Friday, 23 March 2012

Visiting Gary

I thought, four years ago when I decided to write to a prisoner in Bang Kwang prison that it would be a once a month or so exchange of letters, keeping his spirits up and some general chit chat. I chose Gary so that just was never going to happen :-)

My husband and I have got to know Gary so well over the past four years all via the written word.
We sent parcels over to help him and his fellow prisoners, passed on messages and generally did what we could to help “the old man”.

Gary in now in his 60’s and has been in prison for over 9 years. Nine very hard years in “the Bangkok Hilton”. Not many farangs (foreign prisoners) manage to survive for so long especially at his age. Gary really is an exceptional man.

So he is home and in Wandsworth Prison in London. He is hoping to be moved to a more suitable prison in the next few months. He is a category B prisoner “Those who do not require maximum security, but for whom escape needs to be made very difficult”. Hopefully in time this will change.

Gary is at present allowed 2 hour visits a month, but as he had no visits for the first months he has been in prison we were able to have two consecutive hours. The previous blog has described the process we went through to visit Gary but I would like to add that at no point did I feel intimidated, scared, upset or otherwise uncomfortable before, during or after the visit. The other visitors are friendly and helpful, the staff and guards are equally friendly and very
efficient, there is a bit of waiting around while they process everyone’s id but to be honest there was less hassle than flying to America.

The best part of the visit was putting our arms around Gary and hugging. He has such an open happy face, his eyes have a twinkle about them hiding all he has been through and still going
through.

Gary is a real character, he starts telling you about one thing and then whoosh off he goes on a tangent and ten minutes later he has lost total track of what he started talking about lol. We are having to go back and visit to get the end of several stories he started but never finished as he meandered through his thoughts, having so much to share with us.

During the visit we laughed, oh boy did we laugh, he has such a wicked sense of humour and thankfully we all seem to laugh at the same things. He tries so hard to pull my leg but just gets
himself in a tizzy and ends up being put on the virtual “naughty step”.

Being able to have a cup of tea and a snack makes the visit seem very civilised. We held hands off and on during the visit and even had a sneaky kiss (a peck lol). I at no point felt the presence of the guards who were of course watching, they did so from a discrete distance and I never noticed them stopping others kissing and hugging over the table during their visits. At the end of the visit we had more hugs and kisses and left with big smiles, knowing that we will be able to visit him
again. But looking back as we left the room I saw a little old man sitting alone at a table and my heart went out to him. He should not still be in prison.

The move back to a British prison has not been easy for Gary. The cultural shock after living in Bangkwang for 9 years must be very hard for him. Though he is getting medical care it seems very slow coming. He has not yet seen a dentist and what teeth he does have left are in great need
of attention and he needs dentures. He has just had his first visit to an optician and hopefully he will have new glasses soon. His eyesight has deteriorated greatly over the years in Bangkwang and he has great trouble seeing with the glasses he is now wearing.

Gary is in lock down for long periods of time, as are the other prisoners in Wandsworth and he gets little time out of doors. After being in Bangkwang where most of the time he was out of doors or locked in the very over crowded cage, not being allowed outdoors is hitting him hard. It is not the prison systems fault, they are overcrowded and it is a prison, not a holiday camp, but this is an aspect of being back here that Gary is finding hard to get used to. I am sure there are
other problems Gary is finding being in a British jail but Gary being Gary only touched on them as he keeps the conversation on happy subjects and very rarely does he talk of the bad things he has been through or the bad side of his life now.

If anyone who reads Garys blogs would like to write directly to him, even just a post card saying hello would be gratefully received. Or if you would like to send him an email that we will print out and forward on to him then again Gary love to hear from you.

Thank you

Wanda.

So we went to see Gary

So We went to see Gary
We have written to Gary for many years and in the last 6 months we have been fortunate enough
to talk to him on the phone since he was repatriated.

But last week, after a couple of false starts we managed to actually go and visit him. We were always a little jealous of random emails we would receive from some great people about how they had been to see him in Thailand. This is somewhere where we could never go and so our letters had to suffice.

Once Gary was back in the UK we were determined to go see him and set the wheels in motion.
Its a bit of a process but I think we have it sussed.

Firstly Gary had to get what is known as a Visitors Order. This is a request to the Prison to
allow a visit and is at the discretion of the prisoner, its not the Prison who has the final say on whether or not you can go visit.

What we didn’t realise, all three of us, is that once Gary has the Visitor Order number he has to send it to the visitor so that they can organise the visit. That involves ringing the prison to organise it.

