Tag - prisoners

Foreign Prisoners Story

Foreign Prisoners StoryMy name is Philipp Mattheis, I am German journalist writing for e.g. NEON, an general interest magazine for young people (www.neon.de).  I would like to do a story about foreign prisoners in Thai prisons. I know it is possible to visit them, and I have also heard, that some of them have posters on the walls of Bangkok hostels inviting travelers to visit them. Could you help me with some information? What preparations do I exactly need to visit them? Do I have to contact them in advance or do I just go there during the visit times? Is it true that they have restricted the visits only to family members? German prisoners would be the first choice, since it is a German publication, but it is not that necessary. I already had some contact with the German consulate: They said, they won’t provide any names for data security reasons... So, if you could get me a list - this would be very, very helpful! The thing is also: I probably cannot be longer in Thailand for more than ten days. Do you think within this time it is possible to meet let's say five prisoners? Is it still true, that there some bulletins in Bangkok’s hostels, where prisoners invite travelers to visit them?

Do you have the current information on this? If so, let us know and we'll forward it to Philipp...


British Prisoners in Thailand

British Prisoners in ThailandWe contacted the British Embassy in Bangkok to find out more for people looking for relatives and loved ones who they think might be in prison in Thailand and asked them for information for people who are interested in visiting British prisoners while they are visiting Thailand.

Here is our email: 

Mr. James

I am the founder of www.khaosanroad.com - a website dedicated to budget travel in Thailand and the Khao San Road area of Bangkok. We regularly receive emails from people with queries regarding foreign prisoners in Bangkok and Thailand, especially British prisoners. The queries are varied but often follow one of a couple of themes:

1)  People looking for information on how they can visit foreign prisoners when they are in Thailand, and
2)  People looking for relatives who they believe might actually be in prison in Thailand.

For the former point, we have some information gathered from visitors who have been through the process of visiting prisoners, but the information always leads to the same point - people must get a list of current prisoners from the relevant embassy. In addition, the information we provide is far from comprehensive.

For the latter point, very little seems to be available on the Internet about how people can go about finding out if one of their relatives is in prison in Thailand, and again, the trial leads to the British and other embassies.

I was therefore wondering to what extent the British Embassy in Thailand might be able to officially comment in these two issues in a fashion that might be published on www.khaosanroad.com.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Very best regards

John Hughes

Here is the British Embassy's reply:

Dear John,

Many thanks for your e-mail. There are a number of the British nationals who are in prison in Thailand, who have indicated that they are willing to receive visitors. The major difficulty is that the visiting times in the prisons vary according to which room number the prisoner is in. It is best for anyone who wishes to go on a visit, and is serious about their visit, to contact us for more detailed information. When can they tell them who they can visit and exactly what the visiting days and times are. But what I am keen to avoid are frivolous enquiries from people who do not follow through with the visit.

The Royal Thai Police are required to notify the Embassy of the arrest of any British national in Thailand. Anyone who believes that a relative has been arrested or is in prison should contact us, unless they are in the UK. In the UK they contact the Thailand Desk of the Consular Directorate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Telephone 0207 008 0105. But, for data protection reasons, we can only confirm the details of anyone who has been arrested or is in prison if they consent.

I hope that this information helps.

Yours sincerely,

Neill James
Vice-Consul British Embassy, Bangkok 1031
Wireless Road

So, there you have it - contact the British Embassy in Bangkok if you are looking for someone who might be in prison AND if you want to visit British prisoners. However, in the latter case, make sure you are serious about the visit.


A Prison Visit

bangk_175Bang Kwang is famous as the Bangkok Hilton, however, the Thai nickname for it is "Big Tiger" because it eats people.
I remember a few years ago walking down the famous Khao San Road and seeing a sign pasted to a wall that said "Visit Prisoners in Thailand" and it sparked my curiosity as something different a change, but never got round to it, then a few years ago Michael Connell's case made the news when he disembarked from a plane at Bangkok Airport with 3400 disco biscuits in his suitcase. For a long time I was in two minds about going to visit, I'd read the book "Damage Done" by Warren Fellows and wanted to try and see if I could help one of the prisoners but at the same didn't want to be involved in ghoulish tourism. I was speaking to a mate of mine called Spike, who's from Bury in Lancashire and the topic cropped and his eyes lit up.

