“Life in a Bangkok prison”

Harry Nicolaides has written an account of his time behind bars in Bangkok. It is published in The Monthly. The first 1500 words are available free to non-subscribers.  Here are the first three paragraphs:

On the night of 31 August 2008 my life took an unexpected turn. I had spent months preparing for an interview in Melbourne with the InterContinental group. I was looking forward to working in the luxurious surrounds of the city’s newest five-star hotel.

“Do you have a case, sir?” asked the official at Bangkok Airport’s passport control, minutes before I was to walk into the departure lounge for the midnight flight to Melbourne. Within hours I was questioned, photographed and arrested by uniformed immigration officers, and taken to the Crime Suppression Division.

In a dark, damp cell I stripped off my clothes and laid them on the floor, fashioning a bed with my shoes as a pillow. Sleep was impossible: I was thirsty and hungry, confused and alone. In the morning I made a short court appearance, before being handcuffed and shuffled onto an overcrowded prison bus bound for the Bangkok Remand Prison.

A report on the article was in The Age today:

HE WAS shackled, propositioned by an inmate and weakened by fever in the cramped conditions of a Thai remand prison.  Shortly before he was freed, writer Harry Nicolaides was leafing through a book about escape artist Harry Houdini, which he says was provided by the Australian embassy. He was the subject of campaigns and prayer vigils, and said he met former champion boxer Jeff Fenech, who visited him at the Bangkok remand prison.

Nicolaides’ crime was to have offended the Thai monarchy in a book called Verisimilitude, written years earlier. In a 5000-word essay published today by The Monthly magazine, Nicolaides describes his life in the cramped and often brutal conditions at the jail, where he was confined in August after being arrested at Bangkok Airport. In prison, he mixed with drug lords, sex offenders and refugees from around the world. He said men were hospitalised after being beaten for breaking prison rules, and bodies of dead inmates were dumped, or left to hang from the rafters where they committed suicide. Prisoners queued for contaminated food, earned three dollars a month for performing menial tasks in a ramshackle workshop, and were placed in leg irons for their trips to court.

“Nothing can prepare a person for the experience of being shackled,” he said in the article. “In front of us was a giant iron pincer bolted onto a slab of wood the size of a sleeper. Each of us selected a pair of heavy, rusted leg chains.” After describing how brackets were fitted and clamped around his ankles, Nicolaides said his real fear was that with a slip of the wrist, his ankles could be crushed like walnuts in a nutcracker. He said the prison had a population of ladyboys – young men who applied make-up and sought sexual encounters. Nicolaides said he received a colourful illustrated letter one night from a ladyboy who confessed “intimate desires”.

Despite the appalling conditions of the prison, Thai inmates loved their ruler. At the ceremony where he was pardoned, Nicolaides bowed before a portrait of the Thai king, and gave thanks for the monarch’s benevolence. 

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