November 7, 2004 - Producer : BBC This World
For the first time ever, television cameras have been given access to Thailand's notorious Bangkwang prison, also known in the West as the Bangkok Hilton.
Of its 7000 inmates, mostly drug offenders, 883 have been sentenced to death.
Bangkwang is Bangkok's maximum- security jail, designed for lifers and death row prisoners.
The Thai people call Bangkwang the 'Big Tiger' because it is a man-eater. Scores of prisoners have been put to death in its notorious execution chamber.
There is a small sign on the outside wall that says 883 ... the number of men waiting to be killed. One of those waiting is Amporn Birtling, a Thai prisoner on death row.
Imprisoned for drug smuggling, he explains how he will only find out when he is to be executed two hours beforehand.
"I have no clue when I will die," Amporn said. "They could inject me today or tomorrow. All my life I hated drugs more than anything. I never thought that I would be arrested because of them."
Harsh sentences for drug smugglers are popular in Thailand.
The country has long been a major through-route for drugs, but now the Thais themselves are becoming drug addicts as new, cheap methamphetamine pills have flooded the local market.
Thousands of school children became addicts in the last few years, prompting a public outcry.
The result has been a government crackdown, leading to the mysterious killing of more than 2200 people in the streets in 2003.
Officials insist this was gang on gang warfare, but watchdogs suggest it could have been extra-judicial killings by police.
Ten thousand more drug dealers were arrested, many of them simple couriers, or 'mules'. Now the jails are cracking under the strain.
Amnesty International says there are now more prisoners on death row in Bangkwang than at any other time in Thailand's history.
They also say capital punishment is not a deterrent and innocent men always end up being killed.
But the Thai Government says drug dealers like Amporn destroy the lives of many young Thai people and deserve to die.
The new boss of Thailand's prisons is a reformer who sent officials to Texas to witness an execution by lethal injection to learn the process.
"It is more humane then when we used the firing squad," said Director General of Prisons Nathee Chitsawang.
"With the old method, sometimes they were crying and shouting and sometimes they did not die immediately, so we had to take them and shoot again."
The executioner shows how a man is put to death by pumping lethal chemicals into his veins, which he says must be done "slowly, slowly, or the vein might break."
He also demonstrated how they take a fingerprint of the condemned both before and after execution to confirm they have killed the right man.
Afterwards, the bodies are taken through a tiny red door called the 'ghost gate' to a Buddhist temple on the other side of the wall.
If relatives are waiting, they claim the body. If not, the body is left in the temple cemetery. When there is no space left, the monk will cremate the bodies.
The monk guards the urns of the unclaimed. He explains how he tells the condemned it is better to die by execution than randomly, because they can prepare their minds for death.
Thai Buddhism holds that the state of mind at the time of death determines your incarnation in the next life.
"If a car hits me right after this, I might not have a chance to die with a pure mind. It's a blessing in disguise."
He thinks execution is like the king slaying enemies in wars past. Both, he says, are sinful, but done to protect the country and therefore allowed.
He offers a final warning as he put away the urns.
"I have always believed that people will face the consequences of their actions. Even if you do not get caught, eventually your karma will catch up with you."
This look inside the Bangkok Hilton convinces viewers that karma really exists … especially bad karma.
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