Friday, 14 August 2015

Reality Hits Home - Life After Thai Jail

9 months after his release from Koh Samui jail, the conversations with *Alex continue - read his first compelling interview here: Thai Prison Time: The Inside Story.

Now hitting a brick wall of extreme boredom, *Alex reconciliates 'life on the out' with the life of freedom he'd been dreaming about for so long…

life after thai prison
Life after incarceration - freedom awaits back in Europe
Over the months our conversations continued, infrequent but always perceptive:

Time On The Out

'Time, Mel...  When you're in prison you've got nothing else.  You think bad of those at home who never seem to care enough to at least send a letter.  You promise yourself and everyone else that you will never not write and stop being in touch.

Now being at home, problems are reversed.  There's simply no time for anything.  You get up at seven o'clock every day just like before, but unlike before, the days are filled with the things that you have to do.  Rent, loans and bills have to be paid.

Don't get me wrong, I'm so happy to be free; but when I get home at night - passing out on the sofa - writing letters is as alluring as going back to jail!  Keep thinking that as soon as things calms down, I will sit down and write, but it never happens.  I don't write because I don't have time.  I feel bad about it, but it can only get better, right?...'

*     *     *
Letter from Koh Samui inmate
*     *     *
Months later, as I filled Alex in with news of his old friends inside, our dialogue began again.  In the process, he catalogued the last 9 months as a free man:

Transfer Home to Sweden

'I got transferred from Koh Samui to Klong Prem in July last year.  My transfer had been approved by the Thais two months before.  I read Thai laws about transfer and it clearly states that once a decision has been made, it's up to your country to pick you up.

It took Sweden 6 months to come get me.  Never found out why it took such a long time.  If anyone wonders whether it's quicker to go to Bangkok before transfer, it's not.

Three officers from Sweden came to pick me up.  The Swedish officers were great.  It was a vacation for them.  They had a ceremony with some high politicians and people from the Swedish embassy.  The ceremony was definitely all 'smiles for the camera'.

Funny, I'd been asking to check my bag to see if my things were all there.  When the ceremony was over, they finally let me check it - and in front of all the Thai guards I found out that everything was gone.  Probably went missing in Samui, but still...

Then it was off to immigration and the airport.  On the plane, I started to do things I hadn't done in over two years.  Like looking into a real mirror...  Horrible.  Nice watching movies and listen to music though.'  

I saw an old man in the mirror.  Worn out

'Once in Sweden, no one had a clue who I was.  I got sent to a facility where they kept unsentenced people for two weeks before they knew what to do with me.  In that place, you don't really get to meet anyone except the guards.

They held me in isolation for one week before they transferred me to the youth floor.  They said it would be a good thing for the youngsters to hear my story.  I felt so sorry for them.  Just kids.  In the end, I got sent to a maximum security prison - for one week.

In Sweden, you need to do two thirds of your sentence before parole; I had only three weeks to go when I came home.  They were really hard about keeping the agreement with the Thais.  Apparently, you cannot be released from custody so they sent me to jail
... for a week.'

Prison is hard, but coming back is no picnic either
 
'You can make suggestions about where you want to go, but it's really just up to the length of your sentence; so with 3 and a half years they sent me to maximum security.

Depressing place, really.  Oldest prison in Sweden and everyone was dressed in grey.  53 guys.  Most of them over 10 yr sentences, but with all the commodities you can imagine.

Except that the whole place was grey, people were nice and kept asking me questions.  I just wanted to be alone though, so they must have thought that I was well weird, he he.' 

Hot showers, warm bed, nice food... did any of those things mean anything to you?

'They meant everything.  I was quite private in Thai prison, too.  To me, the worst thing in there was never having any privacy.  Gets to your head.

All off a sudden I could lock the door when I went to the toilet and I could watch cooking programs on TV and listen to the radio.  I didn't want to talk to anyone.'

recently released from koh samui prison
Thai Prison Time: The Inside Story 
 
'People keep asking me how anyone can come out of Thai prison with their mind intact.  Part of my protection was a sense of the whole thing being unreal or more like a bad joke'

*     *     *  

Reality Hits Home

'Everything was unreal when I came out.
People kept asking me how I felt.  I had no idea...

