Sunday, 5 April 2009

This illustration from the April issue of The Monthly went with Harry Nicolaides' description, in more detail this time, of life in a Bangkok prison. Among a total of eight drawings smuggled out of Bangkok Remand Prison, it shows the way that leg irons are applied using a curious piece of equipment that pinches the metal rings around the leg near the foot.

Nicolaides worried that his foot would be crushed. Going by the drawings and by the details the writer brings into the public sphere for the first time, he had reason to. Another drawing shows sick men in the informary. Another shows how plastic pellets were inserted under the skin of the penis for the purpose of enhancing sexual stimulation.

On several occasions Nicolaides refers to international opinion, and how the Thai authorities seemed unconcerned by the way their correctional institutions were being handled in the media. If nothing else comes out of Nicolaides' incarceration, exposing some of the horror of Thai prison life is enough to justify the attention we grant his words.

Of course, I have little or no idea - beyond dramatisations of life in prison - how life progresses in prison on the West. Going by media stories, however, there is nothing to compare Nicolaides' experiences with. Bashings and sexual assault may be fairly common in, say, Australia. But it doesn't compete with the sight Nicolaides had of a rat vomiting up the prison food.

A complete lack of hygiene and privacy makes other questions arise, however. Nicolaides says nothing of defecation and little about sex, both of which would be, we assume, significant elements of prison life. There's more to come. The writer has already promised a book. On that basis we should treat the magazine article as a first installment only.

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