Saturday, 13 December 2014

Thai Prison Time: The Inside Story

Articulate, hard-hitting and philosophical, *Alex recently returned home to Sweden after his Thai prison ordeal.  He served 2 years in Koh Samui Prison before being sent to Bangkok's Klong Prem in July 2014.  Transferred to his home country in November, Alex spent 3 weeks in a maximum security jail in Sweden before being released.  

recently released from thai prison

Sentenced to 3.5 years prison in Thailand for 1 g of MDMA, Alex is now a free man.
Insistent that this is a story that needs to be told, here Alex tells it is how it is - and how the high life on Koh Phangan turned into the nightmare of Thai Prison Time...

Alex says:

'First time I was in Thailand was 1990.  My father was a co-owner in a diving center in Phuket from the mid-eighties, so we spent a lot of time in Thailand.  I was pretty much fresh out of university in 2007, so I was on just a short vacation before starting my career (which I did on my return home to Sweden)... 

I stayed on Koh Phangan for a few months in 2006-2007.  This was during Christmas and New Year.  There was, of course, a lot of partying.  I was going home at the end of January and wanted to have one last blow out before I left.

I had it coming, I know.

I knew, of course, that the laws in Thailand were hard when it came to drugs, but everyone else was doing it and the locals were selling it, so how dangerous could it be?  
We only took every now and then.  Other people were doing it all the time... but if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time:

In January 2007 I got caught with 8 ecstasy pills.  I spent some days in Samui prison before I got out on bail.  The police gave me my passport back and escorted me to the border of Malaysia, where I paid my overstay, got my stamps - and I went home.' 

on his way to thai prison
Another Full Moon Party arrest - photo via Thai Party for Me
'Before this happened in 2007, I spent all my free time in Thailand.  When I finally got my dream job working the rigs in the Northern Sea, I also had the opportunity to live wherever I wanted.  And I wanted to live in Thailand.

Five and a half years later, I broke up with my girlfriend and I started to travel again.  I wasn't sure about Thailand... so I contacted the Swedish embassy, the Thai embassy in Sweden and even a lawyer in Bangkok - to find out if there would be any trouble going back.  No one could find anything.  

They all said that it was probably safe to go back - as long as I stayed away from Samui. 

I got caught at the airport in Bangkok and got sent to Koh Samui Prison the same day.  Since I had fled the country, they refused to give me bail.  

People keep saying that prisoners, in most cases, have themselves to blame, but seriously, no one deserves this... I'm as normal a guy as anyone. Got three and a half years for one gram of MDMA.  (Tested in a lab, the 8 pills that Alex got caught with contained 1g of the Class 1 drug).  

I lost my job and a big part of my life.  Sure, I had myself to blame, but so do 80 percent of the people who are visiting Full Moon.  I was unlucky and stupid, but it could really happen to anyone. 

People should know.'  

inside a thai prison
Inside a Thai jail cell
'Thought I'd send you a picture of how the cells look like.  In this picture there's only one hammock and not 42 people.  The cell in the picture is bigger than in Samui - more people in Samui, though - so you can only imagine how it is in there.  

It really is hard to grasp.  People look at it but they still don't really believe that it's real.  It's 2014 for god's sake...

But this is the reality.

There were only 170 prisoners in Koh Samui Prison in January 2007.  When I came back in August 2012 there were 360.  When I left in July there were 618!  If Thai prison is horrible, overcrowdedness is the worst thing.  With it comes everything else.

Constant fighting and diseases.'  

UPDATE:  As of Dec 2014 there were 800+ prisoners in Koh Samui Prison = 40+ inmates to a cell.  The farangs were sharing a 24 sqm cell, with 43 inmates and 11 hammocks, at last count. 

'I have a theory about Thai prison.  Well, it's a fact, but nothing that they talk about.  Very small means would be needed to make life at least bearable inside.  Edible food; water at all times; easier to keep contact with relatives; better medical support.  

But they deliberately keep conditions bad. 

The guards are constantly changing routines.  A thing you could do one day is forbidden the next.  Might not sound like a big problem, but we are creatures of habit and we need stability.  If you get routines in everyday life you start the day knowing what is going to happen: it gives you security.  

But the guards put the brakes on your routines all the time.  

Probably to keep people nervous.  I don't know.  You just can't relax.  The theory is that life in prison must be worse than the life one can have on the outside.  If people are living on the streets, then prison must be worse.  Otherwise people would deliberately try to end up inside. 

Prison must be a punishment. 

The Thais are sovereign.  Their country, their rules.  I deeply respect that.  Some things should be different - but to be honest, criticism won't change that.  
In prison, it will only make things worse. 

I've seen it myself.'  

the showers in klong prem prison bangkok
 The showers in Klong Prem - photo courtesy of

Transfer to Klong Prem. 

'Klong Prem is a hotel compared to Samui.  In my building we were about 900 people on a surface at least 8 times bigger.  Food was good with as much meat as one could eat.  Lots of space for running and reading, and as much water as one wanted.  It was even possible to get away and sit by yourself, if you wanted to.   

It sounds incredible but it is paradise compared to Samui.  Bangkok's Klong Prem is a 'show prison' for the Thai government; if they let anyone look at the Thai prison system, they send them to visit Klong Prem.  

Most foreigners were transferred to Klong Prem because their embassies pressed on a little.  Please tell all the guys that if they have the opportunity to go to Klong Prem, do.' 

'All Thai men are homosexual and Darwin was right, we are nothing but animals, he he.  Seriously, it's easy to get spiritual in that place.  Christians and Muslims get extra religious.  I didn't find God, but if there ever was a lesson, it would be that life is precious and very short.  

I had a constant feeling that time was running out.  Everything I was missing out on...'

'If I had my time again I wouldn't have fought the case.  It's simply impossible to win when it comes to drug cases.  It's you against the police.  Thailand is by far the best country to visit in the world.  Pound by pound there is no other country in comparison.  As a sailor, being free half year, my biggest regret is that I can never go back.'

'There are, however, sides of Thailand that you don't want to see.  It's easy to get lured into believing that everything is legal and OK to do, since everyone else is doing it.  But if you are at the wrong place at the wrong time, things can go very wrong.  As long as you don't deliberately do something wrong, you shouldn't have any problems…' 

Home to reality. 

'Being back in Sweden now, it's really hard to grasp how totally lawless things are there.  And that's probably what is a little bit alluring with the whole Asia thing too, I think.  It's like travelling back in time.  My dream was to live in Thailand, but I think it would have worn me down in the end.  

But it's so strange...  

Your mind is a wonderful thing.  It protects itself by letting go of all the bad things.  It's like the love of your life dumps you for another.  It hurts like hell and you just want to 'off' yourself, but eventually it passes.  You stuff it away, somewhere in the back of the mind... 

For some people it's easy to forget.  Others can dwell forever.

I've already forgotten about it.


It's like it was just a dream. 

This is reality.' 

Working at a ski resort in Sweden, Alex is now re-integrating into society.  The stolen prison years will never be recaptured - but at least now Alex is a free man, able to put the dark Koh Samui days and Thai prison life behind him.

Huge thanks to *Alex for his honesty in telling this story - a cautionary tale for many on the islands - and wishing him all the best for the future.  (Name has been changed to protect his privacy and allow him to start a new life...)

As Carl Jung said, 'No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven, unless its roots reach down to hell.'

Samui Prisoners Support

 Samui Prisoners Support regularly visits Koh Samui Prison to buy inmates water and supplies.
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