Saturday, May 13, 2006

Forget you had a daughter

There is a clear implication in many of the books written about European or American prisoners in jails abroad that it is all very well for the "natives" to have to put up with disgusting conditions but it is just not cricket to expect us to.

For example, anyone who has read Midnight Express will have felt sympathetic to the protagonist but still felt, 1) he was a drug smuggler carrying an improbable amount of dope for his own use and 2) he seemed to have a contempt for the people and the country where he was imprisoned.

"Forget you had a daughter" by Sandra Gregory is the story of a drug smuggler who wound up in prison in Thailand and how she coped with the experience. She wound up in the infamous Lard Yao prison, jokingly referred to as the "Bangkok Hilton". If anyone begins this book thinking it is another "Midnight Express" they are soon disabused.

Sandra Gregory, who wrote the book with Michael Tierney, steers clear of that. The early chapters express her love for Thailand and the story ends with her regret that she can never go back there. She makes no bones about her guilt and/or stupidity. Moreover, she earned the disapprobation of some white prisoners because of her friendships with Thai prisoners and she has harsh words to say about the treatment of prisoners in British jails where she spent the last years of her sentence.

It doesn't sensationalise the sexual tension in a women's prison but doesn't skirt round it either.

The corruption in the prison was remarkable, prisoners could get most things on the black market but woe betide them if they couldn't pay their debts: "On one occasion a Nigerian woman had her bottom lip bitten off and fed to a cat, for not keeping up the repayments." I have to warn you that that is mild compared to some of the things reported in this book. It is not for those who are too fastidious.

Sandra Gregory is not obsessed with herself, throughout the book she observes and tells the stories of other prisoners. This is no sob story. Although it contains graphic descriptions of the conditions in prison it is written with some humour and is a very readable narrative.



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