ANOTHER DEATH - ANOTHER DAY IN THAILAND'S PENAL SYSTEM
Dostoevsky: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
All are harrowing. All tell tell of death and deprivation and almost unspeakable cruelty.
But a recent letter from Samantha Wilkinson the sister of a British born South African, who died in jail two years into a 50 year sentence moved me most of all. It is indeed true to say you can judge society by how it treats its poor and those unable to help themselves and how it treats its own prisoners.
Those perhaps most helpless languish in Thai jails – as many as 65 per cent will probably not be guilty of the offence for which they have been sentenced.
The letter follows the account of a man arrested in Pattaya in 2012 under the name Kurt David Silver.
Incidentally General Panya Mamem, formerly of the Crimes Suppression Divison (CSD) was eastern regional (2) police chief then. That’s before he went on to Command Region 8 in the south and then lost that job by claiming that the killers of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on Koh Tao were local mafia.
Nevertheless his appalling treatment stands out and begs the question how many people die in prison in Thailand merely due to lack of care – because care rarely exists.
It also, I am afraid, questions what actions in Thailand Embassies to take to ensure their nationals stay alive. Prison visiting often is a matter delegated to local people.
(I personally know a former Thai Director of Prisons. He never lasted long. He did not play the game.
He kept refusing the cash gifts and presents sent to him for favours he assumed these people expected him to give. That indicates they his predecessors probably did not, not did those that followed him.)
But most of all perhaps in the light of the recent discovery of mass human graves of immigrants in south Thailand it questions humanity in Thailand itself. This is nothing new. Thousand of bodies are found along Thailand's borders every year, according to Pornthip Rojanansund, Thailand/'s leading, albeit controversial pathologist.
Thailand's claim that it has a long and porous border is no excuse.
It has armies and police forces which in numbers far outstrip comparable countries in the west. The technology is there.
The will power is not. Its a money game pure and simple.
The pressure is now on Thailand like never before to bring an end to slavery and human trafficking period, and not just mouth meaningless phrases such as KFC eating politicians did during the Avian Flu epidemic. 'There is no bird flu here!'
Time has stood still in Thailand for human rights. Is it likely to change? Not until there is a drastic change in mindset.
Prisons, if you had not noticed, in Thailand are usually quite pretty on the outside.
There are often lawns and gardens and the walls always seem to be newly whitewashed. But once you have scratched the surface paint……………the creepy crawlies worm out.
Here is the letter and appeal to Prisoners Abroad whom I was associated with as a journalist way back in the 80s.
Prisoners Abroad is an excellent organization well worth donating to.
To donate click here
'HOLY SH*T THIS IS A LONG WAY FROM THE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE
My brother’s death could have been avoided. He suffered horrible conditions, torture and inhumane treatment. Prisoners Abroad is one of the few beacons of hope available to prisoners in these conditions. They are compassionate , caring, non-judgmental and I don’t know where I would have been without them, if I can change even one life from KD's story then his death is not completely in vain.
Please help me to continue their work , support KD's fund to provide vital food , medical and dental checks to those in desperate need. Thank you xxx
Thailand holds great beauty and whatever you may be looking for in a destination you will find it there. It's has the most beautiful beaches, where the softest whitest sands envelop your feet like a cushion ,the warm waves lap across your legs whilst the breeze blows through the tall palm trees softly caressing your face .
As you take a slow deep relaxing breath in the delicious smelling food lingers in your nose rendering you totally lost in the scenery that surrounds you. You can have your own personal waiter if you wish to serve you an ice cold beverage, or give you a massage whilst you lay on your sunbed taking in the gorgeous sunset.
Whatever your request may be, it can be achieved for the right amount of money, and your money will stretch so very far in this land. It harbours some of the friendliest people that will happily tend to your every whim.
For the hardest of party goers, there are moonlight beach parties, a constant flow of alcohol and more girls dancing in bars than I've had hot dinners. It is also home to the biggest shopping centre's In the world, and many tourist attractions, elephant riding, tigers you can pet and dolphins to swim with, and that's just to name a few .
Even if you want your own private beach on a secluded island where the water is as blue as the sky, nothing but the sound of tropical birds and the ocean resonating in your ears, you will find it there. It is without a doubt a truly wondrous place that has something for everyone but amongst all its beauty there is a terrible darkness that lies within.
