Thursday, 3 April 2014

Samui Prison Visit What To Expect

On the 7am Lomprayah ferry from Koh Phangan, I'm scanning the crowd for the odd arrested Russian, like I'd seen last season. But there is no police presence on its way to Koh Samui Provincial Court today

entrance to koh samui prison
We ourselves are on our way to immigration. Then we're going on the 'prison run' together, to see a friend in Koh Samui jail.

Visa extension in the morning, time for lunch. Prison in the afternoon, home on the 5pm ferry: Mission Complete.


And oh, what a difference a day makes, to those less fortunate than ourselves. Here's what to expect on a visit...


***Expect to be frustrated & confused. But it is not as scary as you think***

The prison holds 600-800 inmates, a far cry from Surat Thani's over-crowded jail, where 4000 prisoners means that they are 100+ to a cell. Here on Samui it's 'only' 30. Locked up in a prison built ten years ago, those in Koh Samui jail have it relatively easy.

There are 14 Farang Prisoners in Koh Samui Jail as of July 2015

Easy relative to what, though? Yes, conditions are dire; in the end it's all about mental strength and finding your place in the system. Newcomers go through waves of being freaked out by their newly captive situation, but long termers all have a calm air to them that says, "I've seen it all, and I accept my fate".

***Expect other Thai visitors to help you, if you keep asking & smiling***

I accept my fate. Take for example a German inmate, one of the farang in Koh Samui jail. A Thong Nai Pan regular from years ago, I thought I recognised his face. We visitors and prisoners were lined up before the visit, looking at each other down the corridor. 

He waved at me with a big smile, and I was sure he recognised me too! He had the calm air about him, that I talk about above. Later, I met a friend on the ferry who told me his Koh Phangan story. But that is not the story I am interested in here... 


***Expect the guards to be grumpy. It's a prison, not a holiday camp***

… Save that one for another day. In the meantime, my only desire to write about it is that it is so damn easy to help. It's easier to shy away and forget about those 14 farang prisoners in an island jail cell, sure. A Thai jail is a hard place to spend your time.
But that's not the concern here either.

 The only concern is basic human needs:

* PRIORITY 1: Buy Water - Prisoners have a shortage of clean drinking water in jail. (No rights or wrongs here: it's an Asian jail, it's just the way it is. Money talks. No money, no honey - nor water.) A six-pack of water costs just 72 baht.

* PRIORITY 2: Buy Fruit -  There's little fruit to provide prisoners vitamins, unless we buy it from the outer prison counter for them. Months into a sentence with no fruit, prisoners start to show scurvy type symptoms. 4-5 bags of fruit costs 200-300 baht.

* PRIORITY 3: Buy Food -  You can buy supplies for inmates from the prison counter or deposit funds, even if you decide not to visit. Easy to do. All you need is your ID and their name. NB: As of July 2014 you can no longer take in food or books from outside.

Our friend is doing OK at the moment. He's only been in there a couple of months, and he's still getting lots of visits. Trouble is, on a 2yr sentence, that probably won't last...

But right now we are buying him so much water and supplies that he's having to share. He's like King Rat in there. It's only enough for him to survive, but how can he not share with the others, when he's got fifteen pairs of hungry eyes on him?

Out of the 30 Farang/non-Thai in that jail cell, half of them receive no visits, no money and survive only on the meagre prison rations. If they have money in their account they can afford to buy better food from the canteen.

UPDATE JULY 2015: There are British, German, NZ, Japanese, French-Canadian and Taiwanese in Koh Samui prison.

Are they YOUR compatriots too?
Their first names and your photo ID, either passport or driving licence, should be all you need to buy them supplies. 

If you are on Samui, and you have a spare hour and a few hundred baht, you can help these guys out. I mean, really make a difference to their daily survival needs. 

You can visit them too, if you have the time, energy, courage… though that will take up half your day, not just half an hour to buy supplies.

prohibited items
***Expect to see the prisoner, through a glass screen, but up close and personal***

Don't worry about what to say, let them talk. It's their ten minutes to communicate to the outside world whatever they want to talk about. 

Exchange stories with them. Ask them how you can be of help. Maybe a message home to their family or relatives?

Or buy a few packs of water, a few bags of fruit, noodles & canned fish from the prison shop - survival rations. Never mind the message home… Update 25/4/14: And coffee and cookies please!

***Expect to feel that the frustration was worth it, for ten minutes spent with a prisoner on hard times***

Update 2015: Prison population is increasing all the time. There are now an average of 40 inmates to a 24sqm cell, up from 30 a year ago. Samui Prisoners Support regularly visits the prison regularly to buy inmates water and supplies.

Any donations to help buy WATER for inmates always gratefully accepted!
PayPal email :  kohsamuiinmates@gmail.com

Related articles:
Samui Prisoners Support