Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Day In The Life in Koh Samui Prison

A Day In The Life In Koh Samui Prison

Two former Koh Samui Prison inmates contributed to this.  One, *T,  gave us the timetable (in bold), while another, *J, gave us his colloquial take on day to day occurrences, which was too good to edit - his discernible English accent should be apparent.  Italics are my thoughts or questions added into the mix.

 

6am: The captain wakes us up by blowing the whistle.

Wake up bell at about 6am. 
Cells are unlocked at 6.30am.
6am-6.45am: counting before leaving the room.
The cells are bloody irritating, 45 people all wanting to have an early morning piss, and some people insist on having a shower in the one and only toilet in the cell.

8am: Singing the Thai National Anthem, followed up by Buddhist prayers and the 2nd counting.

Everyone goes downstairs and at 8am they play the National Anthem on recorders.
  
Q: As in the musical instrument we used to play at school?

Yes, exactly, played into microphones.
Everybody stands in lines of about 40 prisoners and a count is made of everyone.  
After the 8am count (weekdays only) you have to put on your prison uniform until 1pm: blue for convicts, brown for those on remand.

* Counting also happens at 11am, 1pm and 4pm during the week.

The shop opens after the count at 8am but they don’t serve until about 9am because prisoners going to court or school are served first.  The shop has basics like soap, razors, etc, and has some food - but really only biscuits, crisps and fizzy drinks.

When you are on remand you have to go to court every 12 days: they will make you shave if your beard or hair is too long.  Prisoners due in court go to a room downstairs to have shackles put in place.

I’m imagining a weird blacksmith’s forge, but *J explains:

It's like a giant nutcracker, they slide the hoop of metal over your foot then press down on this machine which makes the coil smaller.  Only did it once.  Not heavy, but uncomfortable.  Not good.  Scraped my ankles up.

8.30am: After counting, breakfast.

Breakfast is about 8.30am.  Nasty looking rice and foul smelling broth with a few bones in it, same as dinner; sometimes you might be lucky and get a bit of chicken attached to the bones.  Plates and bowls are distributed amongst the tables there and it’s a question of sitting down and choosing a rice plate and a bowl.

Most of the farangs - and quite a few other inmates - order food in from outside.
Orders are taken the day before and a few of us pay the local businessman, Amon (half Thai, half Italian, raised in Germany) a surcharge for him to order for us - as it can take between 10 minutes and 2 hours of queuing to order food.

Dinner Time: Koh Samui Prison Menu






Q: Is Amon like the Samui Prison version of King Rat?  Ever read that James Clavell book about Changi Prisoner of War camp, Singapore in WW2?

Haven’t read the book; he’s not the king of the prison - but he’s the guy to go to if you want or need something.  He organises the food from outside for a lot of people, he’s always trying to sell t-shirts, etc.  He’s a top guy, funny.

* Amon is no longer in Koh Samui Prison (released or transferred, not sure which). Two scanning stations were introduced at the shop since then which has speeded up queuing immeasurably.

11am: 3rd counting.

Q: What do you have to shout out at the count?

Just the number you are in line in Thai.
If they think you can’t speak Thai they call your number for you. 
You stand up while you’re waiting and crouch or sit down after you call your number, which is when some of the juvenile inmates flick stones at people.  Thai and Burmese inmates’ biggest game is flicking elastic bands, gives you some idea of their IQ.

The prison is mostly a big, big kindergarten for adults.  That’s just my opinion.  I reckon Western prisons are more tough and mental.

As *T said, it was like a kindergarten.  There were very few educated Thai people there, I didn’t see any of them reading a book.  Especially at the 4pm count - when we sat down under cover near the cell entrance, the Thais and Burmese were a nightmare running around.

11.45am: lunch.

I would order 2 meals a day from the outside for 120 baht. 
These would be their version of KFC - which was breaded chicken, rice and an egg or ‘khao mok gai’, yellow chicken with yellow rice.  They did do sandwiches and massaman curry, etc, but I like my chicken, lol.  

1pm: 4th counting.

Most of the time is spent either chatting, reading or at the makeshift gym area which is very limited: concrete blocks on a metal bar style.

Can't quite picture it.

Two bar bells, instead of metal discs they have formed concrete on the end of the metal. 
Imagine Fred Flintstone’s gym: just 2 bar bells and some water bottles filled with sand.

* Update Jan 2016: The prison recently provided 40kg of proper weights, a punch bag, and one pair of boxing gloves for inmates' use.
* Update June 2016: all gym equipment confiscated, prison rules forever in flux.

Jailhouse Boogie: Paradise In A Cage
 Q: What happens when you get a visit?  Call on the tannoy?  

Yes, you get called on the P.A system (not tannoy, thats a brand name, bit of Alan Partridge there, ha ha).  Quite often I didn’t hear it due to being in the farang area, which was a bit round the corner.  But someone would hear it and let you know.