My brother KD was unique. There will never be another like him. I idolized him as young sisters sometimes do with their older brothers, and he meant the world to me for many reasons.
He suffered mental health issues and depression. These played a massive part in his life. Unfortunately he always wandered from place to place searching for the happiness. He never seemed to find. His values of success were different to mine but we always seemed to both search for the same thing ... to belong. I understood him and that’s why I always had a good bond with him. I saw why he acted the way he did rather than just whatever he had stupidly done this time.
This story begins around 2006 when he split up with his latest love in Thailand. He flew to the UK, asked if he could stay with me and told me all that had happened.
His struggle with the depression he felt and how it had led him to begin taking drugs...Needless to say I was shocked by this, he had never gone this far before.
He voluntarily sought help for his drug problem and after seeing a psychologist was diagnosed with border line personality disorder and bi polar. Looking back, this did explain why he acted the way he did in certain situations but I was just pleased he had sought help.
He returned to Thailand on the news that she was pregnant ... I did not hear from him much, which concerned me.. .
A few months passed, my concern grew, my fears all came true the day his friend knocked at my door and told me he had been arrested for possession of drugs by the Thai Police.
I was in disbelief. I saw the press conference online where they placed all the evidence in front of him. Paparazzi constantly snapped pictures whilst he sat surrounded by a team of officers. He was shackled , cuffed and led away . I later learnt that he was then suffocated by the police with a plastic bag numerous times until he signed a Thai document stating his full confession.
|PattayaOne news picture|
You see the police make their commission from every foreign drug case. The bigger case they nail the more money but only if they achieve a full confession obviously.
I phoned the FCO in a panic and immediately began looking at what I could do.. He had a number of drug offences against him and in Thailand they carry the death penalty.
The more information I found out the more hopeless I felt. If he had been caught in this country he would not have received more than a couple of years at the upmost but there he was facing at least somewhere between 50 and hundred years or death!
Even paedophiles and murderers don't get that, how can that be justified? I don’t know why he did it exactly but whatever the reason it was done. He was still my brother , a total idiot , but still my brother , guilty , but still my brother.
I do not wish to justify his actions but punishment should reflect a crime and his punishment was far greater than some of the most despicable people have suffered . So I began my fight for him.
I had updates from the Embassy every 2 months and from the only friend he had that hadn't walked away.
He was taken to court every 14 days or so to attend a hearing with no interpretation, to have a further remand form signed.
If within three weeks of him being remanded he could produce the equivalent of around £30,000 (?)he would be set free, no charge, yet another way for the police to make money ... but of course Kurt didn't have that. He had nothing. The police had taken everything .
A friend helped him with money for food as the only food supplied is a spoon of floating slop with a rotting fish head or a chickens foot. He slept In a cell about the average size of a typical medium size bedroom, with over 200 prisoners, like sardines in a can all sharing one toilet in the cell.
When his friend next visited he bribed the guard so Kurt’s cell space could be moved and he would not be urinated on every night. The prison is full to the brim. Infection is rife.
The smouldering 38 degree heat combines with the smell of the open sewage system of the prison. You awake in the early morning and join the queue for the toilet. A ceramic hole in the corner of the cell. its manually flushed using a small cup in a bucket by its side whilst every one watches you do your business.
You queue for your 5 cups of water to wash with, but these are controlled by the water mafia. You can buy yourself an extra cup or so, or if they are not feeling very generous or you have displeased them in some way, they will decrease your amount or perhaps just deny it all together.
The guards carry thick bamboo canes, and Tasers to keep prisoners in line. Some are incredibly sadistic and take great pleasure in showing you who's boss if you break the rules there is punishments that you couldn't even think up in your nightmares. They care nothing for a prisoner it is a Buddhist sin to commit a crime and those that punish the sinners will be rewarded by Buddha.
They are extremely corrupt which can work in your favour if you pay the right price but bribe the wrong guard and that attempt will see that you pay the price , cleaning out a septic tank or perhaps just the humiliation of being made to strip down naked and beaten will suffice.
There is a prison shop where you are able to buy the very basic of things, water or a mat to sleep on, soap , or edible food but if you have no money then unless there is the generosity of a friend you will have to consume the cockroaches or the slop and fish carcass to stay alive.
