Scott's Life in Bangkwang Prison - Thailand

Judgement Day - 1st March 2006

The week leading up to 1st March 2006 was one of the longest weeks of my life.  For the whole week my mind was preoccupied with my trial, I was continuously pondering on the possible outcomes.  I had pleaded guilty at a hearing held the previous week and knew that 1st March would be the day that I was handed my sentence by the Thai court.

My brother and his wife had flown out at the begining of the week and had spent the whole week visiting me trying to keep my spirits up.  There was only one ray of sunshine that week which bouyed my spirits more than anything and that was seeing their five month old son, my nephew, for the first time!

I was aware that the outcome of the trial was not going to be good, the shortest sentence that I could receive would be 25 years and the worst outcome could be the death sentence.  I can only try and explain what it is like having to wait for a week whilst a group of strangers play games with the rest of your life!

The night before I was due to appear in court was a sleepless and harrowing experience.  I was starting to feel confident that I would not receive the death sentence, or was I just trying to convince myself, but a life sentence was not out of the question - in Thailand life does mean life!  My brother and the rest of my family were bracing themselves for that particular outcome.  I can honestly say though that this was all speculation, I had no idea of what I would get handed.

The entire evening was spent lying on my back watching the fans turn in slow lazy circles and chain smoking cigarette after cigarette.  I contemplated many things during that long, lonely night - my life up to that present moment, just how long is 25 years?, what would my family think?, would I ever get married?, would I ever have children?, would I ever see the night sky again?  These questions ran through my mind time and time again.  Being the only Westerner in the prison there was no one else I could talk to, leaving me feeling very isolated and alone.

When the rest of the Thai prison population woke up at 5.30am I was still wide awake.  At this time they started their prayers whilst normally I would be fast asleep.  It occured to me that there was at least one small bonus to being a Christian - you could sleep until the last possible minute before being herded out of the door!  I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Mum for having me Christened in the Church of England!

At 6.30am I was given my prison "browns" (uniform) and then had 20 minutes to shower, shave and eat.  Then it was off to the ironmongers shop to receive my chains for my big day in court.  When I say chains I mean CHAINS - not the pissy little monkey chains that you see on American television programmes where the prisoner is ankle cuffed.  I am talking about huge chains that are used to restrain elephants and are used to hold large loads onto trucks.  These are put on manually by another prisoner.  You slip your leg through a steel loop, attach a chain and then the loop is closed by hammering it with a 12lb baby sledge hammer.  Should the person doing the hammering slip then the victim would at best hobble for life!  This experience in itself is enough to make a f**king atheist pray to God that he doesn't miss!  The prison officers then check whether or not the chains are secure by hitting them with their truncheons, depending on the severity of the crime depends on how hard the officer hits the chains.  I witnessed many rapists, paedophiles and other assorted prisoners end up on the floor after being "checked".  It was a pointless excercise but I was thankful that when they checked me it was only with slight taps.

It was then off to the Prison Chief's office where we were made to kneel down for the chains to be checked again.  As mentioned before if there was a "bad" crime amongst us he could expect another swift kick in the back at this stage.  With the abuse complete we were ready for the transport bus to take us to court.

I had a stroke of luck that day as there was only about 30 of us going to court, but in all fairness the Thai prisoners always made sure I had a seat.  It is not fun having to stand and try to keep your footing on a long bumpy journey with your legs shackled.

It was the longest journey of my life, everything that day seemed to take an eternity.  On my arrival at court I caught sight of something that made my heart beat even faster - unable to sit at home waiting for news my Mum and Step-Father John had come to support me.  I had made it clear that I only wanted my brother to attend the verdict as I wouldn't be able to face seeing the pain in Mum & John's faces when my sentence was handed down.  With them was my girlfriend Uria and an Australian gentleman called Glen who lived in Sa Kaeo and had been visiting me in prison.  I still don't know how to describe the emotion on seeing my brother, Mum, John, Uria and Glen there to support me but I knew that it was going to be an even harder day than I could possibly have imagined.  It also bought home to me that a lot of people were on my side - something I was extremely grateful for.

Armed guards escorted us from the bus to the holding cells - when I say armed I mean armed!  A little over the top if you ask me but that's the Thai way!