"I've been visiting Mike every week since he got caught. I send him fags and stuff. He really appreciates visitors, he'd be happy to see you."

With a few more pressing matters out of the way I headed down to Bang Kwang Prison in Nonthaburi on the northern edge of Bangkok yesterday, carefully dressed despite the heat in long trousers and a long sleeved shirt I got out of my taxi at the main gate. Outside there were groups of women praying, some looked like nuns, I don't honestly know if this is a regular sight or if there was a specific reason for them to intercede but anyway I headed over the road to the visitors centre where I handed in a photocopy of my passport and explained that I was there to see Michael Connell.

"Building 2 cannot. Closed. Come back tomorrow. Today building 4, 5, 6." "Are there any other foreigners I can visit from those buildings then." "Not today! Sorry!"

The visitors centre didn't look like much, it was like a lot of Thai places bus terminals, council offices, utility companies, it was a partially open sided building with a thin roof, concrete floor, rows of plastic seating occupied by the odd official behind a grille or desk handing out bits of paper and stamping them when they returned. I was taking in the sights and considering buying some food in the shop/restaurant attached when a foreign lady walked in.


She smiled back and when I politely asked her her business she explained she was visiting her boyfriend and that despite Mike not being eligible for visitors that day another Brit Anthony Flanaghan was so I filled in the necessary forms and was told that I could see him at 9:30 so went and sat with Ellsie, the German lady who helpfully played tour guide for me. I bought some fruit from the counter and put it in a carrier bag then wrote "Anthony Flanaghan Building 4" on it. When the time arrived we were given back our forms and a security card to attach to our shirt, we crossed the road and took a door round the side of the main entrance.

Now despite its reputation the place didn't seem that harsh; the walls were high as you'd expect of a prison but the uniformed staff who searched me and x-rayed the bag of fruit were all smiles the way a lot of Thai people are, more so in some ways, the few corridors and doors we walked through didn't seem that dungeonesque or horrific more like being in the belly of an old ferry - you know, big wooden doors with bolts and 15 coats of paint.

The final big door opened out into a courtyard with two long out buildings running down either side. Ellsie hurried along, she was keen to see her boyfriend. Inside the long houses look more like a big post office terminal rather than a prison where there are glass and aluminum partitioned booths with a chair and a phone on the desk. Through the glass there's a gap and some metal bars and a corridor.

Ellsie told me the phones worked in two particular booths at one end and that the guards had to go and get the prisoners and could be anything from 10 minutes to half an hour. Tony who was born in 1970 was arrested in Bangkok in 2004 carrying drugs. The full story is a bit vague but an accomplice of his was arrested shortly after on Ko Samui and a search of his house retrieved smaller amounts of drugs. Shortly after arrest Tony who grew up in Coventry in the West Midlands was sentenced to death, the death sentence was reduced on appeal in December 2006 to life imprisonment and in January 2007 to 33 years.

As I waited for Tony the place started to fill up, mainly with women come to visit husbands, fathers or sons, but there was a small group of English women who seemed up beat and high spirited who congregated near the corner that Ellsie and I were in. Judging from overheard conversation one was a mother come to visit a son, the others were regular visitors who visited once or twice a week and helped keep the spirits of the English inmates high.

When Tony arrived he seemed genuinely pleased to receive a visitor and also well liked by the English entourage he made a few coarse jokes with them and asked if they'd had news from his sister. He appeared healthy, upbeat and in good spirits. When I asked him how he was he said, "Walking on air man. They've just let me off death row a few weeks ago and took my leg irons off. They weigh 3 and a half kilos it's not easy getting around in them and when they come off it's like learning to walk again."

He talked about his predicament and accepted his fate which he seems to have come to terms with (as did Mike when I spoke to him later) and struck me as being a likeable and intelligent character. When I asked him how he occupied himself he told me that he wakes at 6:30, when he is allowed out of the cell into the open area where him and two or three mates have their own little shelter or "house" as they like to call it, where they can cook, chat, exercise, read until 3pm when they have to go back to the cell. Tony then likes to be asleep by 9 so tries to exercise as much as he can in the free part of the day but will often read until he sleeps.

