The People of Bangkwang
There are many different types of people here from countries all around the world. You may think that we are all 'drugs barons' due to the length of our sentences, but all of us committed our crimes for many different reasons. For some Western prisoners, it was for the money to enjoy Thailand's beach life; but for most, it had to do with their home country's problems; lack of work or even a means of putting food on the family table. These aren't just hard luck stories but real people with real lives.
In the West we don't know how lucky we really are. When I lived in Cambodia I saw people who had never committed a crime but were living in worse conditions than the poorest person here.
I have always been keen to learn more about the world and different countries cultures. I have been amazed at some of the stories I've heard from people here about how they live their lives. It's not uncommon for people to spend their entire lives in their village, never leaving to go to the nearest town let alone a city. The words 'drugs' or 'narcotics' do not enter their vocabulary and they don't understand the problems that go along with taking drugs. They are approached by Agents who offer them a chance to out into the big wide world and earn money for their families. What would you do in their shoes?
When they cross the boarder into Thailand they don't understand what they are doing and end up in here. They'll often be in here for twenty years with their families not knowing what has happend to them. If their families do eventually find out where they've ended up they are often unable to visit or support them financially. These are very proud people here who do what they can to survive.
Soe Paing has been here for eleven years and is serving a life sentence. In all that time he has only received the occasional visit. He has learnt to speak excellent English and for 200 bhat a month washes clothes for Western inmates who treat him like a slave. Not once have I heard him utter a harsh word back to them. He doesn't have any family contact or support and I feel for him having to work as hard as he does to get by.
Chandra was one of the people whose family paid their life savings to an Agent so that he could have the chance of a better life in another country. He has served fifteen years of a life sentence. He is in the same cell as me, and with twenty-two other people living in a confined space you can imagine that there are problems at times. The first six months for me were difficult. I am the only Westerner in the cell and didn't understand all of the rules; but Chandra was always the first one to help with any problems I had or came up against, sometimes going against his own people in my defence. He has found God whilst being in here and is what I would call a true Christian. He is very understanding, which I think is due to the amount of time he's spent here. He has seen it all.
When I first arrived here I was put into a different building and met a fellow Brit who has served fourteen years. He's struggled at times and his situation has left it's mark on him, but I will ask any one of you to do fourteen years here including two spells in the block - once for three months - and not have problems dealing with or trusting people. He doeesn't ask for anything and just plods on with his life. He could return home to England tomorrow to serve the remainder of his sentence if he signed the paperwork, but he won't sign with the Prisoner Transfer Treaty between the UK and Thailand as it stands. His reasons and his choice - it is not for us to judge.
He has family support but because of his problems is forgotten by most people and doesn't get called out for visits so I don't get to see much of him now. When my family visits they bring parcels for people with no or little support with money raised from the sale of flags and banners made by some of the inmates. I last saw my fellow Brit in the mailroom when he was collecting one of these parcels. It was great to see him and even better to see him with a big smile on his face when he saw his corned beef, Spam, writing materials. cigarettes etc.
You may be wondering why I am telling you about my fellow inmates in Bangkwang. Because of them I see how lucky I am .... and I do mean lucky. I have fantastic support from family and friends and that's bought home to me everytime I see Soe Paing, Chandra and many others like them.
Copy Right Scott Hurford 2009 - All Rights Reserved