By Steve Willcox
Over 1 ½ years in this hell hole, evil, inhumane, overcrowded prison in Bangkok, Thailand. Tomorrow November 1st 2004 is my day of reckoning (Judgement Day) Sunday morning day before 10am, I and 6 other Thai prisoners from my building are escorted by guards the ½ mile walk from our building 9 down the narrow road within the prison down past buildings 8,7,6,5,4 to building 3, where over an old fashioned Blacksmith anvil bolted to the concrete floor, a trustee prisoner waits with a Lump hammer, a wooden huge chest at the side of him full of various thickness chains all about 3 feet long. A bribe of a packet of cigarettes ensures I pick my own chains, less rusty and more important thinner links, “less heavy”, than some of the chains that weigh up to 10 kilograms. I pick out a chain weighing about 4 kilograms and not as rusty as most.
I wink at the would be toothless Blacksmith, sit down on the concrete floor both legs stretched straight in front of me, handing him a bribe, “ah! Foreigner good” he says stuffing the packet of cigarettes in his pocket. This next bit still makes me nervous, even though I’ve been through it 20 times previous and had already completed my compulsory 6 month in shackles 24 hours a day everyday. No way around it all prisoners going to court must be shackled this way. I lift my ankle and leave it to rest on top of the anvil, the prisoner lifts my foot and slides through it a pre cut loop of ½ inch steel bar shaped like the figure 8 with the top quarter cut off he slides over the end link of my chain, putting the link into the lower circle of the figure 8, careful not to trap the skin of my ankle and the shackle he hammers the 2 ends of the top part of the figure 8 down forming a perfect circle with the end link of chain trapped in the circle but able to slide around the circle. Same process other ankle. I can stretch my legs ankles to about 3 feet apart and the chain between my legs is taut. 27 links in my chain I attach a piece of nylon string to the middle link in my chain wrapping the other end of string around my hand until the chain is sufficiently not dragging along the ground and I can take short strides to walk, but still the ankle rings where the end link of the chain slides freely cut’s into the back of your ankle and the walk to building 8 where we are welded, my ankles are already bleeding.
Sitting on the floor in building 8 again with my legs stretched straight out in front of me, this time with my ankles shackles resting on an old car wheel hub, the earth wire of a electric welder is attached to the hub, cardboard is soaked in water and stuffed between the round shackles and my bare skin and the round steel bar where it overlaps is welded, twice I was left with burns from this, again it’s a trustee prisoner who does this. I hobble back next door to building 9. I am now shackled and welded and ready for tomorrow’s Day of Reckoning in court 3.30 pm like a flock of 670 chickens we are rammed into our battery farm style cells, 67 in our stinking hot 15 feet x 40 feet cell, shoulder to shoulder we lay packed tighter than sardines in a can. A hole in the ground as our toilet and one tap runs into a plastic bucket the kind you use to wash your car with on a Sunday back home.
One hole, one bucket for 67 prisoners to shit and piss in and shower from for the next 16 hours we are locked in here.
Sick with worry, it’s another sleepless night in this hell hole, I pass the night killing red ant’s and mosquitoes who were out in force last night. 7.30 am I shuffle down the stairs as quickly as I can trying to beat the other 669 prisoners to the 10 holes in the ground Toilet’s. I have 30 minutes to shit, shower from the filthy animal trough, shave, change to the brown court uniform; mine has a red armband which means I face a possible Death Sentence.
My best mate here also named Steve, also English most obligingly hands me a hot coffee. Me and Steve have become closer than brothers over the last year here, bouncing off each other in times of major depression. I would give my right arm for Steve’s low sentence of 26 ½ years today, as there’s only 2 sentences the judge can hand down to me Death Sentence and if I am lucky and shit! For my wife and son 1 year and 1 month old, born while I was in here in prison, my mum, dad and sister for their sake I hope it’s a life sentence.
Well this is it, the other 6 Thai prisoners in court today are already lined up being searched before leaving the building, I am off with a hug and slap on the back from Steve and well wishes and shouts of give it to em Steve from other foreigners of all nationalities. I put on a brave smile and shouts of good Luck Steve are coming from every where. A quick search at building 9 gate again by a trustee prisoner (not guards). I’ve already bribed a trustee to smuggle my cigarettes out, and again the ½ mile walk to the hospital building opposite building3. The hospital is also the departure building for prisoners going to court.
I take my place in one of the two lines of 60-70 prisoners who are also in court today, we are all bare foot as to wear shoes for court is not allowed, every prisoner is rigged out in identical shitty brown court uniform, standing legs apart, shackles to chain taught a guard passes down the line, a 3 foot length of bamboo in his hand he tabs the taught chain between each prisoners legs with his bamboo baton checking we haven’t tampered with the chains, after the strip search the trustee hands me my cigarettes, they are also not allowed to be taken to court, shit! We are not even allowed to wear underpants.
