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A story of two red-shirt farangs in a Thai prison

A Thai red shirt held in prison shares with Prachatai the story of Conor David Purcell, Australian, and Jeff Savage, a Briton, who were arrested for their involvement in the red-shirt rallies in April and May 2010 and deported to their home countries last year.

Mr X, a Thai red shirt, said that Conor and Jeff were brought to the prison among hundreds of red shirts a few days after the end of the rallies in May 2010.

Both of them were detained at the remand centre for a while, before being sent to Mr X’s zone.  Jeff was held in Room 10 which was fitted with surveillance cameras.  Mr X was there when Jeff was moved in, so he felt more familiar with him than Conor.  Conor was placed in Room 2, as the wardens wanted to separate him from Jeff, and that room was fitted with surveillance cameras as well.

According to Mr X, when Conor came to his prison zone, he had so much pain in his leg muscles that he could hardly sit.  Inmates said that he had been beaten up in the first zone.

Mr X introduced himself to Jeff and Conor to let them know that they had an English-speaking friend here.

‘Normally, in my zone, any red shirts who came in would be met with “special greetings,” as the head warden loves red shirts so-o-o much.  I was the first red shirt here, and was well “greeted” by the head warden.  All red shirts, except those who were old or disabled, were “greeted”,’ he said, but did not elaborate.

‘Fortunately, Jeff and Conor are farangs, so they got here safely.  It’s odd that Thais treat their fellow Thais with such contempt.  If you’re a red shirt, you’re bad in the eyes of the warden,’ he said.

The room that Jeff was put in was already crowded, and that displeased the big guy there who ruled the room, a former police officer arrested for his involvement with methamphetamines.  But Jeff was a funny guy and could speak a little Thai, so he could get along with other inmates and had no problems.

Jeff had a Thai wife and a step child in Pattaya.  He always said he missed his step child with tears in his eye.  Mr X also had a child, so they often shared their feelings and consoled each other.

Jeff was once asked by an inmate that, ‘Why the hell do you damn farangs mess with the red shirts?’  Jeff quickly replied, translated by Mr X, that he had a Thai wife and a Thai daughter, so he had joined the red shirts for the future of his daughter.

One morning, Mr X was told that his ‘red-shirt farang friend’, Conor, had nearly got beaten the previous night.  He went to Conor’s room and found messages written in English with a pen on both walls, cursing the Thai government and constitution and venting the writer’s anger about his arrest.

Conor was always reading and writing. At 1 pm every day, he would exercise in the yard, doing boxing training with other inmates.

When Jeff was denied bail, he stood with his hands holding the iron bars, looking outside in tears.  Sometimes when he was lying down, he would suddenly pound his head with his fists and cry. 

Conor was never seen crying or appeared sad, except for one thing.  He was frustrated and under a lot of stress when the prison ordered no visitors for him, as a result of the brawl he had with other inmates when he first came. A panel had been set up to look into the incident, and it had interrogated the others involved, but not him.  Finally, three of them including Conor were barred from receiving visitors for one month.

At first, he seemed OK with it, but after a week he became less cheerful and at bedtime he would lie down and stare quietly at the ceiling.

Mr X said that all inmates looked forward to visits by relatives and friends.  He said that even a visit from this Prachatai reporter made him happy.

Later, Jeff, Conor and Mr X were put in the same room.

When Jeff was brought to the court, he chose to plead guilty, and was released right away as he had already served jail time.

Jeff came to say goodbye to Mr X and Conor, smiling and in tears.  They shook hands and promised to meet again outside.  His departure distressed Mr X, as he wondered when his day would come.

Jeff’s choice to confess and get immediate release shook Conor who was determined to fight to the end.

One day, Conor received a letter from his closest friend who had always visited him.  In the letter, the friend admired his fighting spirit, and respected his decision, but the friend cared for him and wished him to care for his friend too. 

When Mr X read the letter, Conor asked if he was him, what he would do.  Mr X advised him to confess. 

Conor did so and was released.  On the afternoon of that day, he shook hands with Mr X through the iron bars for the last time.

Mr X said that he hoped to see them again outside.