This is just one of the invaluable things that Prisoners Abroad provide £30 a month to a British prisoner. If he has no other money it is the difference between starvation and life, staying as healthy as possible is vital in a Thai prison.
If you become sick you are nothing more than an inconvenience and when there is an outbreak of dysentery or vomiting, scabies , worms TB dengue fever etc. the heat, living conditions, lack of proper nourishment make these as easy to catch as the common cold. Every day is the same routine and in the most pleasant of terms it's like Groundhog Day stuck in your own personal nightmare .
I contacted Reprieve on my brothers behalf. He had a large chance of receiving the death penalty against him. They soon visited me and we began to build a case for him in the hope that we could show the court that he wasn't just another worthless foreigner caught with drugs in their country.
He received a court appointed lawyer who failed to show up numerous times and when he did he couldn't discuss his case with him, the lawyer could not speak more than a few words of English.
Kurt sent a letter pleading for the help of his friends to gather money for a lawyer . He was quickly conned by a smooth talking man who delivered one false promise after the other. Kurt’s vulnerability made him the perfect victim. He finally found a lawyer after a lot of deliberation , but every day in prison took its toll on his mental health , and KD became suicidal as each bit of hope that he had clung to faded in front of him.
He began to realise that he could be sentenced to death but with the efforts of the lawyer and Reprieve we won the move to have KD assessed at a mental institution. I hoped that because he had previously diagnosed conditions the court would see that these would have played a part anything to get him a fair trial.
In better days
So he was assessed , by a psychologist sent by reprieve. He noted that he should be on strong medication for his conditions and that if he was to receive a long sentence he would be a very high suicide risk. He also diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the numerous things he had seen occur inside the prison , and previous experiences.
Now aside from the psychologist that was sent by reprieve KD was assessed by doctors and nurses he could not converse with because of the language barrier. How can you give someone the right treatment if you can’t talk to them ? Nonetheless I flew to see him as he had been arrested a year and 3 months ago and his fate was soon to be announced.
I could visit him for more than 10 minutes here and not have to stand behind a wall with all the other visitors staring at him and shouting over everyone through a phone , trying desperately to hear what he is saying back over the noise of everyone else.
I had not seen him for a long time by this point. It was strange to feel as excited as I used to like when I was a little girl on my way to visit him , but every now and then the cruel reality would shake me into thinking about what may soon be. He didn’t know I was coming.
His friend met me the day afterI had arrived and we drove for a couple hours to Kalaya. He went in made an excuse and brought me inside. I will never forget KD's face when he saw me. That memory will stay with me forever. Someone said to me that had not seen KD smile like that for months.
I stayed in Thailand for 6 days and saw KD as much as I was able. He was still my brother. His sense of humour came out but during our talks. He would forget what we were talking about and stare vacantly for a few moments. This happened continuously. I began to cry , " Don’t cry Shire, " he said. “ This is my own fault. I don’t want you to be sad for me.”
I did all that I could for him whilst I was there , bought him personal items , food, glasses etc. , even managed to get a McDonald’s in. He ate it like he had been starved and as if it was the most delicious thing he had ever consumed.
My time in Thailand passed quickly and I requested for him to be sent back to prison, as that was what he wanted. You see in prison he was eligible for amnesty if the King announced one at his upcoming birthday and at least every day he could talk to a couple of people which he had become friends with.
Not so good
In Kalaya there was no one he could talk to. He was without anything but his own thoughts and he struggled to cope with that as I believe anyone would. I had left him with some magazines and some paper he could write letters with and I knew that Reprieve would soon visit with some books so I knew at least he had something until my request was heard.
He was sentenced soon afterward , again he did not have an interpreter he had to sit and wait for his fate to be decided. The court did not pass the death penalt. They gave him 50 years. Due to the guilty plea they reduced his sentence to 25 years and a whopping fine.
A shocking penalty in any other country for his crime, but it wasn’t death and it was the best we could have hoped for given the norm Thai judicial system... We now had some hope . He was transferred to Chonburi prison after the sentence was passed . He had been held on remand for a year and 8 months. I could apply for his transfer to the UK but he had to serve 4 years in Thailand according to their transfer agreement . I prayed he would make it. “ Be strong KD,”I said, “Every day that goes by is one day closer to home.”