In double file we shuffle to the prison bus, the concrete is so hot its burning the soles of my bare feet. We are rammed into the bus like Sardines, standing room only. The guards look like some sort of Special Forces with their AK47’s and dark sunglasses.
We move at a snails pace through congested traffic of Bangkok, one hour later we arrive at the court, soaked in sweat, nauseous to the point of passing out from the unbearable heat and exhaust fumes in the humid heavily polluted air of Bangkok city. I can see a large crowd of TV film crews and newspaper Journalist’s pushing and shoving each other for the best position to get their picture. My heart starts pounding as I know they’ve been tipped off and are their for me. They look anxiously at every Thai prisoner departing the bus, “where’s the foreigner I hear them speak in Thai” I can’t cover my face as I step off the bus as I need one hand to hold my shackles off the ground and one hand to steady myself as I descend the steps. The journalist’s are in frenzy when they see me shit! This aint good, as this much media attention confirms my worst fears. That most likely I’ve been sentenced to Death.
I snatch a quick glance and smile to my wife in the crowd who is clutching our 1yr 1 month old baby son in her arms. I am close to tears seeing the worry and tears already streaming down her face. She knows also this media attention can only mean one thing.
Security is over the top, guards with AK 47’s and shotguns line my walk into the holding cell, they are really making a show for the cameras. I chain smoke 2 cigarettes inhaling deeply like it’s my last, standing in the toilet area inches deep in urine and black sludge and bare foot. I return to what can be best described as a monkey cage, hanging on the bars at the front, shouting across the 6 foot gap to where my wife and son are also hanging onto another set of bars. “It’s gonna be okay darling don’t you worry” I shout at the top of my lungs trying to make myself heard over the now hundred other prisoners all shouting across to their wife’s, families, friends.
The white noise is deafening, 2 hours pass incredibly slowly I’ am the last of all the prisoners to be called up to court for sentencing.
I am handcuffed to go with my shackles and led up to court by 2 guards in the lift on the 9th floor, I step out the lift to a corridor full of Journalists, pushing and shoving our way through, the court room door opens, cold air of the air condition hits my lungs so they hurt. What a contrast to the filthy and hot conditions we are kept in downstairs. Without giving the guards a chance to stop me, I give my wife and son a hug, “its okay darling” I say, I nod my head to 2 of the British embassy staff, my Thai Lawyer typically hasn’t showed up.
A strange calmness comes over me, numb I guess, 1 ½ years living in hell like a animal in horrendous inhumane conditions and this is it Judgement Day.
In walk the 3 Judges and I stand to be sentenced, they rattle off in Thai for about 30 minutes; I don’t understand a word until I hear a word in Thai I do understand BAH! HAN! (Death Sentence). I turn to my wife standing behind me and ask her “me death sentence?” She is crying her eyes out, “yes darling you death sentence”, I’m numb I can’t speak, the Judges are still rattling on, a minute (a life time) passes, and my wife speaks again “no, no darling you no dead”, you 33yrs. And 6mth’s sentence, no dead darling” “him Death Sentence”, she points to the man standing next to me. The Judge’s finish and leave the court, there’s no interpreter to explain to me what was said and confirms my sentence of 33yrs. 6 months, my Thai wife’s English is very limited; I turn to the Lawyer of the other man, as my Lawyer never bothered to show up. “What happened, what’s my Sentence” I ask him and he explains: - Steven you were found not guilty due to no evidence to the Joint charge with Mr. G my client, you pleaded guilty to 25 grams of class 1 drugs found in your house and the Judges sentenced you to life imprisonment and a fine of 1.2 million Baht (about £17.000) because you pleaded guilty to the 25 grams class 1 drug, the Judges reduced your sentence by one third to 33yrs 4 months and 800.000 Baht fine (about £11.500) they also sentenced you to 2months for 20 grams of marijuana found in your house, so Steven, your total sentence is 33 years 6 months eleven thousand five hundred pounds (English) fine.
My client Mr. G you were also found not guilty of the charge Manufacture of 760 grams Heroin you implicated Steven on, but you Mr. G were found guilty of 760 grams of Heroin in your possession and intent to distribute and are sentenced to death Sentence. (I should say I can not comment on Mr. G as his case is still pending appeals)
I hugged my wife and son, tears running down her face, I told her by Thai standards I got a good sentence, “it’s okay darling, don’t worry”, before I could say more, 2 guards prized us apart and led me out to the chaos in the packed corridor of Journalists back to the monkey cage holding cell downstairs, again hundreds of prisoners, families, wife’s, friends shouting across the 6 foot gap between prisoners and family etc. the noise is deafening my wife clinging to the bars we stare at each other, that 6 foot gap might as well be 6 miles.
