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Taking care of business: working for a living behind the wall.
by Garth Hattan
Have any of you ever had the inimitable opportunity to watch Siamese fighting fish engaged in battle? If so, while you looked on as they slowly tore each other a new blowhole, did you find yourself getting all sentimentally philosophical about just what an arduous struggle life can be?

Or, did you begin to contemplate the sporting aspects of the frenzied spectacle and wonder not aloud, hopefully if those fin-thrashing, gill-biting little warriors had actually trained for the fights like a couple of piscatorial Mike Tysons?

If Bangkwang was a fishbowl, a number of visitors would bring with them similar preconceived illusions of what life is like within these walls.

Because of Western prison movies most assume that essential daily necessities sufficient food, for example are readily provided. Not so. Beyond a midday U.N.offered bag of rice and exceedingly modest portion of what could aptly be described as "wannabe soup" (which ain't a Japanese delicacy), farangs here are obligated to scrape together whatever they can in a fruitless attempt to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. That's why many inmates take on or create their own unique vocations to try and beat the incessant conflict of making ends meet.

Adult readers may wish to screen youngsters from reading further. Some of the following could get pretty ugly. Those of you who possess more lurid imaginations can certainly envision the seedy underbelly of maximum-security prison life. And the depths to which spinally challenged inmates descend to dredge up a barely satisfactory living is something that not even Hollywood could exaggerate. Merely walking along the clotheslines and checking out the surprising array of lacy undergarments can attest to the fact that there exists a decidedly epicene element pervading this otherwise all-male habitat. Now, keep in mind I'm illustrating the grounds of a men's prison, and not a display window of Victoria's Secret (although much of this lingerie would be more at home in a Fredrick's of Hollywood catalogue), and you'll probably get a clearer picture of just how these sexy threads might be conducive towards enhancing one's culinary intake.

You may assume that katoeys (ladyboys), being indigenous to Thailand, would be the sole purveyors of the prison sex trade, though you'd be amazed to what levels some ostensibly normal guys have plunged just to get a little extra chicken with their rice. It's as if walking through these gates, no matter how turbo-hetero they claim to be, gives them a license to poof! transform themselves into "Bangkwang Barbie" (Malibu Barbie's twisted Siamese sister).

Okay, before I'm labeled homophobic, allow me to say I'd be the last one to suggest they repress their new-found sexual orientation especially when it can mean the difference between 500-or-so, much-needed calories a day. But they should at least put forth the effort to retain the last remnants of their integrity. After all, there do exist a variety of jobs for guys that are quite harmless, particularly in the sense that they won't be haunted several years down the road for having done them. For me, anyway, it's an issue I'd rather not have to reflect upon as I'm tossing back future AZT cocktails, ya know?

Some of the harmless, less-haunting jobs are listed as follows. I think a lot of the guys prefer them because they can be done without having to sport a bra and panties, even if, by eliminating sex from the equation, perhaps they're subjecting themselves to an unknowing reduction in pay. But at least they can maintain their sense of pride.

Amongst the working class behind the walls there are a couple of "traveling salesmen" who'll take virtually anything you wish to unload
shirts, shorts, shoes, socks, sandals, vibrating dildos and flog it for you. For a commission. Actually, commissions in here are much like corruption out there: it permeates virtually all walks of life.

There are carpenters who'll build you pretty much anything you want, as long as it's a small fold-up writing table, a tiny coffee table, a stool, or a beach chair. Other than those, forget about it. Whichever item you order, there's one thing absolutely, 100% guaranteed: it'll be constructed with the shoddiest craftsmanship on the planet.

Should you lock your keys in your locker or lose them there are locksmiths who'll get you sorted. The Hong Kong Chinese have this market cornered. But even as they're picking your lock in 20 seconds with both hands, you have to keep an eye on your wallet. These guys are good.

I haven't washed clothes in prison since I can remember. Laundry is amongst the most popular trades here, and the competition is pretty cut-throat. Every so often you'll have a guy wanting to wash your shorts. When you tell him somebody's already doing them, he'll probably counter with, "Yeah, but does he supply the Fab and iron, too?"

"You're hired, dude."

Of all the side jobs in here, though, the most noteworthy are the fighting fish trainers. You don't need to go back over that; you read it correctly. So, if you've ever wondered whether fish actually train for their bouts, the answer is, they certainly do. The first time I saw this, I was blown away. An old man was hunched over a 10-gallon bucket vigorously swirling the water around; initially, I thought he was prepping some soapy laundry water. But the water was clear. Looking closer, I saw a little black blob spinning wildly with the current. While thinking about measuring his arms for a sturdy white straitjacket, I asked him what he was doing. Without looking up, he curtly muttered "pla" (fish), and then tossed a few pieces of fish food in the bucket. As the swirling current diminished to nothing, the little black blob slowly uncrumpled itself, weakly ascended to the surface, and tentatively took a bite of food. I think he would have gobbled it down, but he was simply too spent to eat. We're talking training to failure, folks. After another, hungrier bite of food the elderly trainer started swirling the water and the fish was swimming madly against the current. In case you haven't heard, Thais love gambling on fish fights.

No matter how you choose to sustain yourself, if there's one thing that holds true in prison, it's this. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many Ferraris you drove, or how much money you spent, or how big of a criminal you thought you were; all that stuff is entirely immaterial and totally irrelevant bat guano once you're incarcerated. What counts for anything is who you are and how you conduct yourself while you're enduring the most sordid and tumultuous period of your life. While I, personally, am not into the bra and panties thang, there are those who'd say I might as well be pole-dancing on Patpong Road.

My job? You're reading it.

Garth Hattan
Building-2 (Now Released on Transfer Treaty)

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