Sarah's Visit to Scott
Thursday 14th February 2008
I'd been pretty scared about everything, from just getting there on the boat, to finding the place, to worries about what to say, how the guards would treat me etc. I'd spent the previous day accumulating a huge pile of fruit, chocs, biscuits, toiletries, paperbacks, cheese, ham, bread rolls. Lots of stuff to take him in.
The logistics of the whole event went swimmingly. Fantastically so. Arrived at the pier in a distant suburb of the city, it was obvious where to go and as soon as I saw a man with a white face amongst all of the Thai's in the visiting area I pretty much accosted him into being my friend. I initially went to the wrong bit and was personally escorted by a friendly guard to the visitor's centre where a friendly woman checked my visiting order, passport etc.
Me and the white man, who shall now be known as Frank, were called and we walked over to the prison proper.
Climbing through the gate and expecting the worst I am almost disappointed to report that I wasn't assulted. everyone was charming. English was widely spoken and nearly all of my stuff was accepted as gifts, though none of the toileteries. Frank had bought all of his stuff from the prison shop which is the easier way to get stuff in, but it is a rip off and low quality stuff, I'd been to a gourmet food hall in Bangkok to get all my fresh stuff!!
The prison visiting area was set around a beautiful ornate garden and the gallery was cool and clean. We went into the gallery bit and waited with another couple of English people and a French woman.
And then the prisoners came in. They were seperated by two sets of bars and glass and we had to speak on a phone. Some in shackles which all have to wear for six months but lifers have to wear for longer.
Scott came bouncing in, thankfully no shackles, looking brown, so well and healthy. He picked up his phone, "ah the solicitor, can you get me out?". I smiled and said no and that it was great to meet him. He wished me a Happy Valentine's Day and said it was good to spend it with a pretty girl, and I say to myself this is going to be so hard. Stay with it.
And so we talked. He was upbeat and cheerful and both interested and interesting. He describes a life of sheer horror to me but with a smile on his face. He said he always looked forward to Banana Visits, which is what they call when we come and look at them like monkeys in a cage. He told me how he is locked up fourteen hours a day, woken at six and then locked back up at four. He describes a life where there is no food unless someone brings it in and where your entire world revolves around the next letter. They are literally only given a couple of bowls of white rice a day and so are entirely dependent on other people's good will.
His original sentence was thirty years and he has done three years with a reduction of three and a half years from the Amnesty given on the King's Birthday last December. He is thirty-two. We would never be friends in the real world, he got kicked out of school and gave up on education completely at fifteen. He asked me about my life and I tried to play it down, but frankly, relatively my life is superb. I should never complain. When I showed him what I had bought him he welled up at the sight of Cheddar. A block of cheese. And some ham and fresh bread. He applogised and said it's amazing what makes you happy when you sleep in a cell with twenty-two men and have to cr*p in a Thai style toilet which is like a hole in the ground.
At this point I start to well up myself but refuse to cry in front of him. What have I got to cry about? It's his attitude that gets to me. He is adamant he will get out, sees no possible way he will be spending his life here. This is despite the fact that his appeals are exhausted and a recent Amnesty only got him a couple of years off. But he is so shiney and so happy I am amazed. Which actually made it all the more upsetting.
And then I swap with the girl next to me and chat to another English guy. He is a bit older than Scott and is in for the same, he has a tiny sentence compared to the other English, twenty-five years. His stories are misberable, with non of the positive spin like Scott would add. He tells me that he should get transferred home this year but will have to serve out his sentence.
The best sentence you can get here is life. When you get transferred home the High Court assigns a tarrif according to our sentencing guidelines, few have any more time to serve. But if you have a number, you have to see it through. They might get parole after half, but only with agreement of the Thai's. Scott is thirty-two with twenty-three and a half years of his sentence remaining. How do you get your head around this?
I switch back to Scott. We chat some more, covering what's new in football and music. He tells me about the hierarchy here and how there are so few guards they rely on the co-operation of inmates. Certain "Blue Shirts" run the place - trusted Thai inmates. Scott says the English keep their heads down, it's easier this way. They get Premiership football and gamble fags over the result. There is no money, but fags and strangely coffee and coffee-mate serve as curency.
And then three hours later and we have to say out goodbyes. It's pretty clear that Scott and the other guy don't really like each other but I make them promise to share all of our stuff between them.
I am struck with the fact that I will be walking out of one door, back to the river, the nice hotel, the pool, the spa and tomorrow my nice life. Scott will be walking back into squalor and a world where there is no privacy, no comforts and where, when his Mum visits next month, he tells me how much it will hurt that he can't even hug her. It's this that finally gets me and leaves me crying as he is led away.
Too much empathy maybe but I look at Toria next to me and she seems pretty upset too. We all make mistakes, especially when we're young, but the punishment here is too much. I can't get my head around what these guys deal with, and I'm thrilled that I could bring so much joy to a guy's life by virtue of scouring around Bangkok for a block of Cheddar.
Toria and I leave together, go and buy fags for them to be sent in from the prison shop and then sit quietly together reflecting over a drink, before eventually getting the boat back into town and going our seperate ways.
And so I'm done. I'm back at the hotel and probably going to sleep now. I didn't get much last night. I'm so glad that I did that this morning and though I'm pretty upset by the whole thing I'm happy that I made a difference to his day. It was so easy to do. I would heartily suggest to anyone going through Bangkok that they go too. Good treatment all the way made it an easy challenge and I'm so thankful for that.
I received an e-mail from Sarah in January introducing herself letting me know that she was coming to see me. We had never met and with her saying that she was a solicitor/civil servant I wasn't really sure what to expect. But I was so pleased that she came, she's down to earth and really good fun.
I enjoyed the visit a lot, and thank you Sarah for your kind words above. Thank you also for your very thoughtful gifts and more importantly your time.
Be good and be lucky
Copyright Scott Hurford 2008 - All Rights Reserved