To love a (thought) criminal

Once I began to write, I realized that selecting the topic of the lives of the ‘beloved’ of Article 112 prisoners was not a very good idea. Relationships are never an easy matter — they are complicated and very personal. These relationships have been lacerated and seriously wounded by politics. My questions unearthed and scattered dust from the painful past and it was as if the retelling served to hammer in the injustice of what has happened. Simple questions about the future became filled with profound emotion.
 
The inspiration for the piece is seeing each of them return to visit their beloved in the prison like clockwork for years. Time after time, I have seen all of them shed tears. But I only have the energy to write about the lives of only four of those who are the ‘beloved’ amidst many, many more prisoners of thought. These four are examples of the lives of ‘those who provide backup’ and the impact upon them.

The online love of Thanakorn, a young factory worker

 
The story behind the arrest of Thanakorn, or Aef, leans toward the absurd.
 
The 28-year-old man grew up in a lower-class family. He finished Grade 9 and only barely began vocational training before he left to work in a factory like his parents. He left school so that his sister, who is 12 years younger, could study. According to his mother, he has worked in an automotive parts factory ever since then. He worked very hard and never missed a chance to work overtime. Every baht he made he handed over to his mother for the family’s expenses. His sister continues to study. His father ceased working many years ago due to being beset by many illnesses and his mother’s body is beginning to creak after working hard for many years.
 
This young man dedicated his life to his family and worked 12 hours a day for 6-7 days a week. Many months before his arrest, he found love online.
 
Pat, a woman 7 years his junior who is studying finance and accounting and is going to graduate from university this September … is the one with whom he fell in love. They chatted through Facebook messenger for 8 months without ever seeing one other’s faces.
 
“Aef added me as a friend and I accepted. Ever since 17 April last year, we have chatted as our relationship developed over time. But we were reluctant to meet in person. Both of us had gone through break-ups before, and wanted to chat and wait and see for a bit. I only saw what he really looked like and his real age, and learned that 7 years separates us, when he was arrested. He had said that we were the same age.”
 
A young woman whose girlhood has ended, Pat tells the story slowly and in a wavering voice. She conceals nothing. 
 
“I was a bit angry at first. The first moment that it came to me, I wondered why he had lied to me. But I decided that he must have had a reason. He knew that I was close to graduating and had a future, while he himself had only finished Grade 9. Every time I visit him at the prison, he says he wants to go on with school when he gets out. He wants a diploma like me. 
 
“It was disappointing. But the disappointment pales in comparison with what he has given me over the past months. Even though we had not seen each other’s faces, and I did not know what he looked like, he made me feel good. He never hurt me, he never harmed me.”
 
They spoke to each other on the telephone four times a day. Aef called to wake her up to go to class. He caught up with her when she finished classes. And they spoke for a longer period in the evenings. Things went on and on like this this until they made a plan to meet. “Aef told me that he would take me to meet his parents on New Year’s Day, but this happened first.”
 
Thanakorn was arrested on 8 December 2015 at the factory where he worked. He was held on a military base for many days before he was remanded to prison by the military court for sharing the “Rajabhakti corruption chart,” for which the New Democracy Movement (NDM) claimed credit in the end. But it is the young factory worker who clicked and shared it who is the one being prosecuted. Another charge was brought against him for allegedly violating Article 112 for posting a picture of Khun Thong Daeng [the king’s pet dog—trans.] with a comment that was interpreted as sarcastic.    
 
While Thanakorn was being detained and had gone silent, Pat and his mother met and went to many police stations and military camps trying to find him.
 
“I did not sleep at all that night and sent messages constantly. I called another number I had for him and his mother answered. She was very anxious and unwell. She could not speak. She cried all night and could not sleep until she took a sleeping pill. All I could do was wonder about whom we should contact to be able to see Aef again. I knew no one, no one at all.” 
 
“After he appeared for the first remand hearing, I went to visit him at the prison. The prison is where we met for the first time. We were both quiet because we had never met before. The first thing he said was my name is Aef. I said that my name is Pat. He asked me how I had come to the prison, and how I had been during the time that he had disappeared. I asked him why he was so skinny. He said that he was anxious and could not eat anything. It was an atmosphere in which neither of us knew what to talk about. But after the conversation fell into a lull several times, he began to tell me that a soldier took a water bottles and hit his back three times to make him answer until the amulet that he was wearing fell off.  He said that since he did not do it, they could not do anything to make him admit it. He was in chains when he was held on the military base. He had to sleep all night in chains. While he ate, a soldier fed him from behind and another covered his face. He lost a lot of weight because he could not eat this way.”
 