Once we were safely in the holding cell everybody could come over and talk through the wire and a 2 meter gap.  Not the easiest way to hold a conversation at the best of times.  Everybody was holding it together but I could see the anguish I had caused on every face looking at me.  We didn't have long to wait as my case was the first one being held.  At this stage I would like to say that I did have a Thai lawyer which cost my family £5,000.00 for about 10 hours work!  Nice f**king work if you can get it!!  My thoughts regarding him are the same as many foreigners I have met since - crap with a capital C or the best of a very bad bunch!

Uria, Mum & John talking to me through the wire

I was lead up to the court by 2 guards where my family were already waiting.  The judge entered and I stood.  He spoke in Thai for about 10 minutes and was then gone!  Fortunately Uria had understood everything that had been said and with the tears already forming in her eyes she had to tell me that I had been given a 30 year sentence.  My lawyer was trying to explain all of the details but I couldn't hear a word he was saying.  I just hugged my family whilst keeping my eyes on the floor trying to avoid eye contact - I needed to get out of there fast.

I still kept my eyes down, I knew that if I made eye contact with anyone that would have been it - mine and everyone else's emotions would have come flooding out.  So I asked the guard to give me 2 or 3 minutes to try and get myself together, I'd gotten to know the guards pretty well at the court after attending every 12 days for the last 3 months and in all fairness they were good to me.  He said "No problem, you farang, you go home soon" with a smile as we carried on walking back to the cells.

Uria was already there waiting for me alone.  I'd like to think that the others had stayed back for a while to allow the two of us some time on our own, but in reality I knew that it was because my brother was somewhere comforting Mum who would be distraught.  Uria was crying, she had paid a little money to be allowed into the holding area so at least I could touch her and hold her.  I explained to Uria that "the day had come" and if she wanted to go I would totally understand.  I told her that she had her own life to live and that I could not expect her to spend the next 30 years growing old waiting for me.  But she told me that she loved me very much and that it did not matter how long they kept me locked away as she would be there for me.  I kissed her and with that the rest came round the corner - Mum, John, my brother and Glen.  My lawyer was still there but I had no time for him what so ever.  The redness of everyone's eyes was plain to see but from the start we had agreed no crying in front of each other.

With Uria

As I have already said I had got to know the guards quite well over the last three months and knew that they were partial to a drink or a few bhat in their pockets.  Uria spoke to one of them and was then off to the shops.  She returned with 2 litre bottles of Cola mixed half and half with Mekong (Thai Whiskey).  I was well chuffed, a strong drink was exactly what I needed at that point in time!  My brother also paid the guard so that they could all come into the holding area, we hugged and as strange as it might sound took some photo's - when would I have my Mum, John, my brother and his family in the same room as me again!

Mum, Me. Lee & John

After the photo's more drink appeared and by then I was pretty well on my way!!

At about 5pm it was time for me to return to the prison with my 30 year sentence.  I was loaded onto the bus with my family looking on.  Again it was hard to look at them, by this time Mum was unable to hold back her tears, my brother was doing his best to comfort her and my resolve not to cry in front of them disappeared.  We all waved as the bus pulled off.  The sight of the people I love in tears because of my actions shot me through the heart.

The other Thai prisoners on the bus just looked at me not knowing what to say, but at least they left me to my thoughts.  For the first time that day things started to move incredibly fast and before I knew it we were back at the prison.

We were all unloaded and as expected all of the guards were there with huge smiles on their faces.  30 years for the farang!  With my intake of Whiskey I just stood there with a grin from ear to ear which they couldn't work out.  One of the officers approached me and called the Chief over whilst saying in Thai "he's pissed Sir".  The Chief came over and told me in broken English that I was lucky that I was not Thai.  He stood in front of me whist slapping his nightstick into his empty palm leaving me in no doubt what he meant.  I have witnessed it many times and knew that he was not joking.

Due to my sentence being for 30 years the chains had to stay in place, something which I was expecting.  I was taken to my cell after telling the Thai's my sentence and left to ponder once again what all of this meant to me.  Fortunately I didn't ponder for long, the drink took it's toll and I was soon out for the count.  Thank the Lord for small mercies.

Copyright Scott Hurford 2007 - All Rights Reserved