I received the usual updates every two months via the Embassy visits , until January . I received a phone call from the FCO.
" Your brother is in Chon Buri hospital. He is in a coma " they said , “unbeknown us he has been in one for the last 10 days ,” They had no other information but it wasn’t looking good . The embassy staff had turned up to the prison 10 days late for their visit to discover KD was in the hospital.
He was in a coma due to severe septic shock , a few days past and they removed the intubation tube but they were unsure if he would survive the damage.
I flew over to Thailand once more , and made my way to Chonburi . I entered the ward that I was told he was in , looking carefully at all the people who laid in beds , then I spotted his tattoo , I lay my hand carefully on his back , "Kurt" I said softly. He jumped near enough out of his skin and looked at me terrified. Within a few seconds he realised who I was and relaxed. He couldn’t believe I was there .
" They are torturing me , they keep drowning me for confessions, help me!" he said . “Its ok”I replied you are safe.
I had never seen my brother so scared. He couldn’t remember what had happened , how he got the injury or anything about it , just that he had attempted to fight them whilst they were drowning him.
“You’re in the hospital KD , you were in a coma for severe sepsis , your leg is severely infected and the tissue has necrotised, it is going to need a number of operations.”
Around an hour later , I realized why he thought he was being drowned ....
I witnessed them flush a poor man’s intubation tube whilst he was partially conscious. They didn’t sedate him like every hospital I had ever heard of did. It was horrible watching him thrash about with panic. All his limbs were tied to the bed with strips of ripped up cotton sheets.
They suctioned his vomit and flushed the tube creating the drowning feeling without them being able to drown. I heard the gargling and his attempt to scream which only came out as a muffled squeak. The terror in his eyes was immense , a single tear rolled down his cheek, the nurses finished and walked away as if it was as normal as administering a pill . HOLY S**T I thought to myself , I am a long way from the NHS
I witnessed many a thing which would be considered barbaric , but I knew it wasn’t going to be like the UK and I just needed to concentrate on nursing KD .
I had flown out with a friend whose vocation was in the medical field back in the UK and I hoped with my previous experience as a domiciliary nurse, we could make a difference. KD had lost around 4-5 stone since I had last been out a mere 4 months ago , his leg was so badly infected they had to cut away a considerable amount of tissue from his leg.
They operated every 4 days on average. He had over 15 blood transfusions and over 20 operations . His bed was rusty and had a thick dirty wad of foam that was meant to be the mattress . The sheet was clean. His wound was bound in a cling film like seal with a iodine soaked sponge filling the hole. This had a vacuum drain attached which led to the container on the wall,
This constantly sucked out the thick ,smelly pea like soup fluid from his wound. The theatre staff was brilliant, the operations were skillfully done, but the nursing staff was shocking. They were inattentive , unhygienic and unpleasant.
Despite KD being in adult nappies no one had realized that he hadn’t passed stool since he had been there. He was in a lot of discomfort and we had to perform a manual evacuation as his colon was completely impacted .
I washed his body and shaved his beard , and gave him whatever he fancied to eat. His tests showed he had chronic kidney disease . His white blood cells were low.
His electrolytes were low, very anemic, etc. etc. finished by the HIV positive result ... we just starred at the results “Oh shit ” I glanced at Glenn , spoke to the doctor and arranged for Immune meds for the HIV. I gave Kurt a kiss and a cuddle sat with him for a while made him smile. I didn’t let him see that I was worried, I needed to get him stronger.
His temperature was not under control yet. His vacancy periods were so much longer than in Septeember. His blood pressure was still low. I went for a break and burst into tears. How do I tell him he has HIV ? I waited till the following day and I sat by his side and passed on the news I dreaded. He was silent for a while , before uttering " Am I going to die?"
“ I don’t know”, I replied , “lots of progress has been made on HIV , the antivirals make a big difference , we need to build up your immune system and go from there, people can live many years on them nowadays.‘’
I squeezed his hand tighter .. ‘’Will anyone want to be with me again"? he asked . " We have a long way to go yet hun, there is nothing to say that you won’t meet someone with the same condition, but we need to get you better first, save your leg and build you back up to the strong bastard that used to torment me ".
