If you think being a political prisoner in Thailand is already a nightmare, being an ordinary prisoner can be worse. A junta critic, accused of lèse majesté, has shared an experience after being rejected from visiting his cellmates just because they do not have a same surname.
I went back to Bangkok Remand Prison today to visit my old cell mates. However, I was turned back at the gate with a simple, almost casual dismissal that only people with the same surname can visit prisoners.
It dawned on me then why regular prisoners told me that requiring ten names to be filled before a political prisoner can be visited isn't a form of discrimination towards political prisoners. It is because regular prisoners are so beneath the state's notice that they don't want prison officials to waste time typing on the visitors forms. It is much easier to simply turn them away
Everyday there are hundreds of prisoners circulating in and out of the Thai penal system and the state simply couldn't cope with all the paperwork that will result from accommodating every visitors. Besides, to Thai society as a whole prisoners are monsters deserving pain, punishment and exile. If they can be regularly visited by loved ones at the tax payer's expense then what would be the point of imprisonment?
My tears started falling as the taxi sped away from the prison and my eyes were still moist when I got home. I was inside that place, I know how prisoners feel.
To a prisoner, a visitor is the only light in their life, It's to catch a glimmer of hope in the news of friends, family, loved ones and hold it very tight to their heart. It is the source of essentials such as clothes, soap, toothbrush and books.
When I was in prison, the greatest gift a prisoner can wish for is a visit from his loved ones. When days past and nobody comes, the mind gives way to doubt "How is my wife and child" "Is my girlfriend still waiting for me?" "Why does she never visit?"
Some of my cell mates never even had a visitor.
I promised everyone that when I got out I will return to visit them with soap and toothbrush, I will send legal briefs to an imprisoned lawyer who wishes to keep up wit the new laws.
When I found out today that I can't keep my promises, I cried.
I keep thinking of the political prisoners, liberals, people accused of lese majestes and the red shirts whom I met in prison, We sat down to eat together, told each other stories, held political debates, care for each other and keeping faith with each other in the belief that Thailand will be better.
I keep thinking of Muhammad, my brother in prison and the best servant of Allah I have ever met who taught me to fear sin and abstain from evil. For God is the most gracious, the most merciful and the most fair, and we will all stand before him on judgement day.
I keep thinking of the muscular African missionary that God sent to prison even though he was innocent. For he was there to call God's lost sheep back into his flock. “be strong brother Harit!” “be brave! god is with you!” his words still ring in my ear rich with the spirit of the lord.
I keep thinking of so many Christian brothers who prayed with me with all the languages the lord bequeathed us at Babel so long ago.
I keep thinking of the murderer who repented and whose repentance is proof of the holy truth of the Book, he made me believe that man should always be forgiven for one day his salvation will surely come.
I keep thinking of uncle John, a businessman who taught me his experience, his way of thinking and that famous English manner.
I keep thinking of the thief who stole only because he was so poor as a child, by teaching him English I learn how crippling poverty and lack of opportunity can be
I keep thinking of the imprisoned lawyer who used his free time to write arguments for prisoners who have no lawyer to represent them.
I keep thinking of the Muay Thai boxers who trained every morning in the yard
I keep thinking of the prisoners who can crack jokes and play music without the aid of any instrument
Murderers, professional thieves, drug dealers, frauds, child molesters. They were all in there with me, and they were all my brothers
Some lost their way because of ill judgement, of greed, of anger, of habit, of a lack of education, of simple mistakes or of ignorance in the law. Some was framed because of politics or fell foul of an uncaring law
But everyone here is a victim, everyone here is suffering and everyone here could have been you, give or take a few bad decisions.
No one passes through life free of sin, no one is totally lost to darkness and everybody has a spark of good and repentence deep inside themselves.
For Justice comes to all in the end, none should be made to suffer unnecessarily for the lord is fair and just.
When I was released on bail, most of the wardens pleaded with me to forget all that has happened in prison. To put behind the trauma, to not speak of it, to never revist it even when waking or sleeping.
But there was one warden who told me "Pon, when you get out, make sure people learn about the inhumanities that happen in this place, I'm close to retirement and I don't care if they can transfer me somewhere"
I remember laughing at the time .
At first I thought I will keep it all to myself, at least until the storm has passed and the trial is done.
But a fierce urgency of spirit has overtaken me, and I must break my silence.