Thursday, 1 May 2014

Moral Support What's My Story?

Realising that I am being overtaken by a missionary zeal - trying to help  foreign inmates in a Thai jail - is it any wonder that my morals are being called into question?  By myself, and by others, too…

Koh Samui District Prison & Remand Court

The most recent pointer came from a friend who has spent time on the 'prison run' himself.  He stated his clear intention regarding his visits to Koh Samui Prison, and he also stated clearly what he wasn't doing: 'Looking for credit.'

I wondered whether he thought that's what I was doing?  At my worst, I am a do-gooder rescuer type, I know.  Admittedly, some of us do-gooders do take to our tasks blindly, to the point where salving our own conscience takes precedence over what may actually be the best course of action for all.

Take, for example, the 'Banana Visit' in Bang Kwang, Bangkok's maximum security prison for 25 yr sentences and over.  Streams of tourists herd into the 'Bangkok Hilton' to ogle at the monkeys in the cage, in the inmates' words… thereby ticking off a major do-gooder effort from their tourist to-do-list in the process.

Their conscience is eased, but the inmates are left feeling like monkeys.

Degrading the monkeys in the cage definitely isn't my story.  That's contrary to the whole point to me.  They are human beings, living in unimaginable conditions; they are forgotten by most (and forgotten by me for the last ten years, too, since I last visited a friend in Klong Prem)...

But regardless of the crime, and regardless of the punishment, all human beings have needs: the need for clean drinking water and sufficient food. And that, plain and simple, is my story.

I'm aware of the facts and I write a blog.  I have the information, and I have the vehicle to pass that information on.  14 farangs in an island jail cell are surviving on limited access to food and drinking water - and we can make a difference - just by passing by the prison and buying fruit and water for inmates at the inner prison counters.

No need to visit them, no need to wait for hours, no need to even go shopping.  30 minutes of your time should do it, and the monkeys in the zoo are fed and watered for another day.  Easy, right?

You'd think so, but even some of my girl friends with balls of steel are quaking in their boots at the thought of visiting the prison.  If we are looking for credit, there are much easier ways of getting it.

Others are questioning my moral compass.

There are plenty of people who would like to help, but need to know the inmate's crime before they decide if they want to help or not.

As of April 2015 there were approx. 300,000 inmates in prison in Thailand.  70% were serving sentences for drug offences.  The same percentage for farang drug cases in Koh Samui jail is probably similar or higher.

We know there was one case of drunken theft which landed a foreign inmate with a sentence of 1yr 8 months.  But the remaining percentage aren't the murderers or child molesters you'd find in Bang Kwang.  More likely they were caught in possession of Public Enemy No.1 in Thailand: drugs.

With a minimum sentence of 2 yrs for a dealer caught with more than 0.3 grams (1g = 1yr in jail, with an automatic life sentence for 30g - yes, that's grams, not kilos) make no mistake, sentences in Thailand are severe.  Still, I know many are thinking...

If you can't do the Asian time, don't do the Asian crime!

Som nam naa, as the Thais say, serves you right.  Sure, but they are still human beings. Whatever your moral compass is telling you, it's more about the conditions in there.  And in an Asian jail, it's down to the family and friends to provide the basic necessities.  No friends or family in the country?  Well, then they go without...

As of 23/04/14: 
Currently 28 non-Thai prisoners are locked up in a 24sqm cell for 15/16 hours a day. 

That's less than 1 sqm each: no room to stretch out, sleeping like sardines on a concrete floor, and it's hot as hell in there (two fans circulate hot air). 

There has been a water shortage since before Songkran.

Their drinking water keeps running out: they can only buy one bottle of water per day after queuing for 2 hours in the sun. Or else tap water of uncertain purity to drink only. 

I know it's easier to turn the other way and not think about it.  And Pablo has already told me straight, it's a numbers game.  There will be 100 who won't care, who won't give a toss; but for the 100 who won't, there will be one who will.

And that is the one I am looking for.

In the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer, 'I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me, and not shrink back'.

And the response has been amazing.  I thought I'd be lucky to find one person, but tens of people came forward, ready to pledge their support - moral and otherwise - to the prison cause.

If I needed to convince you, it wasn't your story.  And that's absolutely fine too.  As the admin on the Koh Phangan Conscious Community group said, 'If you can't support the initiative, at least allow Mel to do what she believes to be a good thing'.

And there you have it, that is my story.

I have a whole heap of other personal reasons and triggers which makes this my story too, which I'm only just scratching the surface with.  They have their own implications, and fears of 'seeing the light of day'.

Collective consciousness, past life connections, current life history.  It's all colliding for me, but if I told you the half of it, you'd probably have me locked up in the mad house.  And we wouldn't want that now, would we?   NB. Yes, sorry, that's my sick, twisted, sarcastic English humour again - incase anyone is taking me too literally.

Now, did I ever tell you about the time I sat next to an escaped lunatic at a full moon after party, at the old Harmony club?  "I've just escaped from Surat Thani mental hospital", this bearded farang told me.  Of course you have, you nutter… 

Only he was telling the truth!  When the party ended, he left the table where we'd sat all day, and for the first time I saw him in handcuffs and leg irons.  This was 20yrs ago, and I always wondered what happened to him next, did he get recaptured?…

A Thai jail - or lunatic asylum - is definitely not a fun place to spend your time.  As my father would say to me, "That (along with any prison) is a place to keep out of"... 
Except if you're taking in supplies for those less fortunate than yourselves, of course. 

Good luck on the journey.

Donations to help buy inmates A DRINK OF WATER always gratefully accepted! 
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