When asked what he likes to read he told me, "Philosophy mainly, I've been reading Plato, Socrates, Marx things like that, there's quite a big library here we all put our books in there when we're finished. I've read loads of novels and fiction I can't be bothered with them."

I was expecting having read "The Damage Done" in which an Australian serving time for a similar offence to Tony tells of the horrors of the jail to be regaled with stories of eating lice and mixing the puss out of open sores in to add flavour and although there were some unsavory details passed on I was surprised at how little Tony complained.

He told me the cell is crowded, his has 20 men in a space around 7 meters by 5, others can hold as many as 30 although some hold less as well. Now he's off death row things are a lot easier and although he has a long sentence he intends to stay in the Thai prison system for the duration and relatively speaking he has a short sentence.

But Tony to his credit when mentioning a negative will always counter it with a positive, he told me of his two sons Kyle and James aged 19 and 16 and how James is joining the army, after telling me that he has to shower and wash using river water he tells me he's got top marks in his Thai language lessons.

The subject of Michael Connell crops up as it was him I initially wanted to visit and he explains that Mike is hoping to get transferred to British jail although Tony would prefer to stay in Thailand because of the violence within the British prison system. He elaborates that stuff does go on in Thai jail, but it is confined and manageable.

As we talk (despite being told by officials to the contrary) Michael Connell walks past behind Tony and I point him out, Tony explains I can speak to him later once our visit is nearly up. When Mike comes over to talk he appears again like Tony upbeat and complicit of his fate. He appears underweight and explains he's lost a lot because he's playing football in free time and sweating it out in the heat and not really eating properly, he looks forward to being in the UK, although Tony feels life is a bit more easy going in a Thai jail despite the uncertainty. They both remain optimistic of further reductions in their sentence however readily admit that the uncertainty of any reduction is part and parcel of the Thai system.

There seems a genuine camaraderie amongst the inmates receiving visitors and despite the lengths of their sentences a genuine optimism for the future. When the visit was over I passed the bag of fruit through a hatch to be passed on to him and wondered if Tony would eat it or turn it into the hooch he told me the inmates use to get pissed on at the weekend.

Copyright Dominic Lavin. Not to be reproduced in part or whole. Anyone wishing to use this piece should contact the author for permission. Visit Dominic's MySpace Page.


Prison Visits

Visiting Prisoners in Bangkok Don't go to Bang Kwang prison with any illusions…

'Brokedown Palace' is a movie, and although there may be the occasional exception, the foreign inmates in Bang Kwang have broken Thai law. Given that, Bang Kwang's foreign prisoners are a long way from home and often short of a few of the necessities in life. A visit from someone with a bit of time on their hands can therefore be something the foreign prisoners in Bang Kwang genuinely cherish - and if you are up to it, it's a worthwhile thing to do.

What follows is the definitive guide to how to become a prison visitor.

Provided by "Princess" from the UK, apparently an old hand at visits, the information given should be read carefully before even considering going up to Bang Kwang - if you don't you could make things worse for the people you are trying to help.

Getting there:
From Banglampoo Pier (Khao San) take the big whistling boat going upstream (to the right). It costs 6 Baht to Nonthaburi and takes 40 minutes. Nonthaburi is the last stop and you will recognize it by the white clock tower by the pier and the AMPM convenience store. Jump off the boat and walk straight on - ignore the touts! Take the 1st left and walk about 250 meters. You will see Bang Kwang prison on the right. You will need to go to the registration area on the left…

Guys must wear long trousers. Dress respectfully, whatever your sex. It really pisses the guards off girls wearing tiny shorts and vest-tops. Please dress properly because there are rumors the prisoners' visits will stop because of backpackers. Make sure you know exactly who you will call out as well - it annoys the guards when people ask for names they don't know. If you want names you can call the relevant embassies: UK Embassy - 02 305 8333 - ask for Maureen, Kate or Anita. They will not give prisoners' names over the phone though so you will have to go down to the embassy in person to meet them. American Embassy and others may give names over the telephone - I'm not really sure.

If you bring food from outside put it in a large clear bag. You can buy bags at the registration area cafe for 2 Baht. Write the name of the prisoner you are visiting on the bag. After you have visited the prisoner, you have to hand the food in at the counter (where 100 people or so hang around!). You hand in the original form and your passport. Wait for your passport to come back (usually takes 10 minutes) and off you go.