He nodded. I stroked his hair; got him some more pain relief and went for 10 min break .He didn’t need to see my worry. I returned afterward made a few jokes. When he felt the lowest I picked him up every time I could , and Glenn would do the same .
We flipped at the nursing staff when we came in the following morning. Some point during the night the vacuum pump containing all the septic fluid had become blocked causing it to overflow and leak all over his bed, floor, food. The seal keeping the large wound clean had broken.
He had passed stool and it had gone inside the open wound. He said he asked 7 times to be cleaned but they hadn’t done so. There were ants crawling all over the bed and in his leg wound attracted by the smell of puss. The fluid that we had got clear was back to green and his temperature was 102 degrees once more.
This unfortunately wasn’t till the following day so we did what we could , requested pain relief and IV antibiotics .
Every day myself and Glenn stayed by his side every moment. We could, we got whatever food and drink he felt like, I did all his personal care and we regularly checked his observations. In the morning we would meet with the doctor and discuss his progression , our observations , and what the next steps were.
It was explained to us that the HIV meds were time critical and if they were not taken at the same time every day it would render them useless. So every day we dealt with the different problems in KD's care that arose , eventually we stabilized him , he began to look healthier and amongst the periods of vacancy I could see my brother had begun to come back to me, he smiled more, he began to laugh a little , and he started to eat more and put weight back on.
We brought in a laptop so he could watch a movie again. We got him some glasses so he would be able to read again and put music onto a phone. It had been 2 yrs. since he last had heard music. I will never forget watching the tears stream down his face as he sang along to his favorite song once more.
I had been in Thailand for just over two weeks now and I was soon meant to return. He dreaded me leaving and I dreaded leaving him. I loved the time we had had together and I was so glad he had started to get much better. His HIV status although a terrible discovery meant he could apply for a Kings Pardon. There was a chance I could get him home sooner.
The time came for me to depart I held him and kissed him goodbye, "be strong KD I said , I will continue to do everything I can to get you home, I love you ". We finished our goodbyes . I left him with money to get more food , clothing and hygiene supplies and boarded a plane back to the UK.
I continued to talk to the Embassy as I wished to find out how my brother had ended up in that mess in the first place. I emailed his friend in Thailand and requested that he keep an eye on his recovery. I updated the Embassy and stated my concerns and continued discussions with reprieve who were extremely supportive despite them not continuing Kurt’s case as he wasn’t passed the death penalty.
I had numerous discussions with his lawyer and we aimed to have KD transferred to the prison hospital in Bangkok once his leg was able to be skin grafted & his treatment had finished. This was a couple of months away yet as his wound was very deep. The following month, I received an email from the embassy stating that KD had begun to loose weight he was having trouble eating as he felt nauseous.
I requested build up powder be sent , and enquired if he was being given any anti sickness meds to combat it. Nothing was done, just an email saying they are pushing the transfer and they would enquire.
His friend visited and said that he had probably lost around 2 stone , and his leg still caused him a lot of pain. He was beginning to have a lot of muscle wastage lying in bed all day . This, although be it better than prison, took a massive toll on his mental health. He had no one to talk to daily again as everyone mostly spoke only Thai .
It was nearing his 4th month in hospital now and I received and email which left me cold : It stated that the embassy had visited Kurt, he was scruffy in appearance, had dirty finger nails , had lost very noticeable amounts of weight, he could not drink without assistance and was repeating the words "tired and weak" they suggested he communicated in yes no answers as talking was a struggle, he was confused , felt sick , couldn’t eat , there was flies around his bandages which he had been tugging at and that he had been placed back into prison.
They would enquire again in a couple of weeks! I immediately picked up the phone and rang the FCO to enquire as to what the hell was going on. They were unhelpful to say the least. I phoned Reprieve and Prisoners Abroad they were a lot more helpful and proceeded to converse with the FCO on my behalf.
The helplessness that I felt made me feel as if I was made of lead but wired with adrenaline. I sent so many emails that day again stating I would pay for the buildup drinks , please could they get this to him urgently , Reprieve and Prisoners abroad did all they could. They were truly supportive, every day that went by felt like a week and I seemed to just come up against red tape .
