In 2003 I was travelling throughout Thailand and learnt about the infamous "Bangkok Hilton." This notorious prison in Thailand's capital hosts many foreign prisoners and is widely known for its harsh conditions. The day I visited the "Bangkok Hilton" was a day that will be etched in my memory forever. After phoning the Australian consulate, I made a decision to visit an Australian woman who had been imprisoned over drug charges.
Holly Dean-Johns had been arrested in Bangkok after the police intercepted a parcel she had mailed containing 11 grams of heroin. The police also found a further 15 grams of heroin in her Bangkok apartment. The parcel was destined to Holly's home town of Perth. Such a risky decision on Holly's behalf landed her in a very frightening prison. With her gift of freedom gone, Holly was facing the death penalty.
It seems in Australia we are as a nation, very lucky. Perhaps I would go as far to say, we are quite spoilt. The recent arrest of an Australian teenager in Bali on drug charges has posed a real fear of being caught with drugs overseas. Yet, had this teenager been caught in Australia with the same possession of drugs, would he have learnt a lesson? Would he have been afraid and equally remorseful? He was after all repentant when he told the judge that he was sorry and would never do drugs again.
I wonder too about his parents and who knew that their son had a drug problem prior to holidaying in Bali. How had they responded when they first found out their fourteen year old child was using drugs? Having felt the full brunt of the Balinese law thrown at their son, how would they have done things differently?
When I visited Holly Dean-John in her Bangkok prison, I realised how far away she was from the support that an Australian government may offer a drug user. She was now in the hands of a foreign justice system. This is a country, like Bali that takes a hard stance against drug possession and drug trafficking. After originally facing the death penalty, Holly pleaded guilty in 2003 in order to receive a reduced sentence of 31 years (www.wikepedia.org).
The day I visited Holly was a memorable one. I recall seeing many foreign prisoners in jail. Holly did not expect a visit that day but was pleased to meet me. Being around the same age, I was especially keen to meet her and to hopefully bring a small dose of Australian companionship. I remember how plain her prison dress was and that she wore an eye patch because of an infection.
She told me how she spent most of her days making silk flowers and had learnt to speak fluent Thai. We talked about the other foreign prisoners and a bit about the harsh conditions. She avoided many questions and my conversation with Holly was short and polite. What could be said when someone faced life behind bars in a foreign prison?
The day I left the prison grounds I caught a ferry down the river back to my hostel. I looked and saw the beauty of the sky, the ripples of the water and the vibrant activity surrounding me. In these small things I saw my freedom. I wondered when Holly would find her freedom.
Several years later I read that after serving seven years in a Thailand prison, Holly had successfully being transferred to a Western Australian prison (www.theage.com.au). She is a very lucky person to have escaped the "Bangkok Hilton."
Perhaps after watching the events unfold of the fourteen year old boy fighting to free a Bali prison sentence, travellers overseas will heed the warning. Using drugs overseas is a one way ticket to a death penalty or a life behind bars. Proverbs 12:15 says "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice."
Natalie Alexander is primary school and special needs teacher who lives on the Sunshine Coast with her husband. She also has a heart for humanitarian needs both locally and internationally.
Natalie's archive articles can be read at www.pressserviceinternational.org/natalie-alexander.html
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