Scott's Life in Bangkwang Prison - Thailand

Shane and Liz - October 2006

In August we booked our flights and hotel in Pattaya, about 30 minutes from Rayong Prison.  For many years Scott had been trying to persuade us to visit Thailand, it was a country he had fallen in love with, but never did we envisage visiting under these circumstances.

Two weeks before our departure we received the news that Scott had been transferred to Bangkwang.

One week before our departure there was a millitary coup in Bangkok, the city was full of tanks and troops and a new Government was installed - the situation was still uncertain as we left.

As we took off from Gatwick we were not experiencing the usual feelings of excitement when going on holiday!

We arrived safely on the Saturday morning and booked into our hotel in Pattaya which was to prove to be a very tranquil retreat.  Scott's brother was in contact with a friend, Leigh, who lived in Pattaya and who had been visiting Scott on a weekly basis in Rayong Prison.  He kindly came to see us on the Sunday and was a mine of information.  He was also able to give us an insight on what to expect when we went to see Scott.  When it came to visiting Bangkwang though he was in the same boat as us as he had not been able to get there since Scott had been moved.  It was an enormous relief when he kindly offered to take us on the Tuesday morning and accompany us inside for the visit.  Since Scott's arrest we had read anything we could lay our hands on about Thai prisons and the thought of going to Bangkwang was very daunting - that probably sounds very selfish considering that Scott is imprisoned there and is having to live a life that we can only imagine but he has asked us to be totally honest about our feelings and thoughts when writing for his site - it was the one prison in Thailand that I really did not want to visit.  It was arranged that Leigh would pick us up from the hotel at 7am on the Tuesday.  This incredibly kind and generous person then offered to give us a tour of Pattaya whilst on his way to meet his wife - we were finally starting to relax!

We were keeping in daily contact by e-mail with family in England and when logging on to update them that night were amazed to see that Scott had e-mailed us from the prison! He hoped that we had arrived safely and advised us to only visit once or twice a week with us being in Pattaya. He also gave us Uria's phone number so that we could contact her and take her with us on visits as he had not seen her since being moved. Unfortunately the prison censor had blanked out the phone number so we were non the wiser!

Tuesday morning arrived and off we headed to Bangkok.  Leigh had met Uria when visiting Scott in Rayong and knew that she was now working, he thought he may have her phone number at home - again he was coming to our rescue!  We had decided that instead of trekking back and forth between Pattaya and Bangkok we would stay overnight, see Scott again the following day and then head back by taxi - Leigh very kindly offered to drop us off at a hotel he knew after our visit, the man was truly amazing and had already done more than enough for us.

Bangkok Traffic

It was decided to park his car in The World Trade Centre car park and take a taxi to Bangkwang. Before catching a taxi we bought McDonalds meals, fresh fruit, veg, bread, meat and cakes to take with us.  We then managed to hail a taxi in the chaos that is Bangkok traffic - it is truly spectacular to see!  Not knowing what the traffic was going to be like we had left in plenty of time and were pleasantly surprised to get there in under 30 minutes.  We were that early that the morning visitors were just starting to come out from their visit.  We were standing outside trying to decide how we were going to kill the next hour or so when we were approached by a young lad who had heard us talking - an English voice stands out a mile at the prison!  We never did get his name but he had just been in to see his brother Michael Connell, the previous day he had seen him for the first time since his arrest.  He explained the proceedure and told us exactly where we needed to go to register for our visit.  More importantly he told us that visiting had not been as bad as he had expected!  He said that Michael was well and in good spirits before going off with a beaming smile - we thank him from the bottom of our hearts for taking the time to stop and put us at our ease.