I knew I was going to lose him I prayed for the first time in a long time ,countless tears streamed down my face as I asked that if my brother’s death was going to happen for it be peaceful and for him to suffer as little as possible. I continued to bombard the FCO for updates , answers to my questions, spoke to his friend in Thailand to go see him anything I could do I did I couldn’t sleep well and was awake most nights constantly thinking about what else I could do.
I awoke on the morning of the 16th May to a knock at the door , two fully armed police officers introduced themselves to me and requested to come inside. I led them into the lounge holding my dressing gown around my body give me a min please I said, I asked Glenn to take the kids outside.
I dressed myself and breathed in deeply before entering the lounge. I shut the door and sat on the sofa,
‘Mrs. Wilkinson they said we have been sent by the FCO in regard to Mr. Kurt David Silver ‘. The policeman stuttered , and looked at me before removing his hat. He’s dead isn’t he‘？’ I said .
‘’Is my brother dead？‘’ They nodded and gave me the details. He had died yesterday in the arms of his best friend. Shortly after 11 he struggled to breathe and asked his friend to take him outside, the guard permitted this and a few minutes later he drew his last breath. The police left a little while later. I told my kids why mummy was sad and why the police had come. Their dad came to pick them up for the park whilst I relayed the news to our parents and attempted to come to terms with it.
I set about scrapping the money together to fly over and lay my brother to rest, selling items, borrowing from friends etc. Prisoners Abroad graciously paid for my air fare as I was on full benefits at time as my marriage had split a few months earlier. The help that they gave me was priceless. After 2 weeks of him passing I had scrapped together sufficient money to fly over. The wonderful gentleman that I had hired our car off previously helped us every step of the way with the many challenges that I faced to just do what most would think was a simple task.
When I saw my brother’s body I could not believe it was him. How could he have lost so much weight. I had left him recovering. He had gained weight. The man that lay before me was a skeleton with skin. He looked like a concentration camp victim. I kissed his forehead and walked away on jelly legs.
It felt like I was in a movie . How did he end this way? I set about getting the forms I needed to remove his body from the mortuary and the find how this had all happened. The embassy still didn’t know how his leg was injured in the first place.
I was left with the image of his body burnt in my mind, and a lot of emotion I didn’t know how to process. I auto piloted through many days that followed with the mission off seeking answers and laying him to rest. Irritated the hospital until they gave me his medical records, I went to the prison and visited the gentleman whose arms he died in and made a number of other enquiries, within a few days I had uncovered how the leg infection occurred, and the shocking events that led to my brother’s life being extinguished.
I uncovered that KD was subjected to electrocution therapy whilst in Kalaya. He had become very sick in November with excessive vomiting and diarrhea. He had a bad scabies infection causing him to constantly scratch, leaving open sores for bacteria to enter and breed.
The vital medication insisted upon by the psychologist had ran out for more than a month, despite his requests to his embassy representative, nothing was sorted. He was without any money for more than a month , no money to buy a bottle of water , a bar of soap, or any food, was I told by the embassy？
Did they sub him money？ No , whilst they chased his money up from the previous prison account they left him with nothing. Were they aware that he had no money ？ Yes ！Did they push for the numerous requests to see a doc urgently？ No
. If it was not for the generosity of his cell mate who washed his cloths when they were covered in faeces and vomit, or sharing his daily portions, moping his brow when his temp began to get out of control , staying by his side, helping his to sip water and holding him when his leg burst open in the cell, alerting the guard, begging the guards for help, KD would have suffered so very much more.
I discovered more ways in which he was let down and they are part of my continuous fight , fight for the people who are still there, fight for lessons to be learnt so things are done differently, fight for more humane treatment, more awareness , even if you have had so much as a spliff on a Thai beach.
This country is not the country to be stupid in！ It continues to rip me apart that I lost my brother so horribly, I am haunted by some memories and I cannot begin to describe the sadness I feel, but I would not swap a minute that I got to spend by his side, I laid him to rest in June, it is truly the hardest goodbye I have ever had to make and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think off him.
I have not named a number of people who played a significant role in all of this, purely as they may wish to remain anonymous, you know who you are , be it financially , emotionally, if you gave up time for me, took care of my gorgeous babies, picked me up when I fell , I will never forget your kindness and I will always be incredibly grateful to you beyond measure.
To all the people that graciously donate helping me build a fund in memory of KD , thank you so much for taking the time to read my story, your donation will make a significant change to many lives xxx