“When we chatted, Aef liked to send me pictures of cats and dogs. He sent them all the time. He loves dogs. When I read the news that it was lèse majesté, I wondered how he could have defamed the king. He had barely any free time. I do not believe that he did it.” (Her voice trembles.) 
 
“My older sister got in touch with me to ask me about him. I told her that I cannot abandon him and I cannot abandon his parents. Things are terrible. If I abandoned them, it would just make it worse. So I decided to look after his mother.”
 
Since then, this young woman wakes at 5 a.m. to trek to visit the one she loves, the one whom she had only glimpsed for the first time clad in the uniform of a prisoner. Thanakorn has requested bail many times, but the military court has denied it and he remains in prison. 
 
Pat has developed an unspoken closeness with Aef’s mother. His mother must go to work early in the morning, and so Pat visits Aef in his mother’s stead. On the occasional Saturdays that the prison opens for families to visit, Pat spends the night at Aef’s house and then she and his mother go together to visit him. 
 
“Aef’s father has to take many pills after dinner because he suffers from many diseases. His mother works in an automotive factory and has to lift heavy steel parts. Sometimes she works the late shift and sometimes the early shift. Her life is very tough. When all of this transpired, she had to work even harder. She worked until her finger became stuck in a bent position. Aef himself worked hard all the time. The first time I went to his house and walked into his room, it was like walking into a pharmacy. He had muscle relaxant gel, painkillers, and anti-inflammatory medicine. I asked his mother about it, and she said that Aef worked every day. He did overtime every day. Even if he was unwell, he still went to work. He never skipped. And so he relied on this medicine to get through it.”
 
In addition to visiting her beloved before going to class every day, Pat must also withstand pressure from her friends. They cannot accept Aef because of the accusation against him.
 
“Some of my friends go every further and tell me to stop being involved with Aef (her voice wavers). Most of my friends are older and will not deal with such problems. And I used to tutor them before exams. But now I am not free to do so. Was I going to tutor them or not, they asked. They don’t speak to me anymore. It’s like they pushed me out of our group. I left the old group and now have a new group of friends that are the same age and live close by.”
 
When I ask about the future, she says that she still hopes that Aef will be able to leave the prison, ordain as a monk for his mother, finish studying through nonformal education, and become engaged with Pat as they once dreamed.
 
“Some say that this law [Article 112] does not extend to the pet dog. I think he must just be hit with the Computer Crimes Act. If this is how it goes, then perhaps we will meet outside the prison walls before too long.”
 
* Note: Aef was granted bail by the military court on 8 March 2016 after being held for 93 days (7 days in military detention and 86 days in the Bangkok Remand Prison).—trans.
 

The young lawyer who loves and shares the suffering of ‘Golf Devil-Child’

 
For more than a year, Pok has risen at dawn to go to visit Pornthip, or Golf, his actress girlfriend, nearly every day. He waits for 2-3 hours in exchange for 20 minutes with her. During the time that he has visited his beloved, he has gone from being a law student at the end of 2014 to nearly being a full-fledged lawyer. Talking about love with a young man is difficult, though. He tries to hide his diffidence and suppress the feelings that rise to the surface every so often.
 
 
They met during a rural development camp organised by Ramkhamhaeng University at the end of 2008 and have been together since then. Pok explained that what attracted them to each other is that they, “spoke a shared language about the same things.” The pair had both read political history, political literature, and literature-for-life since high school.
 
Golf was particularly interested in the performance of plays and learned by doing from various actors and actresses. She studied formally for a short period with the Crescent Moon Theatre Group. After that, she and a small group of friends began to perform plays after being moved by the dispersal of red shirt protests in 2010. 
 
“I did not perform, but I went to help her (laughing). What she really wanted to do is to perform plays that were easily digestible. Plays that the ordinary, common people could understand and watch without having to buy a ticket. Artistic work and plays contain a dividing line built into them. It is difficult for ordinary people, villages, to attend. They cost money and time. One has to be really determined to go to an art exhibit or attend a theatre performance. But when a play is performed in the middle of a protest, it can raise questions for those who are right there. Sometimes a play can contain some answers, too, but the important thing is that it serves as an invitation to think.”
 
Golf likes plays and likes working with children. She went to different parts of the country and used plays as an instrument to build happiness and foster creativity with children. Many of the plays emerged from a democratic process in which everyone worked together to compose a play and rehearse it for a few hours before performing it.
 
