Conditions in Thai prisons are some of the world’s most notorious. Billy was held in Chiang Mai. Like almost every British person there, he relied heavily on Prisoners Abroad’s support…
‘The first time I walked into my cell was like heading into the lion’s den. The room was big, but not big enough for the 70 people it held. The cell floor resembled a mass grave, with arms and legs all over each other. The smell of human faeces was so strong I wanted to vomit. I saw a motionless body on a damp-stained mattress, insects hovering over him. “My God”, I thought. When I dared to look again, my worst thoughts were confirmed. He was really dead.
This was the first day in my new home. And as the new guy, I spent that night lying next to the man’s body. This wasn’t the last dead body I’d see there – and as I soon discovered, every day would be a struggle for my own survival.
Getting enough food was a daily challenge. Once a day, you’d be given a meal. It was always rice, a liquid of some sort, and some inedible meat. It might be a chicken’s head with the eyes intact, sometimes it was snake. Usually though, you couldn’t even identify it. We were starving – we just ate it, we had to.
I was thousands of miles away from home, and it really felt like it. I’d lost touch with my family back in the UK: I couldn’t ask them to support me – I began to feel so isolated.
So when money started appearing in my account, around 1,800 baht (£35) per month, I was very surprised. I didn’t know where it was coming from, and I wasn’t sure why anyone was helping me. Eventually I discovered it was a grant from a charity back in London called Prisoners Abroad.
It was just brilliant and it really helped. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was enough to help me survive. Now I could afford to buy proper food for myself, I didn’t have to live solely on the inedible prison food any more. Soon I started receiving correspondence from the Prisoners Abroad team, as well as their newsletter – I always looked forward to reading that. I wrote back to them many times. I shared my story and let them know what was going on, I even got myself in the newsletter!
Because the prison censored my letters, I couldn’t exactly explain the full horror of what I was seeing. But I had no doubt that Prisoners Abroad knew what I was going through.
Despite the physical support they were giving me, the pressure of life inside quite an effect on my mental health. I was paranoid with fear – convinced that people were talking about me because I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
But Prisoners Abroad helped me there too. They sent me books and newspapers, and these made such a difference. They offered an escape to a different world and they helped me move away from where I was mentally.
Prisoners Abroad’s support helped me survive my time in Thai prison. And I know that if it wasn’t for them, a difficult situation may have become an impossible one…