We duly registered, went to the office to have our passports and visiting pass photocopied and then waited until it was time to go in.  Although no announcements were made the sudden stampede towards the office where you leave your belongings made it clear that we should be joining them.  Not a word of English was spoken so we just went with the flow, handed our belongings in, had the items we were taking into Scott searched before being searched ourselves.  We then had to show our paperwork before being allowed through to the visiting area - not what we had expected from our research of Bangkwang.  I really don't know what I was expecting to see at this stage but it was not the beautifully tended flower beds and immaculately clean, bright visiting area!  We handed in the copy of our visiting pass at the office and were pointed in the direction of the visiting area across the road.  Still not knowing if we were doing right we found an empty stool and waited.....and waited.  Prisoners were coming through on the other side of the glass partition and corridor looking for their visitors, although you can not hear what is being said through this you can distinctly hear the shakles on their legs as they walked past.  It had been 21 months since we had last seen Scott in England - I knew that his appearance would have changed and that I would recognise him but would I be able to handle what I saw, especially if he was in chains.  Shane and Leigh were sitting on the stools whilst I stood to the back feeling excited, apprehensive and nauseous all at the same time when suddenly Scott stood before us.  He must have wondered why I stood there grinning like an idiot - it was the Scott we knew and loved and I had not heard the chains as he approached us!  The feelings of fear and apprehension that I had been experiencing leading up to this had suddenly disappeared.  I was then grinning like an even bigger idiot when he kicked off because we did not have Uria with us - he still had spirit!!  To cut a long story short he had been transferred to Bangkwang with nothing - no possessions or money - but he knew that at about the time of his transfer Uria would have received the money from family to deposit into his prison account.  In order to set himself up again and survive he had been borrowing from others in the hope that Uria would turn up, she had always managed to track him down in the past when he had been moved.  When he calmed down we soon understood why we had received the welcome that we had.  He was alone in a strange enviroment, cut off from the outside world not knowing what was happening and frightened. we were the first people he had seen and he needed to vent his frustration at someone!  We assured him that money would be deposited into his prison account as soon as we left him, we would then do all we could to find Uria.  We were then able to start again with our visit and Scott was soon laughing and joking as only he can under such circumstances!  He was insistant that with funds in his account there was nothing else that he needed bringing in apart from a Kentucky Family Meal!!  He told us that he was well and although we would probably find it hard to believe he felt that his transfer to Bangkwang had been for the best - he was meeting other British lads for the first time since his arrest and was making friends.  All too soon the phone line went dead which indicated that our visit was over so by using sign language we said our goodbyes and hoped that he understood that we would be returning the following day. We again followed the crowd and went to the office window in the visiting area to hand in what we had bought with us only to find that some of what the first check had allowed through was now being handed back to us - we never did get our heads around this bit! We bought rice, cigarettes and coffe at the shop which would be delivered to Scott the next day and enable him to clear what he owed and then deposited money into his prison account. Feeling as though a weight had been lifted from our shoulders we found a passing taxi to take us back to Bangkok. It was a silent journey with all three of us deep in thought.

By the time we got back it was about 4.30pm and having not eaten all day we decided to go into the shopping centre and have something quick to eat before collecting the car and Leigh dropping us off at the hotel before heading back to Pattaya. When we emerged half an hour later the brilliant sunshine had been replaced by heavy rain and the roads were already ankle deep in water, traffic was crawling along and the water rising by the minute. What should have been a ten minute journey took over an hour, vehicles had been abandoned all over the place causing havoc as the water level had risen above their exhausts, by the time we arrived at the hotel the water was lapping up against the underside of the car. How Leigh managed to remain so calm and in control we will never know, we had been caught up in tropical storms and even a hurricane before but had never experienced anything like this - it was terrifying. The hotels were filling up fast but we managed to get a room. After our day a stiff drink was needed so we headed to the lounge bar which overlooked the main road heading towards Pattaya, Leigh thought it best to join us, but with coffee, and wait to see if the rain was going to ease before trying to set of again. In the next half hour we watched the water levels raise to waist height and Leigh was fortunate enough to get one of the last remaining rooms before ordering himself a well earned drink! What a day!

The morning after

When we awoke the next morning we were amazed to see that the water had gone but saw on the front pages of the Bangkok papers the most amazing pictures of the previous night - no we had not imagined it!  Leigh left us after breakfast with directions to the nearest supermarket and the prison address written in Thai should we have a taxi driver who did not understand where we wanted to be.  We will always be indebted to him.