I do my best to re-assure her for the next 3 hours until I depart to the prison bus, Journalists and the over the top presence of guards with AK 47’s and pump action shotguns flock around as I climb the 3 steps to the prison bus. Tears stream down my face as the bus pulls away and my last sight of my wife is her clutching our son tight, tears flowing down her face, I do my best to smile, but my tears betray me.
The long drive back to the prison, I guess I am happy I didn’t get death or life sentence. Hard for you people reading this to comprehend such severity such excessively high sentences. But for me having seen hundreds of prisoners here over the 1 ½ years I’ve been here, hundreds sentenced to death, life, 50years,33 years, 25 years, my sentence is considered by prisoners here as a low one, crazy! I know but true.
Back at the prison, line up and strip search before heading back to our buildings. My ankles dried with blood and fresh blood from the shackles cutting into the back of my ankles, bare feet filthy black, once again the now even hotter concrete, from the afternoon sun, burns into the soles of my bare feet and I start the ½ mile walk along the narrow road within the prison. As we shuffle past each building, other prisoners are squashed up against the barred metal fences with spikes and razor wire on top, all trying to get a look at us,(the prisoners back from court), I ignore their shouts of “ forlong gee bee” (in Thai) translates to foreigner how many years? When I reach building 4 where I lived for my first 6 month herein prison. I can’t ignore the shouts even though I feel I’ am in a trance, Nigerian Jimmy, Frenchy, hundreds of people start shouting my name “How you go Steve”, “How many mate” when I shout back 33 yrs. and a ½ a big cheer goes up, smiles and shouts of “well done Steve”, “good luck”. As I pass the other buildings with mainly Thai prisoners I again ignore the shouts.
Finally the huge 12 foot solid steel gates of building 9 maximum security building. I step through the small door way of the gates. All the prisoners of building 9are all lined up ready to be searched as they walk up the stairs to their cells. When 30 or so friends of mine and my best mate Steve see me they all come running, breaking away from the lines, guards are shouting get back in line. I’ am enclosed within a extra metal barred fence security at the gate, everybody shouting at me at once “how you go Steve”? Again I shout back 33 ½ years a massive cheer goes up “fucking result Steve shout one good mate” Steve and Peter are jumping up and down every body is going nuts “ great result Steve you lucky Bastard” Everybody knew, I was facing the death Penalty! Only at this moment did I truly feel happy with my sentence.
Then the Building chief (head guard) calls me over, “what sentence you” he speaks in broken English, 33 ½ years I reply, “no, no you death sentence” he says, first I think it’s some sick joke of his, but he’s serious, Steve my mate must have seen the smile drain from my face “what’s up mate” he shouts through the fence. Steve I say “he’s telling me I aint got 33 ½ years I got death sentence” Steve comes through the security gate and ask the chief in Thai as Steve speaks and reads Thai. He confirms to Steve and shows a paper, its there in black and white Steve Willcox death sentence. I can’t believe it, this can’t be happening, the paper shows me death sentence and Mr. G 33 ½ years. It can’t be I protest, my wife’s Thai and was in the court and she told me, Mr. G’s lawyer, 2 embassy staff all told me I had 33 ½ years and Mr. G had death penalty. “Tell him to ring and check at the court or my embassy it’s a mistake I say” You sure Steve asks me, sure I’ am sure I say how can I be wrong about something as serious as this I know what they told me, I don’t give a fuck what the papers say I got 33 ½ years.
Then the sick fuck of a building chief refuses to check, me and Steve go nuts “fuck sake just make one phone call and sort this out will you” “ no I do tomorrow Ok” “You got to be joking”, I say, “how I am gonna sleep tonight” I ask “your problem” he speaks everybody is stunned! Shit!, Steve, everybody speaks to me don’t worry you got it right these dumb evil fucks have it wrong. The celebration has turned to disbelief; even some of the lower ranking guards can’t believe it and feel for me. Of the 669 prisoners nobody knows whether to congratulate me or commiserate with me. Shit! I say to Steve I know what I know but this is Thailand and everything is fucked up. I’ am really starting to doubt myself now.
