Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Jailhouse Boogie : Paradise in a Cage

As lucid and poetic as ever - and a freebird once more - one of our much loved Koh Phangan characters waxes lyrical about prison life.

 Blame it on the Boogie: Sheik Yer Booty
Recently released from Koh Samui Prison, I'd asked Sheik how was his time inside?  His response was intriguing, and our insightful interview began here:

"Wow pretty happening spot, old friends and many new acquaintances.  Pretty relaxed place considering the atrocious conditions.  Truly surreal.  Paradise in a cage."

Now returned to his native homeland, Sheik Yer Booty tells his Samui Prison Tales.

Koh Phangan Days  

This picture is of me at Leela Beach, way back in 2003.  The year my brother died and I permanently moved away from Canada, to redefine my existence on Koh Phangan.

Earlier years on Leela Beach, Koh Phangan
Canada (except for my amazing friends and family) held such horrible memories for me that I had to boogie - and search out somewhere to adequately express myself - without having the weight of prying eyes set upon me.

Just before my arrival to Koh Phangan, my family and I suffered the loss of my brother.  Five years younger than myself, he was my best friend and confident.  His tragic death, for me at the time, seemed to have signalled the end of laughter and good times.

For years before his passing I had thought of returning to Thailand, specifically Koh Phangan - having visited the island once before in 1996.  The advent of my brother's death propelled me into the warmth and sounds of the island.

Sheik enjoyed the freedom of life on Koh Phangan for more than a decade, before as he describes it, 'the inevitable' happened.  His prophetic profile photo before his arrest (below) seemed to point again to darker days.

Prison Time

When I first entered the prison I felt sort of stunned.

I had already gone through the emotions that one would expect leaving Koh Phangan.  I knew right away that it looked like I was in for the long haul.

Sadness and self directed anger had set in.

What surprised me the most - and still does - was the overall feeling of futility that I was experiencing.

I had resigned myself to the fact that this was my life now, I was experiencing the other side of the ying and the yang: all the nastiness coming to replace all of the joy that I had experienced over the last 10 years or so.

The Monkey House

On my arrival to Samui Prison, I hadn't really taken in my immediate surroundings:  I was tired and spent.  However, I was quite taken aback, to say the least, when I saw a little later what was to become my living quarters.

The farang block the prisoners call "the monkey house". 

Grossly overpopulated, the cramped conditions were overwhelming.  Thank goodness that I am a relatively small and flexible person who can be made to fit just about anywhere.  40 of us were left scrambling for a place to sit or sleep on the tiled floor.

 My first few days saw me sleeping on the floor.  The top half of my body in the common room and the lower half resting in the toilet.

Prisoners are not afforded bedding upon arrival and have to scramble to have some sort of means to attain relative comfort.  I was fortunate enough to run into an old and very dear friend of mine in there - who unfortunately does not have the small and flexible physical characteristics that served me so well.

He provided me with a blanket to sit on and a small pillow for me to rest my head on.  Having broken my neck some years before this was a necessity, which was just that: necessary.  I say there were 40 of us crammed in there at first; that later became an unbearable 45.

Boogie fan: Sheik Yer Booty showing a Full Moon DJ some love
Jail Cell Blues

My first few days saw me sleeping on the floor.  The top half of my body in the common room and the lower half resting in the toilet.  As if this was not bad enough, I moved to the middle of the room with hopes that this would alleviate some of the discomfort - but to no avail.

There, I avoided the non stop traffic that my lodging in the toilet brought on.  But I was subsequently squeezed into a seriously tight situation - made worst by the admittance of 3 new cell partners.  Kicks and jabs were far too common and restlessness prevailed.

I was later moved to a make shift hammock (blanket with loops at the end) strewn from bar to bar, dangling just above the population: my face in proximity to the ceiling was at a distance of about 10 inches.  The whole scene was truly uncomfortable.

Whenever I felt sorry for myself, I would place myself in the shoes of my friend (who shall remain nameless for the purpose of this interview) who has so far survived 3 years under these circumstances - and is possibly the tallest person I have ever known.

Yin and Yang  

Lord of the Dance
As I mentioned before I felt basically exasperated.  I felt as though the other shoe that I always suspected would fall had finally come down and that of course it would find me stuck in jail in Thailand. 

I wasn't shocked, more like resigned to it.  I felt almost like this was payment due for the amazing time I was having, the amazing life I was experiencing: at once finally being utterly happy with myself, my friends, my family and life in general.

Kind of like a case of things being too good to be true.  I felt that life's cycles usually work that way.  Mine anyway.