She continued on this path until there was a performance as part of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of 14 October 1973 that was loosely organized to allow the feelings and words of the performers out naturally. The performance was held in the small auditorium at Thammasat University. It was not long after the dispersal of protestors in 2010, the Pheu Thai Party had just returned to power following elections and the atmosphere in society was open. The Royal Monarch Alert Protection Network filed complaints at 13 police stations about the performance at the time, and then it became an issue in the next year.
 
After the 2014 coup, all Article 112 cases both old and new were resurrected and acted upon quickly under martial law, which allowed the soldiers to arrest suspects and detain them incommunicado for 7 days. Those who performed in the play and those who organized the commemoration scattered because they worried that would their number would come up and they would be arrested. Not longer after the coup, the news came out that ‘Bank,’ one of the performers, was arrested and faced prosecution under Article 112. The next day, it was Golf’s turn to be arrested. At that time, she was preparing to go abroad to study and work.
 
 “She later told me that when she was arrested, she excused herself to go to the bathroom. She considered killing herself then. Everything was over. Her hopes, her dreams, the possibility of her making money and helping others. None of it was going to happen. I worry about this all the time with her because her emotions swing from high to low.  She was in this kind of funk for a long time, many months, once she was in prison.  It came in waves. Everything was awful and she did not want to live any longer. During that time, the investigating officials and prosecutor put a lot of pressure on her.”
 
“When she fell into a mood where she wanted to hurt herself, I felt really terrible. All I could do was console her and tell her not to do it, and listen as I let her talk. Her emotions swung a lot then, but at least she spoke about them. So I still knew how she was doing.”
 
“I am not someone who can abandon my love in a time like this. In a time of happiness, anyone can be with another. But in times of hardship, there are not that many people who can listen to each other, who can speak to each other, and who can take care of each other.”  
 
“On the evening of the day that the court remanded Golf to the prison, I went to pick up her mother in Phitsanulok. I had a very hard time adjusting to what had happened. When I arrived, I didn’t tell her anything. I simply asked her to come with me to Bangkok. I was going to tell her when we arrived at the prison. But she knew what was happening because she had been unable to reach her daughter. So I decided to tell her and she cried. But I tried to explain it to her. It was very tough to hold myself together to tell her that her daughter had been arrested and I came to take her to visit her. I can still remember her mother sitting motionless over a bowl. She couldn’t eat anything. That was really, incredibly difficult.”
 
“She always asks me, what are we going to do when she gets out?  The prison sucks out one’s dreams and imagination. This is what I can sense from her. But since she has an excess of both, some still remain. During this period, she is studying a lot. She is studying Arabic, how to make handicrafts, religion and academic topics. She reads, and a few days ago, she was excited and told me that she read a book signed by older sister Pakavadi (Veerapaspong) that said on the front cover “For Somyot Prueksakasemsuk,” but somehow ended up in the Women’s Prison. A note was attached at the end that said, “It makes no sense, older sister Pak” (laughs). It was one of the novels she translated.”
 
“The only dream that remains secure and that Golf always stands by is that she wants to open a school for children, a school in nature, that teaches everything. One that feels like a school under the trees, something like that.”
 
“For people who grow up like this, politics becomes one of the molecules that constitutes their being. It is only that we do not know which parts will be diminished or augmented by the conditions inside the high walls of the prison and how she will position herself when she comes out.”
 
Golf will be released on 6 October of this year. Bank, her co-defendant, will get out around the same time.
 

An ordinary girl who stands beside the famous singer ‘Tom Dundee’

 
Nan is a polite and pleasant woman who is always smiling. She is an employee of a company that manufactures automotive components who became interested in politics when the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) shut down the airport. She went back and forth and without realizing it, she became fully red. She joined the protests for the first time in 2010 and met Tom Dundee at the end of 2011. A great number of years separated them, to the degree that she called him uncle and he called her younger sister. But when they had a chance to see each other often, she began to see him through new and changed eyes. 
 
 
“He came by himself and sold CDs. People thought he was rich. When we became close, I learned that he was a star who faced hardship. He family had cast him out and he was alone. Even though he was in touch and took care of them, he was outside the family. He only had the political struggle.”
 
Their relationship developed over time until they came to share life with one another. Nan helped out as his personal secretary and set up gigs for him. But as he grew more involved in political activism, he played at fewer and fewer concerts. Until the concerts completely dried up and he had to return to being a farmer. Nan said that in 2010, a leading company broke its contract with him for a 75-concert tour. He was compensated with hundreds of thousands of baht, but took it all and put it into politics.”
 