We were on our own but confident that we were going to have a better day - the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky for a start!  We were visiting Scott in the afternoon so had plenty of time to go shopping for 'treats' for him and his friends.  We were finally ready to hail a taxi but decided to have a cigarette first, we spotted a large group of local people standing on some steps in front of the supermarket all smoking so thought that we would be OK there, we could not see any ashtrays or litter bins to dispose of our cigarette ends but saw that everyone else had stubbed them out on the steps so did likewise - big mistake!!  As we started to leave we were approached by a policeman who made it quite clear that we should follow him, I did not hear everything that he had said but Shane was able to tell me it was because we had left our cigarette ends on the steps.  As we were following him along the street, with him managing to walk and keep an eye on us at the same time, all I could think of was that Scott was expecting us and his Kentucky was getting cold!  We finally reached his office and were shown a sheet of paper written in English explaining to us that we had committed an offence by leaving litter which carried a fine of 2,000 bhat, we have never handed money over so quickly and were relieved to be on our way again - if ever there was an incentive to give up smoking it was then!  We headed to Bangkwang and with a little more confidence went through the proceedure of registering, handing in our bags and being searched.  The lesson we had learnt the previous day was that we could take in a bottle of water to drink whilst waiting in the heat and a pen and paper to take down notes.  This time we were met with a smile which turned into laughter when we regaled our previous brush with the law to Scott.  Scott was clutching a piece of paper in his hand which turned out to be a shopping list - a big one!  He had decided that he was ready to start fighting his corner and also start corresponding with people so was going to need pens, paper, envelopes and stamps.  He was now in full flow and also needed an address book, a note book to jot things down in, another note book to keep track of his finances, files and folders so that he was able to file correspondence coming into him and so it continued.  He also requested cat food for the two kittens he had adopted, Archie & Daisy, and had us in stitches as he told us that he had been buying fish from one of the Thai inmates who prepare it for others to feed his cats - the Thai's do not see cats in quite the same way that the British do and were horrified to see what he was feeding them on!  They thought he had truly lost the plot. Having learnt another valuable lesson from the previous day we made sure that anything of importance was said before the phone lines went dead and Shane promised him that he would do all he could to find Uria and that we would be returning the following Tuesday so he had plenty of time to draw up more lists. We knew that the next family visit was not going to be until the following February so wanted to be sure that he would be stocked up until then. The things which he had asked us for we would get that night when we got back to Pattaya and post into him the following morning so that he would have it all by the time we returned. Although it was heart wrenching to leave him we drew some comfort from the way he was taking control of his life and was being positive about the future.

Thursday was spent shopping and parcelling up at the post office. We were told that the parcels would be at the prison the next day. We were then off for the weekend, we went to the River Kwai to see the bridges and railway line built by the prisoners of war during the 2nd World War and spent a night in a floating bungalow on the river. It was fascinating, humbling and very interesting.

A small part of the railway line built by prisoners of war

We were still in contact with Leigh who had been unable to contact Uria, he had kindly invited us round to his house on the Monday night as with family and friends they were going to be celebrating his son George's birthday.  There was no way Shane was returning to Scott without news of Uria - he had promised and is a man of his word.  On the off chance he contacted his brother in law, Dennis, who had been to see Scott the previous year when he was in Sa Kaeo.  He had a mobile number for her but was doubtful that it would be of any use.  Monday morning Shane gave it a try and Uria answered - thank you Dennis!  She arranged for time off work and met us at Leigh's that night.  The poor girl looked terrified as she got out of the taxi, we were strangers to her and she did not know what to expect.  It turned out that she had gone to visit Scot in Rayong as normal and before seeing him had paid the money into his account.  She was then told that he had been moved that morning but could not find out where to, no one would tell her.  She was insistant that she showed us the receipt from the prison to prove this.  She had made frantic phone calls trying to find out where he was and in the end was told by someone (there is no point in naming names) that Scott no longer wanted to see her.  We now understood why she looked so frightened when she first saw us, she thought that she was in trouble for keeping Scott's money.  We explained to her that this was not why we had wanted to see her - we wanted to take her with us to see Scott who was worried about her.  Leigh and his wife very kindly asked Uria to stay with them that night, they were not strangers to her like we were, and she would come with Leigh to pick us up in the morning as he was coming with us to see Scott again.  The kindness of others sometimes restores your faith in humanity.

