60 Min TV Transcript: Bangkok Hilton
March 21, 2004 Reporter: Tara Brown Producer: Stephen Taylor

INTRODUCTION — TARA BROWN: You'd have to be very desperate or very stupid to do drugs in Thailand. After all, the warnings couldn't be any clearer, the penalties any tougher. But still Australians keep getting caught. Still they're shocked when they find themselves in some of the world's most appalling, most brutal jails like the notorious Bangkok Hilton. In a way, though, they're the lucky ones. Thailand's a place where when they say zero tolerance, they mean it, where more than 2000 drug traffickers were killed on the streets last year.

STORY — TARA BROWN: Step behind the bars of the infamous Bangkok Hilton and it's the number of women that's overwhelming, the number who've taken the gamble. Nearly 6000 in this one small jail. Most have thrown their lives away for drugs. With the average sentence 25 years or more, many will die in this place.

It's not a good life?

PACHARAPORN SAROBHAS: It's not good because it's just a long time because of the drugs. It's a very very serious crime in Thailand.

TARA BROWN: By day, the prison operates as a sweat shop, the women filling in the endless hours learning skills they'll never use. By night, they fill the cells like sardines. How many women are in this cell?


TARA BROWN: Two hundred women in here?


TARA BROWN: How do they fit?


TARA BROWN: During our time at the Bangkok Hilton, prison officer Pacharaporn made sure we saw only what they wanted us to see.

PACHARAPORN SAROBHAS: Just move in will you, please?

TARA BROWN: Some parts of the jail were strictly off-limits, as was access to foreign prisoners including three Australian women. If you're stupid enough to do the crime in Thailand, then perhaps you deserve to do the monumental time. But being here in the Bangkok Hilton it's hard to imagine how anyone could face spending 25, 30, 50 years in here. As sanitised a version as we're getting today, this is not a nice place. Across town, the men's version of the Bangkok Hilton is Bangkwang, known as the Big Tiger because it eats people alive.

Is this Thailand's harshest prison?


TARA BROWN: Natthee Jitsawang is the boss of Thailand's jails.

When you hear that you're coming here, do you get very frightened as a prisoner?

NATTHEE JITSAWANG: Yeah, because this is the most maximum security prison.

TARA BROWN: Like the women's prison, this jail is horribly overcrowded, but for our cameras, only a handful of the 6000 inmates are on show. Down there, are they?

NATTHEE JITSAWANG: There are two people. Those two people are prisoners with the white socks?

NATTHEE JITSAWANG: Uh-huh. Over there, see that?

TARA BROWN: There's a prisoner?


TARA BROWN: Most inmates are here because of drugs, including Australians Bobbie Halliwell and Robert Foley. They agreed to talk to us about life in Bangkwang but Thai authorities insisted we film them from behind.

ROBERT FOLEY: It's deadening, it deadens your soul. It just turns you — for me … I can't speak for anyone else — it just turns me hard.

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: The prison is so overcrowded it's like a time bomb ticking, waiting to go off.

TARA BROWN: You sit her and tell me how terrible the conditions are here but it doesn't look that bad.

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: You look beautiful too. Make-up, my dear … cosmetics, snow job. Why don't they let you come in the hell hole? I thought you had to die to go to hell, but hell is right here.

TARA BROWN: There'd be some who'd think hell was too good for Bobbie Halliwell. Having already served a five-year sentence for an early drug offence in Thailand, he's now in for life for trying to smuggle heroin to Australia.

What were you doing with the heroin? You know the rules and regulations of this country.

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: When you're addicted to heroin you don't think about any rules. All you think about is every day getting some to feel normal or whatever that you want to be again.

TARA BROWN: Are you still a drug addict?

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: No, I'm not. I haven't used any drugs for a year, but if you want them it's here. Everything's here except a woman.

ROBERT FOLEY: I feel embarrassed. I feel ashamed of myself.

TARA BROWN: He claims he's innocent but Thai police accuse Robert Foley of being the Australian link in an international drug-trafficking ring. Now in his seventh year in jail, he's still waiting for his appeal to be heard.

Is it hard to hold on to your sanity?

ROBERT FOLEY: It is, yes. But there's guys that walk around here, I kid you not, they're zombies. These are Westerners, I'm talking to them thinking, "My God, am I you?" But I'm not, I'm not like that. I've maintained a high level of sanity, I think.

TARA BROWN: For six years Lyle Doniger was one of those zombies, jailed in Bangkwang for trying to smuggle heroin. Now, after a rare pardon by the King of Thailand, he's a free man back home in Sydney.

LYLE DONIGER: Things can always get worse when you're over there, can always get worse. There's even things worse than death, I'm telling you.

TARA BROWN: What are they?

LYLE DONIGER: Being amongst the people who are dying, watching them die and not being able to help.

TARA BROWN: Lyle Doniger was caught with 34 grams of heroin at Bangkok airport. He was sentenced to death, later reduced to life because he pleaded guilty.

LYLE DONIGER: I'd learned enough Thai to know that meant immediate execution. There were five judges and they went into a pow-wow for about 10 minutes and come back out with a 50-year sentence.

TARA BROWN: Was that sentence any easier to hear than death?

LYLE DONIGER: Well, that's where I just I yelled out, "What's the difference?" You know, 50 years or death, it's the same thing. I just think an execution would have been a bit quicker.