“He does not refer anything that happened. Even though it has caused him to be in this mess now. He is proud of what he was able to do. He always says that everything he does is for the people, he went from being a temple boy to where he is now because of the people. He is happy that it has been reciprocated. At first, I felt neglected and felt that he did not love me. It was as though he ran to a chosen death. Why did he choose politics rather than choosing to live a happy life with me? But in the end I understand his choice. We share the same ideals. At this point, one cannot be selfish.”
 
Ordinary people may be surprised that a singer is so compelled by politics. But in truth, his interest in politics dates from when he was a young man.
 
This pair were unceasingly involved in politics in 2012 during the Yingluck Shinawatra government. Nan said that they joined with others to create the “Voice of the People” group. They went to listen to red shirt leaders in 50 areas of Bangkok about various problems and then made proposals to the government in 2012-2013. Tom and Nan put everything aside time and time again to travel to the provinces to join openings of “red shirt villages” and served as speakers about democracy, community cooperatives, and social welfare. They collected the names of villagers to call for the government to increase the social welfare payment for elderly people from 600 to 2000 baht per month. 
 
“Other people may view him as a flirt with many girlfriends. But it has not been like this since we met and got together. I am a country girl and never thought that I would meet a person like him. He treats me honorably in everything. He does not object to my being from the country or not having a secure job. What really impresses me is that he openly tells other people that I am his wife. I am neither beautiful nor self-confident. But he is certain. He tells me that he loves me and I am that I am beautiful to him. You could say that he boosts my confidence all the time.”
 
“When I am with him, he is very gentle. He cooked and helped out with the cleaning and laundry. He died everything he could to help. We each came home tired from work. He did not think that since I am his wife I must look after him.”
 
The lives of this couple, who were once farmers-cum-political-activists, changed completely after the coup. Tom Dundee was on a list of those summoned to report themselves issued by the junta and he was arrested on 9 June 2014 on a charge of violating this order. Not long after that, he was also hit with two charges of violating Article 112 stemming from speeches he gave. Oddly, one of those cases is in the Criminal Court and the other is in the Military Court. Tom is one of a small handful of people who have chosen to fight their cases. Even after he has been detained in prison for 1 year and 7 months, there has been no movement in the courts yet.
 
 
“When it happened, I nearly collapsed. I have to do everything on my own. All I can do is go to the prison everyday. We support and give strength to each other. We are strong today because we have been through a lot.”
 
Nan let their garden grow wild and sold their pick-up truck and used the proceeds to rent a room close to the prison. She goes to visit her beloved every day. Her life is very solitary. She has to try to always ‘seem’ strong and not cry in front of Tom because she is afraid it will cause anxiety for him. She has not told her family of what she faces because her elderly mother is unwell and it would break her heard. She does not unburden herself with others in the same situation because all that she has are tears.
 
“I rarely speak with the wives of other prisoners. Because we are each suffering, all we have are troubles. If we talk about it, then the sorrow just rises again. I want to help them but I cannot. If I tell my story, then I just suffer. All we can do is cry together. All of us are like this.  So I do not have deep conversations or ask for advice or unburden myself. All it did was intensify my sadness when I did so before.”
 
“How would he live if no one went to visit? The matter of moral support is very important. He is forced to simply be. In a given day, all he does he wait for people to visit. He is limited in any activity he tries to do. He cannot sing or read books. Now, there is a warden who watches him all the time. All he can do is sit and write music or meditate by himself. I understand well what it is like. I go and visit every day and his fellow prisoners give me the phone numbers of their family. They ask me to call their relatives and ask them to visit. Some people have not had any visitors for a whole year.”
 
When I ask Nan how long she can go on like this, she is quiet for a moment before she answers. She says that she is disheartened because one day the money will run out and she will have to go back to work.
 
“My heart will never retreat. No matter what, I will never let go. I have had opportunities. He never holds me back. If a better option comes, I can take it. We talk openly about this. But I won’t leave. If I go, it will be because I have to work to support myself, but my spirit will not shift. My faith in him grows more and more as days go by.”
 
“Fighting the case is tough. The hearings for witness testimony have been continually delayed. Who knows when the use of the military court system will cease. Many people choose to confess. At the very least, they then know when it will be over and can ask for a pardon … my life is lonely and full of grief. But I accept and understand that this is his struggle. If I did not understand him, it would be even harder. If a person is innocent, how can guilt be forced upon them? This is a sin. How can one be in a society like this? There is only one option, which is to go abroad. But this is not our home. If it was me, I would likely make the same choice.”  
 