You will go into a queue, you will listen to a recorded message. That message will tell you to call back later around tea time as the line is open till 7:45pm and it is quieter then. This is a lie. I was on hold one afternoon at 3:15pm and there was a click and the message changed to “The lines are now closed for the day they are open from 8:00am to 7:45pm” I have tried on other occasions and the lines always seem to be closed after 3pm. Yes the lines are open at 8am, but good luck
getting anyone to answer them till 9. I had the best luck at around 8:50am

To book a visit you will need your visitor order number(s) and Gary's name and Prisoner
number and then you can pick a time to suit you.

Visits are everyday except Friday's between 09:30 in the morning until 16:30 in the afternoon in one hour slots. At the weekend the hours are 08:30 until 16:30.

The way they organise it is a bit weird though. Wanda and I had a number each and so we could
therefore book a two hour slot back to back. However there is a half hour gap between visits to allow people out and back in again, so although we had a two hour visit it actually worked out as 2-3pm and then 3:30pm till 4:30pm which gave us an extra half an hour with the old chap.

Result!!

So on the actual day we jumped in the car and arrived at the prison the required 45minutes
early. Parking looks like a problem unless your on public transport.

To get in you have to first go to the Visitors information centre which is a white building to the left of the Prison. There they sign you in and you are advised that all you can take in is a five pound note, change, and your ID (we took passports, drivers licenses and the marriage certificate). Once you are signed in there you can put all your other stuff in lockers for safe keeping. They then call you and hand you a slip of white paper and you can go to the prison
proper.

Once in through the door you can check in at a desk any items for the prisoners. People were handing in clothes, shoes and all sorts. Its bagged and tagged and the prisoners can collect it later.

Then to a desk to sign in, all male visitors are given a stamp on the hand and a paper bracelet like in an amusement park. You are warned not to lose the bracelet as it will be hard to get back out!

You have to put all your ID and car keys into a plastic bag which is put into a locker for you and you are handed a key. With the key and your money its through a scanner like in the airport, a pat down check and your in.

We were all then led across a courtyard to the visitors area. Its a nice place with a play area for the kids, a little café selling tea, pop and food and rows of numbered desks with one seat one side and 3 seats the other.

The prison guards tell you which table is yours and you sit and wait for the visit to start.

Gary was wonderful, his eyes are bad and his glasses old so he didn’t see us to start with but we knew which he was as everyone else there is young, 20's and 30's but he is in his 60's now. When he saw us he was over the moon.

We chatted and laughed and joked and the 2 and a half hours went by so quickly. Considering the place he has been for the past few years he is in good health. He showed us his scars from the operation to remove skin cancers and they are looking ok. He has been to see the optician and hopefully he will have new glasses soon but he hasn’t seen the Dentist yet.

His mind is still active as ever. It was difficult to get him to shut up for the first hour but he soon calmed down. I bought him a can of coke and he moaned about the cost, I don’t think he quite believed that 90pence for a coke in London wasn’t that bad. I had stopped at a garage outside London and bought one there and they charged me £1.50. He nearly choked when I told him that LOL

When we left it was a simple process to go. We were led across the courtyard and into the room we came in to. The guards took our keys and got our stuff from the lockers and we were away.

I think what struck me the most is how nice everyone was who were visiting. Generally the attitude in London is to ignore you and keep your head down. It was our first time visiting a prison and we were a bit worried about the process but all the other visitors who where there were only to willing to offer advice and a kind word. I suppose it was because we all were in the same situation.

So that was it, we are organising to go again. I will post again when we have seen the old chap.

Jake and Wanda

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A humorous aside from Gary

Warning This blog contains adult sex innuendo



Gary sent this through in one of his letters to us and I couldnt resist repeating it here.

Sorry Gary :-) and if by repeating this I upset you dear reader, I again apologise.

"Bora Da Guys
Nookey on the National Health? Its a mans life in Britains Model Prisons. Sex Surrogates supplied weekly.

Had I known that this was an integral part of the Gaols sentence planning procedure, I would have stolen that Mars Bar from the schooltuck shop.

However, call me old fashioned if you will, but these new sexual positions that are all the rage in the 21st Century do little to satisfy my carnal desires. Me, I am a missionary man with a few mild variations.

This recent one of bend down and touch your toes leaves me unfulfilled and besides gives me a pain in the bum for hours after!

Shall we have this as a blog Alan ROFL, LMAO (sic)

Bridget"

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

My Repatriation to the UK

(Note: There has been a gap in Gary's blogs to us as we have had difficulty getting letters and parcels to him in Bang Kwang and he getting letters to us unless they went via a 3rd party)

Sadly my initial hopes regarding my book have been scuppered. The original intention was to have it published before being repatriated. This didn’t work out and as I have now fully experienced the physical repatriation experience it behoves me to document it. As far as I can tell only 2 other Britons have written accounts of the process from attending the handover ceremony to the Wandsworth Marshals, to being delivered into the FNIC(First Night in Custody) cell on E Wing.

