by Sue Davy
Posted on February 20, 2018
Comments Off on First Impressions of Prison Visiting
First Impressions of Prison Visiting – Compiled by Gale Bailey MBE who became a British Embassy Volunteer Visitor in August 2005 and recruited the below BWG members.
Michele Savage and Justine Rea
Justine and I volunteered to go on a prison visit with Gale as her usual crew were absent. Neither of us knew what to expect and approached with some trepidation. I always think there is a fine line between ‘doing good’ and being ‘do gooders’ and we both wanted to get this visit right and not let Gale down or the men we were visiting. We visit on behalf of the UK Embassy and as expected there is the usual Thai bureaucracy.
If you have watched Banged Up Abroad visiting the prison is nothing like this and although it is a challenge to get to see the men and a bit of waiting round, we were made to feel appreciated by the three men we visited. Neither of us had appreciated that the prison visits really are the only contact that the men have with the outside world. We weren’t sure what we would be expected to talk about but the conversation flowed naturally and we talked about everything from current affairs to the weather (cos we are British!) had a good laugh.
One of the men Justine visited, had only had 3 visitors apart from the official embassy visit in the 3 years he had been in prison. The visits have a very positive impact on the men and we both came away having enjoyed great conversation and feeling that the time spent getting there was well worth it. Justine has now done 3 visits and I will be going again in a couple of weeks.
Although this isn’t the usual volunteer role when abroad, we can both recommend it as it helps keep the men’s spirits up and that’s important whilst they are serving what tends to be long sentences.
I was apprehensive as I was not sure what to expect, who I would be talking to and what to talk about. However, Gale re-assured us all and I felt more at ease when Gale was recognised by all the staff at the prison!
After a bit of waiting around for the admin to get sorted, I was quite relieved to see that we were going to talk to the prisoners over a phone with a perspex screen between us, rather than face to face.
I immediately noticed the three smiling Westerners waiting for us by their phones with their hands ready to grab the handset as soon as we picked ours up!
Firstly I spoke with Paul who was very chatty, telling me all about the Thai prison routine.
He was awaiting trial for drugs possession, he wasn’t sure what sentence he would be facing (he thought up to 25yrs) but seemed content with how he was being treated, given the circumstances. One thing that struck me was how accepting he was of his predicament as I was expecting that they would all be complaining about everything!
In the afternoon I spoke with Steven who had been in prison for nearly 6 years for minor drug offences and was hoping to be released within a year. He talked about returning to London to rebuild his life. We chatted about Brexit, EU and the looming General Election as he was eager to find out what was happening in the UK news.
The 30 minutes passed so quickly and could have chatted for much longer if allowed.
It was obvious that they had all been looking forward to our visit just to talk about anything, I felt they were desperate to make contact with the outside world.
It was nice to feel that we had made such a difference to their day just by us taking a few hours out to make the effort to visit.
Gale asked me to write a paragraph about my impressions of my first prison visit with the BWG . There were too many impressions to include them all here and I have , therefore , just highlighted the most profound and enduring feelings from my visit to Klong Prem Maximum Security Prison and Bombat Central Correctional Institution for Drug Offenders . I visited with two inmates, one in the morning and the other after lunch at the complex . Both men were serving sentences for drug related offenses. I had no moral dilemma about chatting to them as they were serving their time and there was no violence attached to their crimes. My enduring impressions include how pleased the prisoners were to see us, how thankful they were for the visit and how positive they seemed to be. As a newbie I was keen to know what the visits from the BWG meant to them personally and so asked them during our conversations. They both described how our visits made their day , week and even month! Visitors were few if at all. The men were so thankful for the interaction and the opportunity to engage in conversation, breaking their dreary daily routines. They relished such visits. One of the men said that he would now sleep that night. I had no idea how such a small act on my behalf could contribute so positively to someone’s daily life. The therapeutic power of a conversation, albeit over a telephone and through two dirty windows with bars on the hottest day of the year, will be my lasting impression of the day.
I joined the British Women’s Group (BWG) in August 2016 and subsequently met Gale Bailey who is heavily involved in the welfare section of the group. Gale advised that she had been prison visiting for many years and told me stories about her and the other ‘jail birds’ who carried out the visits, as well as the prisoners she had met. I was intrigued but also apprehensive however, Gale talked me into accompanying her on her next visit.
The day dawned and I was quite nervous about the visit, wondering who I was going to meet and what on earth I would say to them. I met Gale at Bang Sue MRT station and we took a taxi to the prison, stopping off for a welcomed ice coffee on the way. Gale had warned me about the process for entering the prison and that sometimes it could be quite obstructive. Needless to say we were met with barriers with the prison guard advising that our time slot was full and that we would have to wait – who knows for how long! Due to this we decided to postpone the visit and try again another time. I was disappointed as I had built myself up for it, mentally preparing what I would talk about. The waiting area was packed with relatives and I felt sorry for those who would have no other choice but to sit and wait in the heat, desperate to visit their loved ones.
Undeterred, we went the following week, armed with copies of our passports, not letting the previous experience put us off. We completed the necessary paperwork in order for us to enter and waited to be called forward. This time we met a lovely couple in the waiting area who knew Gale and had lived in Bangkok previously. They had visited a couple of prisoners so often over the years that they had come back to visit them during their recent trip back to Bangkok. I remember thinking how kind this was of them. Our names were called and we crossed the road towards the prison itself. Bags, phones etc. were to be left with the guards and we lined up in front of the booths, waiting for the prisoners to come out. Gale often visits the same people so had requested for them to come and meet us. The inside of the prison was more pleasant than I had imagined and we were sat in a line in a room with a telephone. In between us and the prisoners were glass screens and bars about a metre apart.
Gale had told me so much about this one prisoner in particular and it was him who I was to talk to. We found common ground to talk about having both worked at sea before and the whole experience was much easier than I thought it would be. Even though these people have committed a crime, it was evident that they were so pleased to have someone to talk to, some with no other visitors as they either have no family or are too ashamed to tell them of their situation. Even though this one prisoner had been inside for several years, unsure when he would be free, he was so positive and spoke about how he recognised what he had done and how he wanted to change his life for the better.
The time flew over and on the way out, relatives are able to buy items for the prisoners such as food or toiletries.
The whole experience was definitely an ‘eye opener’ and something I did not think I would be doing since moving to Bangkok. I felt that although a small gesture, I had done a good deed for someone less fortunate than myself. Shortly after our visit, I received a lovely letter from the man I visited, thanking me for my time. Unfortunately, the process for visiting has become even more obstructive, making it harder for us to access the prison. Nevertheless, Gale continues to work tirelessly, doing everything possible to enable the BWG ladies to continue prison visiting. I would highly recommend you accompany Gale on a visit should the opportunity arise.
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