Prison Phantoms - by Garth Hattan
Okay, I'll relent. Reluctantly. After all, I have been getting requests to write about this topic for quite a wow. Due to its controversial nature I've shied away from provoking all you harder-core skeptics out there. That, and my kinda paranoid fear the rest of you are gonna go, "That poor # 673-37, he's finally gone over the edge."
Well, let me assure y'all of this. As far as skeptics go, up till a few short years back I'd been amongst the hardest core you'd ever have met. And my therapist has stated emphatically that as long as I adhere to my strict regimen of exceedingly potent pharmaceuticals I should be able to comport myself with the illusion that I'm only periodically suffering the psychological ravages of having been # 673-37 for all of these years. So, "over the edge", I am not. Or, at least, shouldn't be after a long bout of intensive therapy, anyway.
Now that the sanctity of my sanity has been well and duly established, let me ask you this. Have you ever felt the cold hand of an unseen spectre upon the back of your neck in the dead of night? Or have you ever been up past 3am writing letters or magazine articles and find yourself really craving a cigarette, and then sense the relief when a guy you think will lend you one approaches, only to be utterly horrified when you discover that the man possesses but the top half of his body and floats right on by, oblivious to your nicotine pangs? Or have you ever been locked in the cell of a Thai prison with only Westerners as roommates, and writing in the middle of the night, when you suddenly look up to find an ancient-looking Asian man silently glide past the foot of your bed and up the two steps into the toilet and then you check to see that the cell door is indeed still locked and go back to find that the mysterious old geezer has of course pissed off? (Which, in retrospect, is regrettable, as I would've liked to have asked him if "the other side" exudes the exquisite intimacy and poignant beauty of a Full Moon Party, circa '92.)
Like any rational and totally sane individual, I'd long since put all of the above out of my mind. Until I was moved here to Bangkwang's notorious punishment building, the "Khon Dio", and promptly came face-to-face with the darkest apparition I've seen while here. Unfortunately, we were locked in the same cell at the time.
It was night. The cell was dark. So I stared the thing down, clenched my spiritual fists, and stood my ground while my eyes became dry and gritty as I desperately tried to expunge from my mind the macabre recollection a Southern Californian ghost-hunter friend of mine had recounted about discovering his pure white, stiff-as-a-board partner the morning after they'd spent the night in a fiercely haunted house.
Right about then, a bottle of Visine would've been a godsend. And, maybe one of those ectoplasm stun guns from Ghost Busters, too.
The next morning found me to be white in that blandly Caucasian sort of way, and thankfully pliable. I mean, up till then I would've imagined only obese people would sense a particularly divine appreciation in greeting the day by touching their toes.
Anyway, so there I was, an ennui-inducing paler shade of white and veritable ex-heroin trafficking Gumby of flexibility, residing in a new, non-phantom-menaced cell. On a different floor. On the opposite side of the building. And that night a guard stops by and says not the customary, "Sawadee krup"; not the obligatory, "Sabai dee mai, krup?" But, "Nai hong nee, hen phi ru yung?" ("Have you seen a ghost yet in the room?")
"Er, yung. Tammai? Pee khoei hen mai?" (Not yet, why? Have you seen a ghost?")
As he abruptly walked off, it occurred to me that the knowing smile which accompanied his curt, negative response diminished my tropical tan a shade or two and cinched my joints about _ of a turn.
Then, some time after night fell, so did one of my cassette tapes, the first of many to fling themselves one by one from the table on which they were neatly stacked, down onto the concrete floor. So I rearranged them in shorter, sturdier stacks, but they kept leaping like lemmings into the void. I dunno, maybe it's some delayed shock syndrome they experienced since the advent of CD's.
So I consulted the last tenant, but he refused to mention "the room". About a week later I confronted him again. Suddenly pulling a bit too desperately on his cigarette, he conceded "things" had happened. But then scuttled off nervously before I could get him to elaborate.
After I'd returned one day to find my shower gushing full force, I asked around about what had happened in this cell. Seems a guy I'd known here some years ago was "gang-shivved" while leaving his room. Nobody wanted to tell me. Of course I'd heard about the incident; such graphic violence warrants instant airplay on the grapevine here. Though no one had let on that it'd all gone down at the door to his cell. Which was now my cell.
After telling my spiritually well-endowed fianc about my ethereal room-mate, she prayed that he move on and experience his final release from Bangkwang. That night, while playing guitar, a single sheet of paper wafted down from out of nowhere and landed right in front of me, as if I'd set it down to read it myself. I kept it and always will. A profound memento of my single most poignant juncture at Bangkwang, and perhaps a turning point, I dunno, it simply says, "God is love." Wow, and all along I'd thought it was something more like extremely potent pharmaceuticals.
Seems like I still have a lot left to learn.
Building-2 (Now Released on Transfer Treaty)