The ideological comrade of ‘Yai Daengduad’

 
Viewed through the lens of an outsider, Kai is a single mother who seems to have limitless energy. But she is a sensitive person who cries every time she talks about Yai Daengduad, her beloved who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for 5 Facebook posts. When they meet at the prison, their eyes fill with tears for one another.
 
 
When we have a long conversation, I learn that her abundance of energy is in part a result of having Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and in part arises from having had to struggle support herself and her family since she was a child. Her tears are complicated by the many matters that fill her heart. She became interested in politics after color-coded contention emerged and she came to consciousness as politics entered her blood.
 
“I despise injustice.” This is an essential principle for her and it is therefore unsurprising that she is critical of the leaders on the same side.
 
Her face turns completely red each time that she cries, especially her eyelids. This is because she had a facelift, not for cosmetic reasons but because she was hit by a truck when she was a teenager. She had more than 100 stitches in her face. Her survival was miraculous.
 
She has 1 son and separated from his father shortly after he was born. Her son has ADHD, which affects his schoolwork. Even though he is smart, he refuses to study like other children. In addition to struggling to earn a living, she is also stressed from taking care of her son, especially as he becomes a teenager.
 
She said that she chooses her partner by letting her son choose. If her son likes a man, then she liked him. Some people were very good to her, but not to her son. But her son likes Yai. They watch soccer together and teach each other English. Yai’s story of studying in the Faculty of Engineering at Chulalongkorn University has become an inspiration for her son. This makes her happy and gives her peace of mind. She often says that she only studied a little and wants her son to have a better future. She wants someone who can be a pillar to lead and guide her son, especially as the gap between them grows.
 
During the time that they were together, even though Yai’s work was not very secure, he was in the process of getting a large construction contract in a neighboring country.  But he was arrested four days before he was due to fly to sign the contract.  The “future” of her son has become more important to her than youthful love. 
 
Even more than that, what binds the two of them closely together with invisible chains is “political ideology.”
 
She said that she and Yai were “confidants” and “comrades” on Facebook for a long time. Each of them expressed impassioned and radical political opinions in line with their beliefs. Yai emphasized information and Kai was vehement in her responses. The pair became confidants in battling against the opposite side who came to curse and argue with them in their space. Then their online friendship blossomed offline as well. Yai himself had just separated from his family and had many problems of his own.
 
When the two moved into together, the crux of the problem in Yai’s life came to be one in Kai’s life as well. Even though they were becoming a family, it was not long enough for both to prove themselves without any questions. After they had been together for 7-8 months, Yai was arrested and put in prison. He has been in prison for 1 year and 2 months, a period longer than the time that they were together before his arrest.
 
Since Yai has been in prison, he has been alone and Kai is the only one who comes to visit him. She travels from Nakhon Pathom to Bangkok and never misses a week. The profits from her variety shop continue to drop and her debts increase. She does not ask her parents or siblings to borrow money because she does not want them to worry. She sells her gold instead and tells her parents that she had a packet of money saved.
 
After many months pass, Yai’s old family contacted him and said they wanted to visit. Kai was open to meeting his old family and told herself that if they were going to come back together as a family, she would welcome it. But after that, it was again only her who traveled to visit him as it had been before.
 
Their relationship is not sprinkled with rose petals. Even though they each cry when they meet, it is not merely because they yearn for freedom, not merely because they sympathize with one another, and not merely because they are angry at what they see as injustice. They each have their own unresolved personal problems. Sometimes Kai questions the “love” that has come to pass. This is a difficult for Yai too because he cannot elucidate what has happened, express his opinion, or maintain his love. So then what we always see are their tears. Simply saying the name ‘Kai’ make what may be tears of gratitude or guilt or insecurity come to his eyes. Perhaps all of this is correct or none at all.
 
But no matter how much the situation inside the relationship or the conditions of struggle outside oppress her, she maintains that she will take care of this man until he is free. The future after that will be another decision.
 
“However long, I can stand it. However difficult, I will do it.”
 
The reason may not be the romantic one that people expect.
 
“We are comrades. We are friends who share the same ideology. And this is something that endures.”
 
 
This article was originally published shortly after Valentine’s Day in Thai. This version has been translated into English by Tyrell Haberkorn.