On a recent visit to Thailand myself and a friend visited Bang Kwang. Following advice on the Internet we contacted the British Embassy in Bangkok. We spoke to a guy called Jeff Mitchell from the consulate (023058333). He was really helpful. Jeff went through a list of inmates asked if we had any preferences, (we didn't want to visit anyone convicted of murder, rape or a paedophile offences).
Jeff selected Lee Williams building 3 Bang Kwang. Convicted of attempting to smuggling drugs from Thailand to USA. Lee was well spoken, polite and had so much to say. He made a 90-minute visit pass so quickly. He wasn't seeking pity or sympathy he knew he had done wrong and had to pay for his stupidity. We all spoke freely about all sorts of things, his life inside, his life before Thailand, our lives, books and music. Lee has been sentenced to 99 years and has served 7 so far. I do not condone what he did at all but I do think 99 yrs is too severe. You don't get that in England for directly killing someone?
I have read several books about foreign prisons and worked in the prison service in England for 4 years, neither really prepared me for what we experienced that day. To see the conditions, to smell the stench in the air around the prison was unbelievable and to think we only saw the cleaned visitors areas.
Although Lee's mind was clearly working well he looked quite ill, he contracted TB last year and is very thin. The inmates have to buy their own food in prison, Lee has no family so relies on charity donations if I remember correctly he receives £30 per month.
To visit Lee took up 1hr on the Wednesday visiting the Embassy then a few hours on Thursday morning and cost no more than £10 between us. That included return taxi, a food parcel, coffee, magazines, a quiz book and some cigarettes. We also donated books we had brought on holiday. We paid a lot more money for some dumb tourist trips that didn't come close to been as interesting as meeting Lee. I hope we made one day in Lee's long sentence go a little quicker or easier or just brightened his day up. He certainly enlightened ours. Lee spoke of applying for transfer back to England after he has served a minimum of 8 years, if he were granted a transfer his sentence would be reduced to 50 yrs. He wasn't very positive about this, as 50 yrs is very much the same as 99 yrs when you're 32 and not well. I really hope he applies, I think his sentence would be re-assessed.
I don't think I will ever forget Lee Williams Building 3, Bang Kwang. I know I will never forget the stomach turning sound of men trying to walk with shackles and chains around their ankles.
If anyone reading this is visiting Thailand in the near future please drop by and see Lee - wish him well from Catherine and Kate, or visit one of the many other foreign prisoners for a real insight into how crime is paid for in Thailand.
Take half a day out of your holiday and make a difference.