That is, until a little later I realized that happiness is a state of mind - that can be attained no matter what the outside experience is.

Paradise in a Cage

Wow pretty happening spot, old friends and many new acquaintances. Pretty relaxed, considering the atrocious conditions.  Truly surreal.

Lovers strolling hand in hand, making out on straw mats strewn about the place.  In contrast near riots as the shower obsessed population go crazy giggling and splashing about in the toilets.  So weird.

The ladyboys and mannish boys stroll along cooing, lofting without a care in the world.  Imagine paradise in a cage.  Honestly, it really adds to the charm of the place.  I'm sure it must have a psychological effect that is undeniable.

At the very least it registers in one's subconscious and helps to diffuse the overall urgency of the place.  Unless the person in question is a homophobe, I suppose.

* In another interview with an ex-inmate, *Alex expressed similar sentiments to Sheik: the futility of wasted days in jail; and how most Thai men engaged in gay relations to relieve the tension... although the Thais may argue that ladyboys are the 3rd sex!

A place where everybody knows your name...
Farang Dynamics

Most everyone on the farang range is fairly mellow.  Most have accepted their fate, and are enthusiastically looking forward to the future - what else to do?  No one seems outwardly depressed; however on their own I'm sure that everyone is suffering in one way or another.

New additions to the population are a little tightly wound, as can be expected... Most have never been incarcerated before, so certain levels of anxiety can run high at times.  Life in limbo, not knowing what to expect... what sort of time to expect.

Some have no idea what exactly they have been charged with, the language barrier being so great.  Communication between the institution and the farang prison population is almost non existent, causing great anxiety amongst those newly arrived - and to a certain degree amongst long timers as well.

Koh Samui Prison represents the greatest lesson 
in patience and humility that there ever was.

Those who have been privy to and have played the game for a while are, as a result, more calm and accepting of their situation - to the point where jokes are made of the futility of the situation.

That is not to say that frustations do not run deep amongst these prisoners; only that, when possible, certain situations are better off laughed away.  The opposite could drive one crazy.

New arrivals generally have yet to understand that no amount of anxiety and self retribution will help their cause.  Koh Samui Prison represents the greatest lesson in patience and humility that there ever was.

Change Comes From Within

Although happiness has always come from within, it does receive help from the exterior and material self - however, happiness is primarily bred from inner comfort.

'Free your mind and your ass will follow'
After my brother's passing, my demeanor at the time was one of self destructiveness and pain.  I spent years wallowing in self pity, but gradually would see my way through it - by acknowleging the fact that my life was, infact, blessed.

Change occured rather bluntly once, during the episode of what I would call a nervous breakdown.  I took notice of the constant beauty that surrounded me: the sand crabs as they performed their dance in the sun.  Life in perpetual motion.

Happiness comes from within, and so does change... 

Where for a moment I foresaw the end of all things good for me, the next saw me rejoicing at the mere concept of motion, the beauty of being.

Ever since, life with all its twists and turns has been just a wonder to me.  One that is so great and full of potential.

This realization, coupled with my understanding of logic - as it pertains to life's willingness to bring happiness - finds me not dwelling on individual moments of sadness, anger or anxiety.

It is my philosophy that no matter what may happen during the course of one's life, however terrible that event can be - the loss of a life, the end of a relationship, or time served - with time, all of these advents become mere memories and lessons learned.

I believe that only by accepting our past are we then allowing ourselves room to grow. 

To grow into a realm of happiness and the comfort that that brings.  In other words, no time to waste being unhappy - when logically I know that later I will be happy:  such is life's lessons as I understand them.

Freebird Fly Free

A month after my arrival to Koh Samui Prison - not so long, but it felt like forever - I was very surprised to find that I was being released, as I had already resolved myself to the tedium of incarceration.  I felt extremely happy and very hopeful for the future.

One month later and I am still all of those things!

Ah Mel, as positive and excited as I am to be starting all over, I miss my home so much.  I guess I was getting too comfortable.

Looking forward to new horizons.  Staying positive as always, embracing clarity.  All is groovy.  I just miss my music so much.

Time to boogie, really.

Glad to be anywhere but there.

As our old friend flies free to his next life adventure, we wish him luck on the journey.  Huge thanks to Sheik Yer Booty for his fascinating insight into Koh Samui Prison life!

 Related Articles:
Samui Prison Tales 
Samui Prisoners Support visits Koh Samui Prison regularly to buy inmates much needed drinking water and supplies... All donations gratefully accepted!
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