All night me and Steve lay awake and by morning Steve’s just about convinced me I ‘am right and they’ve got it wrong. 7 am they unlock the cells, me and Steve head straight for the building chief’s office, nobody there! And none of the guards know or will check my sentence. Finally 8 am the building chief arrives, back to his office, well what’s my sentence we ask. “I no check”,” after ok” he speaks. No way no I ain’t leaving this office to you check ok, me and Steve are in a stand off, more blue shirts rush in (trustee prisoners) to back up the building chief, we still refuse to move. Look I say my wife will be here to visit me in 30 minutes, what do I tell her: - 33 ½ years or death sentence? Reluctantly he makes the call. I look at Steve hardly daring to breathe, “you got it right he says don’t worry mate”. The chief puts down the phone and smiles at me and says “you death sentence 100% sure”, we walk out the office and I say to Steve “well that’s it, what, how am I going to tell my wife”? “Shit! How can they make a mistake like that”? I look at Steve, he don’t know what to say, we walk back to the; long wooden table where we and all the foreign prisoners sit, everybody crowds around, it must be clear to them from mine and Steve’s faces, as at first one speaks, then Kevin from Singapore asks “well Steve what happened”, I got the death sentence that’s what happened, stunned silence followed by “sorry mate”.
I look at Steve and ask him to check with one of the other guards who is a little sympathetic to prisoners, as Steve goes off the P.A. system announces Steven Willcox visit! No, no I say to myself, Steve arrives back from speaking to the guard who has agreed to go check at the main gate of the prison. I walk over to the line up of prisoners also called for a visit. I’ am last in line, I’ am in a right state, (I can’t put it into words) I turn to Steve and say “Shit! Mate how I’ am gonna explain to my wife” he can’t answer me. Blue shirts start searching the line of prisoners. As each prisoner searched disappears through the small door way of the huge metal gate, 3 prisoners to go and it’s me, just then the guard who Steve asked to go and check at the main gate of the prison, steps through the door way and says “Willcox you no dead, you 33 ½ years sure” “ask him again in Thai language I say to Steve”, he confirms again! Steve’s jumping up and down shouting “Yes! Yes!” other foreigners run over to see what the commotion is. Steve run’s into the building chief’s office shouting “Yes we told you so” no response from the chief. Steve joins me I break down my body trembling tears of happiness I don’t think so but tears anyway. Me and Steve hug and Steve says you’re ok mate its true 33 ½ years go and enjoy your visit.
I step through the door way and again start the ½ mile walk down the small concrete road within the prison as the visit section is situated near the main gate, again I ignore the shouts from prisoners pressed up against the metal barred fences of other buildings, until I reach building 4 again, 2 guards who now me shout out “hey you foreigner last night I see you on TV you dead you death sentence” My heads in bits no not again I say to myself, again their statement puts doubt in my mind, Nigerian Jimmy shouts out “what you get Steve everybody says you get death sentence” I can only shrug my shoulders in response, his face looks puzzled by my response, I walk on I cant handle this, before entering the visit section I smoke a cigarette in the deepest inhales and in record time, trying to compose myself, I decide not to mention any of this cruel madness to my wife, one of my best friends is with my wife on the other side of the glass partition and shouting through the tiny metal gauze out of ear shot of my wife, I explain yesterday and today’s events and ask my friend to call my embassy A.S.A.P. to get them out here to visit me and to confirm my sentence.
My wife’s eyes and cheeks look puffed up, sure she’s been crying a lot, I tell her nothing of the events only re-assure her that my 33 ½ year sentence is better than we both thought possible. 30 minutes is up the visits over all too quickly. I smile and wave good bye to my wife and start the ½ mile walk back to my building 9, my ankles blooded, blisters burns on the soles of my feet, this time as I walk past building 4 I completely ignore all shouts of “see you TV foreigner you dead”.
Back at building 9 I sit down on the wooden bench with Steve exhausted! I feel on the verge of a mental breakdown really, I say to Steve about the guards of building 4 saying I had death sentence again “Take it easy mate” he say’s Shit! Mate “I don’t know what to believe any more “I am losing it mate” I say. Just then the P.A. system blurts out Steven Willcox transfer prison, shit! I’ am off to Bangkwang prison also known as Bangkok Hilton or Big Tiger. I have 30 minutes to grab my few possessions and say good byes. I’ve been through so much with friends here and me and Steve are top mates, everything’s a rush, no time to think. Willcox to the gate the PA system announces again, shouts of “ good luck Steve” as I and Steve who’s helping me carry what few bags I have, as we disappear through the door way of the gate and again the long ½ mile walk. As we walk I say to Steve shit! I still aint sure I got 33 ½ years or death sentence. I was oblivious to any shouts from the other buildings as we walk past. At the main security gate a strong hug and slap each other on the back, “Take care mate” “Keep in touch” we both say to each other and I am gone through the gate.
2 days later my embassy arrives to visit me at Bangkwang prison where I am now to confirm my sentence of 33 years 3 months and 800.000 baht fine (about £11.000)!