For all of you who know Scott I truly wish you could have seen his face the next day when he saw Uria with us.  They then had one hell of a barney whilst sorting out their misunderstandings - it only lasted for ten minutes and was quite amusing as we could only hear Uria's side of it and she was taking no stick from him!  Scott looked even better than he had the previous week and had been settling in a lot better.  He was also sporting a very fetching skin head which he assured us was of his own choice in preparation for the hot summer which was just around the corner - it was courtesy of the prison barber, a Thai inmate, who's only tools were a cut throat razor!  He told us that the take aways which we had been taking in the previous week had been devoured by his new friends, some of who had not eaten a burger in four years.  He was doing OK.

After the visit Leigh headed back to Pattaya, unfortunately we did not get a chance to see him again.  We are not really able to put into words the gratitude we feel for the way he went out of his way to look after us and also for the support he had shown (and continues to show) to Scott - thank you is very inadequate.

Uria stayed with us and we checked into a hotel in Bangkok.  More shopping for Scott before dinner and an early night - it had been a long day.

Loaded down with take aways we returned to see Scott on the Wednesday.  He was well and getting his head around his surroundings, the prospect of being there for another twenty eight and a half years was daunting but he was being positive.  He was also wanting to fight his corner, instructions were thrown at us left, right and centre for things to be done when we returned to the UK.  He was not saying that an injustice had been done and he should not have been sentenced, he had done wrong and accepted that he should be punished - not 30 years though.  He had discovered that other Governments in the World support their people in an application for a Royal Pardon (which if successful can take up to 15 years so is not a cop out) but the British Government do not offer this support, making an application pointless without this backing.  It came as a bit of a shock to us as well!

Despite the time we had spent in Bangkok we had not seen anything of it and it looked a fascinating city so we decided to have dinner on a riverboat that evening sailing through the heart of the city.  As we set sail we were told that due to the heavy rain the previous week and high water levels the boat was unable to get under the bridges so spent an enjoyable evening getting to know Uria better whilst cruising between two bridges all night.  We have still not seen anything of Bangkok.

Thursday was to be our last day of visiting Scott, we had tried to persuade Uria to go in alone in the morning so that they would have some time together without Scott's aging Aunt and Uncle listening to their every word, whilst we explored the area around the prison.  She was having none of it.  We had learnt that if it wasn't busy two of us could sit on stools side by side and we could each pick up a phone whilst Scott had a phone to each ear on his side, this worked very well until the pair of them forgot that this aging Aunt could hear things being said that made her drop the phone as though it were on fire!  We returned in the afternoon to say our goodbyes.  paper and pen were needed as Scott had a lot of messages for family and friends at home.  It was going to be two years before we would be able to visit him again and suddenly there seemed to be a lot to say.  For once I was grateful for the phone line being suddenly cut dead - it meant that I did not have to say goodbye.

We returned to Pattaya with Uria and began the round of shopping and parcelling up again for a couple of days.  We also had to try and change our flights after discovering that we were due to fly back to Heathrow - not Gatwick where we had left the car.  Uria retruned to Rayong on the Saturday afternoon and we began our journey home.

It had been an incredibly busy and stressful two weeks but so worthwhile.  I left feeling incredibly proud of Scott, yes he had done wrong, but it was too late now to be going over that - he knew it better than we did what he had done - what was more important now was how he dealt with the consequences of his actions and the conditions he was living in.  He did not once complain or moan about the conditions, he was not feeling sorry for himself - it would have been all too easy to have done so and retreated into himself - instead he was remaining positive and figuring out how best to use his time there.  They had taken away his freedom and had tried very hard to take away his dignity, spirit, character and amazing sense of humour but he was clinging on to them for all he was worth.

Copyright Scott Hurford 2007 - All Rights Reserved