Chapter ONE - Bangkok Hilton
The captain of the guards beats me with a
baton in my ankles and knees, where it hurts most and bruises
least, steals my clothes and shoes, tosses some blue prison
fatigues and flip-flops at me then throws me into an overcrowded
cell that reeks so strongly of
shit and piss I have to hold back a throat full of bile. The key turns locking the
barred door behind me and I look around the cell of my home for
the night at Bang Kwang Central Prison a.k.a. “Bangkok
Hilton,” Thailand’s most notorious jail. It’s jammed full
of prisoners managing somehow to sleep on mats packed into rows
on the concrete floor, with an overflowing cesspit for a toilet
in a corner.
There’s no room to sit in this shadowy
place let alone lie down and I have no idea where to go. A
prisoner sits up and waves some sort of stick at me, motioning
for me to come over to him. Being my first night ever spent in
jail, I’m extremely cautious in this nest of vipers and hope
he’s just being friendly because I’m a foreigner or a “farang”
as the Thais often call me. Feeling I’m about to crumple into
a heap right where I’m standing, I don’t see how I have much
choice but to pick my way through the bodies separating us until
I arrive at his mat.
“Well-come Bang-kok Hil-ton,” he
struggles to say in broken English and gestures for me to sit.
He passes me the crutch, a solid-looking homemade walking stick
improvised from a sturdy stalk of bamboo, which I use to help
lower myself to the floor, grimacing from the pain in the joints
where the captain had struck me. When seated, I pass the piece
of bamboo back. He puts it across his lap and I realize it’s
probably been fashioned right here in this very cell. I wonder
with trepidation what else might have been handmade by these
inmates, like shanks and knuckledusters.
I take a good look at my new host. His
brown eyes glimmer in the half-light thrown by the florescent
tube flickering dimly from the ceiling. It’s hard to tell his
age in the gloom. Maybe he’s fifteen or twenty years older
than me, that is to say he’s around fifty or maybe fifty-five
years old. Besides the poor light, it’s hard to tell his age
because like most poor Thais his skin is dark and deeply lined.
His bare feet are as tough as leather, as are his hands, and
he’s covered in tattoos. He’s had a hard life, much harder
than mine. I’d say he’s from “upcountry” somewhere, what
the Thais call the countryside.
He points at my chest with a bent-out-of-shape finger, wrestling
again with his limited English for my benefit.
I’m not about to tell him my real name.
“Andee.” It’s the nickname I use in this country because
“An” is the first syllable of my real name, and
“dee” is the Thai word for “good.” Then I ask him in
Thai, “Khun cheu a-rai?”
What’s your name?
“Kob,” he replies, maybe surprised to
hear a foreigner speak Thai.
Having lived in the country for several
years and having studied the language, I’m able to converse
almost like a local.
Veroca gave ya a hard time, eh, Andee?” he asks in Thai.
Yeah. I untie my ponytail and quickly comb my hair with my
fingers. It had gotten all mussed up when the captain assaulted
me. Then I retie it.
“Veroca’s a real fuckin’ bastard.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” I answer in
Thai, and we continue speaking in his native tongue.
“You’re unlucky. He’s only back on
duty tonight. Haven’t seen him round here for the last three
months. What ya in for anyways?” He speaks in “lo-so”
Thai. Lo-so means “low society,” as opposed to “hi-so,”
for “high society.” It makes him a little difficult to
understand and I’m unused to speaking like it myself, as most
of the Thais I know are at least middleclass, but I try my best.
I look around to make sure no one is
listening to our conversation: everybody seems to be asleep and
there’s a constant chorus of snorts and grunts as the other
inmates are snoring all about us.
“A cop pulled up my taxi on the way home
from a bar. Thinking I must be a rich farang,
he pulled me outta the cab and planted some weed on me as he
went through my pockets. Then he wanted a hundred thousand baht
bribe to let me go. I wasn’t gonna pay three thousand Yankee
dollars to that swine! That’s unbelievably expensive. I know a
guy who got busted with some weed on him not long ago—not
planted on him like was done to me—and the cop only wanted
fifty thousand baht for everything to go away.”
“Yeah,” Kob mutters. “That’s the
standard price for a foreigner busted with a little weed.”
“I told him to fuck off. The cop was so
slimy I couldn’t trust if he was gonna let me go anyway,
whether I gave him the bribe or not, and I wasn’t gonna kiss
his ass. Now I’m stuck in here until morning.”