Books, etc.:
If you want to bring mags, books or papers hand, them into the Foreign Affairs office on the right as you go into the prison area. Leave the prisoner's name and building number on the cover and they'll get them… Don't bring magazines with too many naked pictures in them though - they won't get through. Other info: Please be aware that the prisoners sometimes have family or friends visiting. Look in the registration book to see if someone has already called out the prisoner you are visiting. It's very frustrating for prisoners when they have people they know over and someone randomly chooses to visit them! Beware that in August and December this may occur more often because that's when contact visits take place and families come over… Be very careful at these times. Very few women get visitors and have to rely on missionaries.

To write to a prisoner:
Address an envelope as follows -

Name of prisoner
Bldg. No.
Bang Kwang Prison
Nonthaburi Road

Final thoughts:
If you are not really up to this, don't go… time wasters won't help anyone. Be sensitive to the prisoners' situation - if you say you will do something for them, such as send an email for them or something, then please do it - imagine their frustration if you don't. It's also handy to take a pen and paper in. Just chat normally. If they want to tell you their story, they will. But they've probably told their story 1,000 times so they may want to talk about other stuff!

Footnote from KSR.com
For more information about this you can take a look at the Internet and find a number of sites. It's not our intention to link to any of these sites because some of them are critical and make what we regard as slanderous remarks about Thailand. We can't support those sorts of sites, but visit them if you want to. However, be aware of what you are reading - there are far fewer victims around than you might think! Most people know what they are getting into...

Here's one site we can link to http://www.correct.go.th/brief.htm


In our 'Banged up' section giving information about visiting prisoners in Bangkok, we wrote: "Some countries offer support to nationals who find themselves in prison abroad, others do not. The United Kingdom, for instance, offers British prisoners on Thai soil no support whatsoever." We received the email below from Angela Tokalau at the British Embassy who gave us a more informed picture:

Dear Sirs,

I happened on your site by accident and read, with much disappointment, the comment made in your seciton on visiting prisoners in Bang Kwang.

I am the Second Secretary (Vice Consul) at the British Embassy and feel that you need to have some more information about what we actually do for our prisoners while they are on Thai soil.

Prisoners in Bangkok receive a visit from an Embassy official every month, more often if there is a problem (health etc). For those in prison in the provinces, we visit every three months. We provide vitamins and prescription medicine free of charge and also pay for medical, dental and optical treatment for each prisoner, regardless of their circumstances.

We do shopping on their behalf, run bank accounts for them at the Embassy, arrange their transfers to British prisons if they are eligible, advise on preparing Royal Pardon Petitions and keep in regular contact with their families. For some of our priosners, we are the only visitors they get.

Can you honestly call this no support?!

Also, please note the Embassy telephone number was changed over a year ago to 02 305 8333.

I would therefore be grateful if you would arrange for the comments about the Embassy's lack of support to be removed from your website.

Yours faithfully

Angela Tokalau (Mrs)
Second Secretary (Vice Consul)
British Embassy Bangkok

Our sincere apologies for this misinformation.


A Visit to the Ladies’ Prison

“A story of a day in which I would experience a complement of emotion.”

This is an account of a friendship I have made with a girl that is serving a 40 year prison sentence in Thailand.

How this all Began

Around ten months ago in the U.K. I was randomly trawling the internet for anything of interest on our favourite tropical destination.  Just by chance, I stumbled on an international prisoners abroad website.

Fascinating reading, news, views, stories and there is even a facility where you can email an inmate. Long lists of many nationalities are displayed and I accessed the Lard Yao section in Bangkok.  Upon scanning through the list of prisoners my attention was drawn in particular to a girl from South Africa who was arrested whilst pregnant ten years ago. Her baby daughter was born inside the prison and returned to South Africa at the age of three. At the trial, the child’s mother was sentenced to 50 years, then commuted to 40 years on appeal. She has now served 10 years, so unless His Majesty the King of Thailand in his mercy grants a Royal Pardon, then a further 30 years she must serve.