You had to go into 'the cage' with the other inmates who had visits and crouch down - and then count; then go through the gate to the area where they have schooling, counting as you stepped through; then walk in line to the area where you are taken for paperwork and fingerprinting when you first enter the prison.

You crouch or sit down there and you are given a number which is your particular telephone booth number on the visit. 

2pm-3pm: shower

The shower area opens up twice each day, from 9-10am and 2-3.30pm approx.  During the week many of the inmates work in a nearby factory so it’s pretty quiet, but weekends are a lot more noisy.

Q: Is it a mad scramble?  Are there running showers or is it trough and scoop?

About 16 showers and 2 troughs, it is a bit mad.  You can go when everyone has dinner but good chance there will be no water left.  Everyone showers wearing their shorts, maybe a bit shy, ha ha.

In Surat years ago they had whistles.  1) Get wet - 2) Soap - 3) Rinse.  And if you didn't get the soap off in time you were sticky all day...

Didn’t get that when I was there but a long term inmate said that when the water is low then that happens.

Q: Is there algae on the troughs?  Did you wash and drink from them?

No algae, the trough is used for water for the laundry - so it gets empty twice every day.
The trough always gets filled up, but sometimes if you were late to shower it was nearly empty.  Nobody drinks from the troughs as we can take bottled water to the cells.

How To Buy Inmates Fruit and Water
There is a water tap with a filter downstairs but not sure how clean it is, I know a few of the farang got a dodgy tummy from the general drinking water.  I would never drink water from a tap in Thailand anyway.

* Lots of improvements at Koh Samui Prison for the recent centenniary of the prison service in Oct - 20 ceramic sinks and a new shower trough were installed, cells got painted and TVs were installed everywhere.  They threw out all the books to tidy up, though.

3pm: dinner 

Dinner is served at 3pm.

Guards keep themselves to themselves, normally playing chess or something.  Pretty chilled out really.  But when you come back from the regular court visit in shackles, you have to drop your drawers and spread your cheeks, lol.  No touching though.

It’s so boring in there.  But we are able to read books, work out with a few equipments, play a ball game (like petanque), play chess or talk.  

Lots of talking.  We can see the mountain from the yard.  When we are in our rooms, we can see trees and sometimes the sunset. 

4pm: back to our rooms.


At 4pm everyone sits in their respective cell groups, in line near the cell block entrance. 
This is where it gets difficult.  Basic rules: smoking is allowed downstairs in the general prison area (although lighters are not allowed, clever eh?)...

No smoking in the cells from approx. 4.30pm when you go up until 6.30am when you come down again.  Not easy; also no food allowed, only water and a book. 

Many people try to smuggle cigarettes up; there are basic body searches on the way to the cell.  Some are caught, me included once.

The funniest thing though - when I got caught I had to do some press ups in the corridor.  Everyone has to take their t-shirts off to get searched.  The ladyboys go up to their room after the farang - so I saw all the blokes with shaved heads and fake tits go past, hilarious.

Punishments vary depending on the prison guard who makes the discovery. 
I got away with a few press ups and star jumps, others are not so fortunate.

We can bring books to the room and/or watch TV, sometimes with English subtitles, but mostly without.

The TV goes on about 5pm until about 9pm but it’s not general TV.  It’s downloaded onto USB and controlled by the staff - so mainly Thai TV programmes.  Sometimes a movie.

During this time some of the inmates decide to shower; some of the Asian inmates sometimes decide to have a wank - with quite often a number of the Thais or Burmese watching them.  You can hear prisoners in other cells but you can’t see them.

Thai Prison Time: The Inside Story
9pm: sleep - no noise.

Quiet is ordered at 9pm.

The lights never go off, sleeping is a nightmare.  Those on the raised part of the cell are lucky; only 8 can go up there. 

On the floor there are a standard 16 spaces plus people laying 2 by 2 in the aisle.  There are about 12 hammocks.  I spent all my time there legs in the toilet, feet from other prisoners in my face.  The width of my 'space' was about 14 inches wide.  At one point in the cell you could not extend your legs it was so full.

Blankets are always good as they can be put together to make a mattress.  I had a few blankets but not enough, grossly uncomfortable.

* Prison regulations have been enforced.  There are no longer any hammocks in the cells and inmates are limited to 3 blankets each - one for a cover, one to sleep on and one as a pillow.

I might have got some of the timings wrong on counts, breakfast, showers, etc.

Hope this helps, *J.


FYI: Although this post has been ready to go since last July, it hasn’t been published until now out of respect for the Burmese case and recent death penalty.  

As much as inmates’ families needed to hear this info earlier, the time wasn’t right.  There was enough of a media circus as it was, and we had no intention of adding to it further, if we could help it.

To be honest we need a bit of light relief and this made me laugh when I read it again.  Maybe that's just my warped sense of British humour.  Big love to the inmates for sharing - as always.  On with the support!

 Samui Prisoners Support regularly visits Koh Samui Prison to buy inmates water and supplies.
PayPal donations gratefully always accepted: kohsamuiinmates@gmail.com