TARA BROWN: Just contemplate having to spend the rest of your life in a jail like this. Even the guards know how tough it is. They put prisoners in leg irons for their first three months, not to stop them escaping, but to stop them killing themselves.

LYLE DONIGER: They put them on with a sledgehammer so you can't pick a lock or anything to get them off. And yeah, I got infections around my ankles and that. It took years for the scars to come off.

TARA BROWN: Do you accept that if you take the risk in this country, that you deserve whatever punishment they give you?

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: Oh well, I could say that and I couldn't … you know, a fair cop in Australia for a kilo of heroin is six years and you do four years and you're free. But here in Thailand, I don't know why, they're killing people and giving sentences — there's people in here 20 years and they'll never get out because they're so old.

TARA BROWN: And you really don't know why? They're trying to stop people like you.

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: Well, how can they? I'm a little fish, my dear, what about the big 600 kilo busts in Australia? You know where all that comes from? Thailand.

TARA BROWN: Over there is Myanmar, the old Burma, across the river is Laos, and here is Thailand. This is the Golden Triangle, one of the world's biggest producers of opium and heroin, but when it comes to amphetamines, the figures are also astronomical. Just to give you an idea, something like 700 million tablets of amphetamines are smuggled in over the Myanmar border each year. Now to counter that, Thailand has declared war on drugs. In the last 12 months more than 72,000 arrests have been made, 2500 suspected drug dealers and traffickers have been shot dead and still the drugs keep coming. The enemy of drug barons is Commissioner of Narcotics General Watchrapol. He can't claim to have won the war against drugs yet but he's certainly winning some of the battles.

How much heroin is here?

GENERAL WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT: The actual heroin is about 15kg.

TARA BROWN: In his latest victory, he seized 280,000 amphetamine tablets and 15kg of high-grade heroin. You can see why the people take the risk. In the Golden Triangle you can buy the heroin haul for $300,000 but sell it on the streets of Sydney or Melbourne, and it's worth $40 million.

Can you tell from this whether it's good quality?



GENERAL WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT: The colour. It is quick, changes colour so quick.

TARA BROWN: While it's pretty amazing to see this quantity of drugs close up, what's even stranger is the calm demeanour of this man, caught red-handed with the heroin and now basically dead man walking.

If this guy is convicted, what happens to him?

GENERAL WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT: Because the quantity of drug found, he might get life imprisonment.

TARA BROWN: So minimum, if he's a caretaker he may get life, if he is more involved, this man...

GENERAL WATCHARAPOL PRASARNRAJKIT: That will be capital punishment.

TARA BROWN: …will die?


TARA BROWN: Of course, the court will decide this man's fate but chances are he'll end up here, the execution chamber at Bangkwang Prison. Now prisoners sentenced to death die by injection. Until last year, they were shot by this man [seen playing guitar], the musical Chaowalate Jarabun. Bangkwang's chief executioner has killed 55 prisoners. Do you think bad drug offenders should be executed?

CHAOWALATE JARABUN: If they're criminals and they do something really bad, they deserve to be executed.

TARA BROWN: What makes Thailand so attractive to foreigners is what makes it so dangerous — an easy-going place where almost everything is available for next to nothing. The most prohibited … the cheapest of all, as long as you're prepared to bet your life.

Did you at any stage know you were putting your life on the line?

LYLE DONIGER: Not until I got caught. Pretty stoned the whole time.

TARA BROWN: So you were out of it?


TARA BROWN: On the surface, Lyle Doniger's a fortunate man. He's no longer an addict and in 2002 was released from Bangkwang. But two years on, he's still serving time, only here the bars are invisible.

LYLE DONIGER: My family's grown up, especially the young children. Last time I saw them I tucked them into bed and read them bedtime stories. Now they don't even know me, they don't call me dad any more. That hurts. And I realise that, you know, that my life back here … I don't have a life back here, that's it.

TARA BROWN: Well, what a pity you didn't think about all of that before you tried to bring heroin back into Australia.

LYLE DONIGER: Of course, in hindsight, but how many people think in hindsight, but as I said before, I can't change history. That's been done.

TARA BROWN: I know you say you were an addict and therefore you weren't thinking clearly, but even as an addict is it worth taking a risk here?

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: Myself, I couldn't stop.

TARA BROWN: But as a warning to others, what would you say?

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: If you're think of coming to Thailand and you think you'll get away with it, be very, very careful.

TARA BROWN: Your family in Australia will probably see this. Do you have a message for them?

ROBERT FOLEY: Yeah, I'd just like to say hello mum.

TARA BROWN: And that's it?

ROBERT FOLEY: What else can I say? I'll see you soon. You know, be strong. I'm strong, let them be strong.

TARA BROWN: It's unsettling spending time with these men, in particular Bobbie Halliwell. He faces the rest of his life in jail but shows no remorse for his actions. I don't know if it's the jail or the drugs, but there's something very strange about his sense of reality.

Is it worth throwing your life away?

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: If you ask me would I do it again I'd say yes, I can't change what's happened and I can't change the future, you know. What will be will be, what's happened's happened.

TARA BROWN: So it was worth it?

BOBBIE HALLIWELL: Yeah, I've had a good life.

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