I guessed as much that this girl would appreciate an English pen-friend so I sent over an introductory email. I have never written to an inmate before and this was to be the start of ten months of correspondence between us.  All incoming and outgoing mail must go through a censor causing a delay, but I have found that our letters rarely go missing. Over the coming months my friend was open and honest about her life and the reasons leading to her current situation. Our friendship developed and I became increasingly concerned for her welfare. I saved up the cash and booked my ticket for Thailand whilst organising a two hour prison visit with the assistance of the South African embassy.

Crime and Punishment

Until recently I didn’t know what crime my friend had committed - [well, that’s the one question you can’t ask can you?]. I was sure it wouldn’t be bank robbery, or murder or treason. I didn’t want to focus on the girl’s past mistakes. That was history. I know she desperately wants another chance to re-build her life.

About a month ago I discovered that she tried to board a plane with a suitcase with a false compartment containing illegal drugs.  Whilst travelling around I have sought the opinion of fellow farangs and Thais on this matter. Many are sympathetic but others take the view that people that commit serious crimes deserve everything they get. A sort of “no more to discuss/show no mercy” attitude.  However, as I see it, the problem is that a verdict is never quite as black and white as pure guilt or pure innocence. Any grey areas should also be considered. For clarification, please read Sandra Gregory’s* excellent book “Forget you had a Daughter”. Sandra was arrested and sentenced to 25 years.  One statement she made in her book was that “All the foreign girls in Lard Yao on drug offences have one thing in common, which is they were duped by a male”.

It’s my belief that when a woman gives her heart to a man she will trust him without question. Under such circumstances, she will not doubt anything he tells her. When you read Sandra’s incredible sequence of misfortunate events that lead to her arrest, then maybe her story will mellow your viewpoint. Does the punishment fit the crime? We could debate that issue for years and in the grand scheme of things, I guess the decision should remain within each Country’s own judicial system. But here is my take on this sensitive issue - let’s just say that I have the view that when anybody makes a big mistake in their lives, any punishment should never last forever.  Shoot me down about this if you want to, but please remember that sadly, some of the poor souls serving long sentences have been completely forgotten about on the outside.

The resulting despair of being forgotten was never prescribed by any court of law.

Return to Bangkok

Any regular visitor to Thailand will recollect the warm feeling of excited anticipation as their taxi heads down the expressway to the metropolis. An expectation of what’s to follow if you like.  February 6th 2004 arrives and on this particular occasion the feeling of excitement was heightened like never before. Just a premonition, but I knew this holiday was going to be exceptional.

Before I could make my prison visit there were a few things left to do. As one would expect there are restrictions to the type of gifts allowed.

Toiletries, cosmetics and underwear seem to be highly desirable items. Non controversial books and magazines are also prized. So the Robinsons branch on Sukhumvit did quite well out of me.  Wandering around the ladies underwear department looking for bra and knickers was surprisingly, not an embarrassing task. It would have been in the U.K., but in Thailand nobody seems to bother about such trivial matters. So with my passport and bag of gifts I’m all set for the journey up to Lard Yao.

Day of the Visit

Lard Yao Mens and Ladies Prison is located in north Bangkok, about a 15 minute taxi journey from the Mo Chit skytrain station.  It’s cheaper to take the boat up the Chao Phaya to Nonthaburi. On such a beautiful day, I would have preferred that nice boat ride but I didn’t want to risk being late and I had to collect a letter of authorisation from the South African embassy beforehand.  It is quite possible to visit without contact with the embassy, but then it is restricted to only a 20 minute duration.

The visit would last for two hours and I worried about exhausting our conversation prematurely. I thought about the embarrassment of sitting there in silence.

As a precaution, I wrote a list of topics I wanted to discuss. A sort of cue card of items which I subsequently trash canned in my hotel room. I guessed it would keep it "natural" by remaining spontaneous.

It’s nice when these little decisions to go the right way.

My taxi pulled into the main drive way area that divides both the men and ladies prison. Over to the left side the cab stopped outside a security gate.

With a friendly wave through by the security guard I was inside the compound. There is an admin building where visitors must report to register. Everything was very relaxed and straightforward and I must say that all the staff within the building were helpful and friendly. Not at all formal like I had imagined. There is even a small outdoor restaurant for visitors and a shop where some basic gift items can be bought. The surrounding area is quite well landscaped, trees, plants, etc, it could almost resemble the entrance to a park, except of course for the high walls with barbed wire.

