There must be something in the water in the notorious “Bangkok Hilton” prison which brings out the literary side of the inmates. The latest is American Jon Cole, with his book Bangkok Hard Time (ISBN 978-981-4358-32-3, Monsoon Books, 2011), with another true story from the exercise yards of Klong Prem Central Prison (AKA the Bangkok Hilton).
In the opening chapters, Cole explains why he was in Bangkok as a young teenager, and reputes himself as being observant of the Thai culture. He shows disdain for those Americans who looked down on the Thais, and points out that the Thai culture is 700 years older than the American one.
He tells of his early teenage years in Bangkok where he meets up with the illicit drug culture through one of the many opium dens in Bangkok, a meeting that he does not have the maturity to deal with. And inadequate parental supervision ensures that the drug taking becomes a habit.
It is that same lack of maturity that finally sees Cole as a full-blown heroin addict, for whom the major fear in life was that he would have no heroin and get withdrawals, a situation that he would do anything to avoid.
I found it interesting to find that the US government deposits $100 per month in an American prisoner’s bank account. One wonders at the advisability of this largesse.
Author Cole admits that the foreign prisoners were treated better than the Thai prisoners, and even their allocated food was superior. This food, in turn, was bartered with the Thai prisoners in exchange for services, such as completing the foreigner’s days work duties. Cigarettes were also exchanged for services.
However, well heeled Thais lived an even better existence in the jail, with parties attended by katoey serving “girls” with the availability of whisky and gin as well as good Thai food. Puts another face on the ‘hard labor’ idea. Like all things in Thailand – everything is available – if you have the money to make it happen.
All the way through the book, Cole expounds on the Thai concept of accepting the consequences of one’s own karma, a psychological way of being able to mentally sustain one’s self in the very harsh circumstances of prison life. Those foreigners who also learned this acceptance found life easier to understand and bear.
Well written and easily followed, I found Cole’s description of incarceration in the Klong Prem prison and the prison itself quite engrossing. Prison life was also not as I had imagined, after reading other books claiming prisoners were existing on eating cockroaches, such as Warren Fellows in his book The Damage Done, 12 years of Hell in a Bangkok Prison. But then, perhaps these were prisoners with no money at all, or people with in-built hyperbole.
The book was sent directly from Monsoon Books in Singapore, who were uncertain of the RRP in Thailand. Asia Books, the Thailand distributor, advertises Bangkok Hard Time at 495 THB, but then states it has a special on this publication at 396 THB, which makes it a very good and inexpensive read.