Before leaving, I'd left all my winter clothes at a friend's place and it turned out that he'd sold them all.  Inside, you dream a lot, about how things will be on the outside and, while dreaming, you picture your life as perfect - with all the possibilities in the world.

Deep inside you know that it's dreaming and that life will be exactly like it was before, or most likely worse.  Coming back, at first you are overwhelmed by all the new inputs and everything you do, you do for the first time in years.'

At first you are just amazed and glad to be free, 
and then reality slowly creeps up on you 

'In most cases, there is no time to breathe and gather yourself, because you need to get a job.  You need to work to support yourself.

The Swedish society is one of the best and most secure places in the world when it comes to social security, but that's when you've been living in Sweden for some years.

I'd been away for so long that the taxes and money to unions that I had paid no longer counted.  The only help I could have got was from social welfare, but then I would have been forced to 'sell my care', since you are not allowed to have any belongings worth any money.

Luckily, I have a family that has supported me with work and a place to stay.  So basically, the only thing that your government does for you, is to bring you back with your family - and fill your criminal record with bullshit.

Says in my Swedish criminal record that I've served 3.5 years for drugs, which is true, but it is still a minor offence in Sweden.  Had to tell my former employees exactly what had happened.'

It's unfair.  Done my time, times a hundred... Should be enough

'I studied for years.  Got my dream job.  Lost it.  I've been told for half a year that they'd probably take me back as long as I got my courses.  Courses are taken and I still have this worrying feeling that they won't take me back.

Because of what has happened.  They smile to me, but in Sweden it's an offence to discriminate.  They are stalling and it doesn't feel right.

When you ask your embassy about what will happen once in Sweden they have no idea.  But there are a lot of things along the long transfer way that could be different.' 

*     *     *

return home to sweden after years in thai jail
Back to Reality - the ennui of everyday life
The War Hero's Return

'I guess in the end you can only blame yourself and make the best out of things.  Many people are so much worse off.'

Like... you could be locked up in Thai jail?

'Exactly.  Just sometimes, it feels like I'm working up this steep hill and there's never any breaks... 

In prison, all you've got is hope.  Nothing happens, but still you are in a state of total chaos.  Your mind is working overtime, and there's crazy shit going on all around you.

Coming back is like running into a brick wall.  All of a sudden there's nothing going on.  
People are treating you with silk gloves, asking you how you feel...

When I tell about the stuff going on in there, they look at me like I'm a maniac and always ask me - always - how the hell I could have survived that.  You just do, I guess.  To know Thai prison you have to at least know Thai culture.  No one does.'

Life didn't turn out as I wanted, but it turned out, 
more or less, exactly as I expected

'Looking back, I kind of foresaw in detail how life has turned out, which is way better than Thai jail, but not what I dreamed of.  Life now is not terrible, but it's amazingly boring.

Someone said: coming back from war is like you've been in free fall, everything moving around you at a tremendous speed.  Constantly worrying, with your senses always on edge.  Coming back is hitting the ground.  All of a sudden it's just nothing.

My life for two years was a freefall, now I'm glued to the ground.  Stuck.

I guess it is like coming back from a war in a way...  Extreme pressure on one hand and extreme boredom on the other.  Fucks with your mind.  Some people don't mind.

I hate it.

Action!'

It's an art being satisfied.  
I'm a seeker - and I still haven't found what I'm looking for

*     *     *
With thanks to Alex for the open dialogue and info on transfers over the last months - wishing him well on the journey as he seeks out the future that awaits him!

 Related Articles:
koh samui prison tales
Samui Prison Tales
'When you're going through hell, keep going'
Winston Churchill

Update Feb 2016: 

15 months after his release from Thai jail, and 6 months after this interview, *Alex is back on the sea and loving the storms raging around him. Our sailor is happy again.

Life After Thai Jail, it exists ;)