Seventeen Years Ago in a Quaint Thai Prison 2

sayarsan's picture

Return from Court at the PrisonIsn't the Internet wonderful! I typed Mae Hong Son 1995 into Google Images and scrolled through and found, to my delight a picture from the prison where I had stayed in the first of this lot. I downloaded the pic and used it for something then took a closer look to try and work out where and when in particular the picture was taken when I realised from the clothing that it must have been the same time of the year. I recognised the spot where it was taken inside the main gate area of the jail and then began to recognise the men. I have just gone to the site where the pic came from and read this story;
The pic is taken in the room where people visiting an inmate would stand, while visitors stood in the area in the photograph and spoke to the inmate through a barred window to the rear of those the prisoners in the pic have placed their hands. Those allowed a contact visit could sit outside at a table. I first met the men after I had been taken out of the cell away from 'Shako' temporarily and driven in the back of a ute, handcuffed with a chain passing from man to man linking us all together like a cartoon if you had a sense of humour. It was good to be out in the greenery and rolling hills as we drove down to MaeHongSon and the local court and the guards stopped for a while to watch the monkeys wild in the trees not dissimilar to the ones in my opium dreams from the holding cell after they gave me a good dose of opium. This is interesting for strange reasons, more on that later.
They took us to the courts and we went into a single cell, hot so it was the middle of the year. The pic was taken in February and I was there around June/July as I recall so these men were on remand for some months before I arrived. When I walked into the cell farang, tall, thin, and white Pikyaw the liveliest sidled up to me putting his arm on my shoulder and smiling broadly said 'Buddy!". I had no illusions, farang is wealth to these people and they would know since they know what it is like to live with no money, permanently so they are more keen as to its uses. On a pension I was bringing in the equivalent to the average weekly income for the country, including Bangkok.
We introduced ourselves as best we could, since I learned to speak Thai better after I was arrested I was unable to quiz them carefully so we just kept to small talk while the others in the cell, mostly illegals from across the border did much the same as people in holding cells everywhere. One of the TaiYai was still withdrawing and kept running to the dunny behind a wall where he spewed into the hole. His unfortunate companion who was still chained to him was visibly annoyed, rolled his eyes but said nothing.
I managed to gather from Pikyaw that they had been caught with a lot of pongkao (heroin) but gave me the impression it was 750g and, pointing to himself and said "haa sip bpi mi!" ((me, 50 years) smiling widely with a fierce look. I groaned in agony in empathy and he was satisfied that I understood. I had no Idea they were involved in something of this nature, they certainly weren't from a hill tribe because most had SakYant like me and were civilised so I took them to be TaiYai from the area or perhaps ChiangMai. It gave me a sense of perspective to see that the prospect of 50 years hadn't taken the smile off his face yet. The prospect of 50 years in exile was what bounced around my head and was having a similar effect.
When we got to the prison we were split up so that new arrivals went to reception and the ones already on remand went straight back to have their chains removed from their legs, unless they were looking at a sentence long enough to maybe make them desperate. Pikyaw and his accomplices were in the latter and went straight into the dorm where they stayed inside all day and night except when they go outside to bath, the chains don't come off until they are released from custody or are no longer deemed to be an escape risk usually when they have been sentenced and settled into their lagging. They spent their time dancing on the spot and sparing for exercise and occasionally Pikyaw would tease Deng the unfortunate.
At the time I had no idea of the scale of the operation they were involved in. There are the five men I met in the cell at court and there were five vehicles carrying the gear. Under Thai law when police find contraband in a vehicle everyone is guilty of possession unless the owner (provided he is present) admits to his ownership. More than one man per vehicle would only complicate things. Between the five of them they were carrying 750 million Baht worth of heroin which clearly didn't belong to them given their breeding. While I was in the prison a pair of men I had never met since they were confined in the other dormitory, were taken down to Bangkok to be executed. They were younger than me and I am still hopeful that they escaped their sentence. At the time JaHa, the Burman who spoke and read English as well as Thai, Burman and a few languages without scripts lamented the waste of those "so young" he said but added that they would probably be commuted. He said there had been no executions for 10 years and were often reserved for farang as a deterrent. I smiled and approved enthusiastically.
The crimes these men were mixed up with are the product of a culture as remote from them as are the chemicals used to make the drugs they were busted with. As a farang who returned to this small town a year after causing far more distress to my hosts than to myself I assumed that I would be under fairly close observation but was left alone to consume opium and cannabis. Being discreet and not interested in the night life as it was; prostitution, drinking, and gambling mainly along with drugs of course loses its funny side when you don't understand their jokes. My opportunities for fornication were far more tempting when I was invited to spend Songkran which is Thai New Year and amounts to a three day party including the whole village, young and old. Thai women, meticulously modest at all times don't let manners diminish their pre'cociousness or their beauty. Perhaps there should be more on this later, abut how I came to understand the meaning of goorlak seng.
Now that I have read their story I wish even more that I had better language skills so I might have conversed with them seriously. After all this time I notice that the opium harvest was burgeoning then compared with now. The wars are at the far end of the Himalayas now and Myanmar is looking forward to development, god help them.
YaBa (speed) needs no agricultural base and is far more destructive to the individual user and their social fabric. It is worth noting that Thais have been consuming amphetamines for decades with state approval. Everywhere are small brown bottles, sometimes with flowers and incense in them and left on a wat where some hardworking individual has taken time out to meditate. Usually the empties are in the rubbish while those still half full can be seen on the dashboards of long distance buses and trucks as well as the tuktuks which operate 24hrs/day. The full ones are found in the fridge at grocers and roadside stalls, even 7-11 stores sell them such is the demand. A tonic composed of vitamins and minerals and a meagre dose of amphetamine sulphate and ephedrine HCl is the speed component. Compared with Australia Thailand has very few advertisements for pharmaceuticals because their population don't need them and often find them ridiculous but there are numerous adds for different brands of this tonic, all pretty much alike.
The Thais need a war on drugs like they need a war with Myanmar but are forced to comply with the U.S. policies to get the weapons to keep local dictators from becoming belligerent over border disputes. With a neighbour like Kampuchea they are constantly aware of what development often entails.
Pikyaw and his cohorts being checked and searched inside main gate at the prison.