarceration - freedom awaits back in Europe
Over the months our conversations continued, infrequent but always perceptive:

Time On The Out

'Time, Mel...  When you're in prison you've got nothing else.  You think bad of those at home who never seem to care enough to at least send a letter.  You promise yourself and everyone else that you will never not write and stop being in touch.

Now being at home, problems are reversed.  There's simply no time for anything.  You get up at seven o'clock every day just like before, but unlike before, the days are filled with the things that you have to do.  Rent, loans and bills have to be paid.

Don't get me wrong, I'm so happy to be free; but when I get home at night - passing out on the sofa - writing letters is as alluring as going back to jail!  Keep thinking that as soon as things calms down, I will sit down and write, but it never happens.  I don't write because I don't have time.  I feel bad about it, but it can only get better, right?...'

*     *     *
Letter from Koh Samui inmate
*     *     *
Months later, as I filled Alex in with news of his old friends inside, our dialogue began again.  In the process, he catalogued the last 9 months as a free man:

Transfer Home to Sweden

'I got transferred from Koh Samui to Klong Prem in July last year.  My transfer had been approved by the Thais two months before.  I read Thai laws about transfer and it clearly states that once a decision has been made, it's up to your country to pick you up.

It took Sweden 6 months to come get me.  Never found out why it took such a long time.  If anyone wonders whether it's quicker to go to Bangkok before transfer, it's not.

Three officers from Sweden came to pick me up.  The Swedish officers were great.  It was a vacation for them.  They had a ceremony with some high politicians and people from the Swedish embassy.  The ceremony was definitely all 'smiles for the camera'.

Funny, I'd been asking to check my bag to see if my things were all there.  When the ceremony was over, they finally let me check it - and in front of all the Thai guards I found out that everything was gone.  Probably went missing in Samui, but still...

Then it was off to immigration and the airport.  On the plane, I started to do things I hadn't done in over two years.  Like looking into a real mirror...  Horrible.  Nice watching movies and listen to music though.'  

I saw an old man in the mirror.  Worn out

'Once in Sweden, no one had a clue who I was.  I got sent to a facility where they kept unsentenced people for two weeks before they knew what to do with me.  In that place, you don't really get to meet anyone except the guards.

They held me in isolation for one week before they transferred me to the youth floor.  They said it would be a good thing for the youngsters to hear my story.  I felt so sorry for them.  Just kids.  In the end, I got sent to a maximum security prison - for one week.

In Sweden, you need to do two thirds of your sentence before parole; I had only three weeks to go when I came home.  They were really hard about keeping the agreement with the Thais.  Apparently, you cannot be released from custody so they sent me to jail
... for a week.'

Prison is hard, but coming back is no picnic either
 
'You can make suggestions about where you want to go, but it's really just up to the length of your sentence; so with 3 and a half years they sent me to maximum security.

Depressing place, really.  Oldest prison in Sweden and everyone was dressed in grey.  53 guys.  Most of them over 10 yr sentences, but with all the commodities you can imagine.

Except that the whole place was grey, people were nice and kept asking me questions.  I just wanted to be alone though, so they must have thought that I was well weird, he he.' 

Hot showers, warm bed, nice food... did any of those things mean anything to you?

'They meant everything.  I was quite private in Thai prison, too.  To me, the worst thing in there was never having any privacy.  Gets to your head.

All off a sudden I could lock the door when I went to the toilet and I could watch cooking programs on TV and listen to the radio.  I didn't want to talk to anyone.'

recently released from koh samui prison
Thai Prison Time: The Inside Story 
 
'People keep asking me how anyone can come out of Thai prison with their mind intact.  Part of my protection was a sense of the whole thing being unreal or more like a bad joke'

*     *     *  

Reality Hits Home

'Everything was unreal when I came out.
People kept asking me how I felt.  I had no idea...

Before leaving, I'd left all my winter clothes at a friend's place and it turned out that he'd sold them all.  Inside, you dream a lot, about how things will be on the outside and, while dreaming, you picture your life as perfect - with all the possibilities in the world.

Deep inside you know that it's dreaming and that life will be exactly like it was before, or most likely worse.  Coming back, at first you are overwhelmed by all the new inputs and everything you do, you do for the first time in years.'

At first you are just amazed and glad to be free, 
and then reality slowly creeps up on you 

'In most cases, there is no time to breathe and gather yourself, because you need to get a job.  You need to work to support yourself.

The Swedish society is one of the best and most secure places in the world when it comes to social security, but that's when you've been living in Sweden for some years.

I'd been away for so long that the taxes and money to unions that I had paid no longer counted.  The only help I could have got was from social welfare, but then I would have been forced to 'sell my care', since you are not allowed to have any belongings worth any money.

Luckily, I have a family that has supported me with work and a place to stay.  So basically, the only thing that your government does for you, is to bring you back with your family - and fill your criminal record with bullshit.

Says in my Swedish criminal record that I've served 3.5 years for drugs, which is true, but it is still a minor offence in Sweden.  Had to tell my former employees exactly what had happened.'

It's unfair.  Done my time, times a hundred... Should be enough

'I studied for years.  Got my dream job.  Lost it.  I've been told for half a year that they'd probably take me back as long as I got my courses.  Courses are taken and I still have this worrying feeling that they won't take me back.

Because of what has happened.  They smile to me, but in Sweden it's an offence to discriminate.  They are stalling and it doesn't feel right.

When you ask your embassy about what will happen once in Sweden they have no idea.  But there are a lot of things along the long transfer way that could be different.' 

*     *     *

return home to sweden after years in thai jail
Back to Reality - the ennui of everyday life
The War Hero's Return

'I guess in the end you can only blame yourself and make the best out of things.  Many people are so much worse off.'

Like... you could be locked up in Thai jail?

'Exactly.  Just sometimes, it feels like I'm working up this steep hill and there's never any breaks... 

In prison, all you've got is hope.  Nothing happens, but still you are in a state of total chaos.  Your mind is working overtime, and there's crazy shit going on all around you.

Coming back is like running into a brick wall.  All of a sudden there's nothing going on.  
People are treating you with silk gloves, asking you how you feel...

When I tell about the stuff going on in there, they look at me like I'm a maniac and always ask me - always - how the hell I could have survived that.  You just do, I guess.  To know Thai prison you have to at least know Thai culture.  No one does.'

Life didn't turn out as I wanted, but it turned out, 
more or less, exactly as I expected

'Looking back, I kind of foresaw in detail how life has turned out, which is way better than Thai jail, but not what I dreamed of.  Life now is not terrible, but it's amazingly boring.

Someone said: coming back from war is like you've been in free fall, everything moving around you at a tremendous speed.  Constantly worrying, with your senses always on edge.  Coming back is hitting the ground.  All of a sudden it's just nothing.

My life for two years was a freefall, now I'm glued to the ground.  Stuck.

I guess it is like coming back from a war in a way...  Extreme pressure on one hand and extreme boredom on the other.  Fucks with your mind.  Some people don't mind.

I hate it.

Action!'

It's an art being satisfied.  
I'm a seeker - and I still haven't found what I'm looking for

*     *     *
With thanks to Alex for the open dialogue and info on transfers over the last months - wishing him well on the journey as he seeks out the future that awaits him!

 Related Articles:
koh samui prison tales
Samui Prison Tales
'When you're going through hell, keep going'
Winston Churchill

Update Feb 2016: 

15 months after his release from Thai jail, and 6 months after this interview, *Alex is back on the sea and loving the storms raging around him. Our sailor is happy again.

Life After Thai Jail, it exists ;)

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