After a few minutes I was invited to the embassy room to wait out of the hot sun. My passport was borrowed and I was asked if I had a camera or telephone. I possessed neither, so was politely taken to a very comfortable waiting room where there was about an hour left until my appointment.

This gave me time to mentally run through all the questions I wanted to ask. What would be my first sentence? How inquisitive can I be without causing offence? What if I made a stupid mistake? How would I cope with any requests I could not comply with? What if we sat in silence? - I needn’t have worried.

Across from the waiting room was a long clean corridor about one metre wide. There were five upholstered small stools spaced out by about two metres. Above the stools a beige formica covered counter stretched the length of the corridor. From the counter to the ceiling a clear perspex screen was sealed on all sides, but a few small circular holes are positioned at head level to enable speech. The place was empty and very quiet and I sat patiently and waited.

Ten minutes early and my friend appeared behind the screen. She was wearing regular blue uniform, but had obviously gone to much trouble to make herself look very good with make up. We both sat down and smiled. The feeling of apprehension disappeared in an instant.

It was one of those personal moments that last in the memory.

I guess the conversation was split maybe 70% to my friend and 30% to myself. I was happy about that because she told me everything about her life. In particular she explained that she was always adventurous and very determined.  She would pursue with energy anything that she wanted. I thought back to my younger days when there were times I always thought I knew what was for the best and wouldn’t take advice. Lucky for me that I made my mistakes in England where leniency is very much the norm.

It was extremely interesting to listen to her life story. She was very articulate and polite, and in particular, I was saddened to learn of the despair of being separated from her nine year old daughter. Due to high travel expenses, her daughter cannot visit regularly. Maybe once every year or two. The mother/daughter bond is very strong and so this must be extremely hard to endure. Whilst speaking about her daughter I could see the hurt in her eyes. Very sad indeed, but there is a glimmer of hope insofar that an application has been made to the King of Thailand for a Royal Pardon. This process can take a lot of time but sometimes it is granted. It would be a special day indeed if she could be re-united with her daughter back in South Africa.  What a great photograph that would make. I’m hoping that day of reconciliation is not too far away.

Our topics of conversation were diverse to say the least. We discussed modern day living, technology advances, mobile phones with video, the skytrain, the internet, ice cream at Swensens, the meaning of happiness, finance, Singapore, Malaysia, religion, Aids, sorrow, alcohol, family life in South Africa, prison life in Thailand, family life in England, plus of course the dreadful weather in England (Brits never leave that out) and a few anecdotes here and there to lighten up the proceedings. All things considered, a thoroughly enjoyable conversation where neither of us were ever lost for words. After two hours and twenty minutes (I resisted to glance at my watch and it only ‘seemed like about one hour) my friend said that she should be getting back to her dormitory.

Surprisingly nobody came over to call time, but we knew the time was upon us to say our farewells. A sad moment until next visit - probably again later this year. As we have now become good friends, I will definitely go back again.

It was a memorable experience. A pleasure and a privilege I wouldn’t have traded for anything else.


A prison visit may not appeal to everyone, but if you enjoy the art of conversation and forming a new friendship with someone less fortunate, then it’s an experience I thoroughly recommend.

If you can’t spare the time to make a visit in person, you can definitely lift the spirit of an inmate by writing a letter.  For the negligible cost of a stamp your mail will make a positive difference. Try to include a couple of post office reply coupons, because if your new friend is broke they can be used to buy stamps. I’m already convinced that all mail received from the outside is welcomed with opened arms, so please try to make the effort to write.

Moreover, if you are of a generous disposition, there is a prison shop where small items such as toothpaste, soap, biscuits etc are on sale. These sort of things we take for granted are very gratefully received. For those of you with exceptional generosity there is a counter where funds can be deposited in the prisoner’s own account. A receipt is given and the money will reach the inmate in a coupon format that can be spent in the shop. On that note, I'll leave everything to your good nature.

Thanks very much for reading this story. I’m interested to hear your views on this matter, favourable or otherwise. Please email me. I will make every effort to reply.

Finally, a big plea to everybody ..... Enjoy yourself in Thailand but please don’t break the law.


*Sandra Gregory was granted a King’s Pardon and has since taken a University course in the United Kingdom.