Whereas Lester and Scotty, the two who have documented the process, knew their actual date of repatriation for weeks beforehand, my day was mired in confusion, due in part because of the floods affecting Bangkok.


Originally I was scheduled for the end of November – later leaked to me by the screws as being 30/11/11. As the Bangkok floods worsened NOMS and the Embassy decide to postpone the transfer and we (Michael Connell) had been scheduled for 8 days earlier) were told on the 18/11/11 that our 'new' dates were fr sometime in the first quarter of 2012.


Michael and I went ballistic as, for complicated and unnecessary reasons, Britons are only credited with half of the time spent in Thai jails off of 'Time Served' by NOMS – effectively increasing the licence portion we need to serve. Both Michael's and my groups of supporters raised their lances and jousted against NOMS and the FCO and our schedules were bought back into line.


Thinking that my day was to be 30/11/11 all of my plans; room leaving party, handing out of property that I couldn’t take back to Blighty etc; were centred around that day. It came as a surprise when Golf – my Kapo mate working in the D3 office – at 9am on the 28th frantically started to call me over the buildings tannoy. Sure enough the ceremony was due to kick-off at ten and I had 30minutes to get packed.

The most important item on this part of the agenda was getting into my 'going away' kit. This was a tee-shirt and a pair of shorts I had had since my Bombat days 9 years ago. Both had been the sole items of clothing I had possessed for about 1 year and they were used when the lads in Bombat gave them to me to cover my nakedness. Nine years on and they were hanging in ribbons from my body; Well almost! The Nepalese had been warned as to this part of my 'Game Plan' (and my reason thereof) so were not shocked by my appearance. However the Thai lads were staggered. More so because they correctly perceived it as a deliberate insult to the senior officials attending the ceremony.


My 'uniform' had a far more subtle purpose though. As part of the handover ceremony both the British Embassy and the prisoner being repatriated are supposed to formally thank the Bang Kwang Director and the Department of Correction (DOC) for taking such good care of the inmate during the time in the Hilton. The entire ceremony is videoed and, as has happened in the past, should the prisoner later claim about the cruel and inhumane treatment they suffered in Bang Kwang, then both the Embassy and the DOC had the inmates counter testament ready on file. Dressed as I was neither the Embassy nor the DOC could risk filming the handover.

Such was the stick that I stuck in the bureaucratic wheel that many of of the rituals usually indulged in were abandoned . There was also a spin off benefit to my deportment. All of the D3 lads; Thais, Farang and Nigerians were heartened to learn that protest was alive and kicking in one small part of Bang Kwang – Building3!

Whilst the Thais were sufficiently intimidated to forego a full bells and whistles handover ceremony during which the Farang is videoed as thoroughly penitent and anxious to absolve the DOC of any further claims of abuse they have undoubtedly been subjected to by the screws, my ceremony was completed within a record breaking 10 – 15 minutes. Very much an anti-climax in retrospect.


The escorting marshals weren’t bemused by my style of dress, and after the conference room emptied I was read the Riot Act by Senior Prison Officer (SO) Winpenny, the head of the escort team of 3, a stand off between two strong minded individuals. The impasse was resolved by Arthur, the Marshal charged to be my personal body escort, a couple of humanitarian words from him and the repatriation was back on course.


From the conference room I was then; much to my surprise, handed an envelope containing just over 9,000Baht (£200) which was the balance remaining on my prison coffee shop account. Added to the 4,000Baht in cash I thought I might be needing as 'Gate Money' for the Kapos – charged by them as a 'toll' to all those leaving Bang Kwang, I now had 13,000Baht to hand should an opportunity to escape arise in IDC. Although not a fortune, enough money to spirit me away to Laos. No Such Luck.


The marshals then handed me over to the Thai screws taking me on the 45 minute drive to the IDC located on Sathorn Road, There was very little evidence of the much broadcast Bangkok flooding that all the recent brouhaha was all about. Maybe Michael (who had gone back the previous week) saw more.


Other though then keeping a 'weather eye' open for evidence of the flooding, my main efforts were being put to having the screws stop briefly so that I could buy us all a beer or two. It was just my luck though that these 3 screws were the only ones in all of Thailand who didn’t like a drink. To add insult to my injury, none of them would accept a reasonable drink (Bung) to quench my thirst with a medicinal Beer!

We finally made it to IDC, sadly none the worse for wear, more's the pity.


More soon.

Gary

“Caecorum in Patria Luscus Rex Imperat Omnis”