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An inmate survival guide - Part I by Garth Hattan
By now, Tony Wheeler and the Lonely Planet people have touched virtually every corner of the globe with their widely popular shoestring travel handbooks. But one rather unique locale I don't believe they've covered yet though I can hardly be offended, as they wouldn't touch parts of Pattaya with a 10-foot pen, either is the notorious Bangkwang Central Prison on the outskirts of infamous Bangkok.

So I feel obligated to offer you readers of the new ultra-hip FARANG Magazine (hey, I've read the first three issuesI know. Besides, the check is in the mail er, right, guys?) my coveted services as your all-knowing literary Bangkwang guide-for-the-ride. One crucial word of warning, though, folks: this stop ain't for the faint of heart.

As with all destinations the world over, the first stage is of course getting there. This merely entails a task as ignorant and effortless as packing a suitcase full of heroin or yah bah, taking it to the airport, and then giving it to a uniformed customs agent whose sole purpose in life is to check your luggage for drugs.

With this mission accomplished generally it takes a minimum of 20 grams of smack or a mere 15 speed tablets you're assured of your ticket through the front gates of this Southeast Asian annex of Hades.

In keeping with an extended stay in the fires of Hell, one imperative word of advice: dress cool. Sartorial splendour is not a big deal here. Just be prepared for the relentless, sultry heat, and lots and lots of sweating.

One other tidbit of info you should know is that contrary to any other adventure jaunts you may have taken, you can forget about your camera, Handycam, Discman, laptop, cell phone, Game Boy, MP3 player, palm unit, or any other instrument of modern technology. Get used to the forgotten-era practice of putting pen to paper, because within these walls you'll be existing in a virtual cave. Dinosaurs included they're the ones who insist you're here to be rehabilitated, yet forbid you the basic contemporary conveniences that would keep you abreast of the rapidly advancing outside world. Someone get Bill Gates on the phone; I've got some serious improvements in mind, which just might interest him.
Being in Bangkwang is quite similar to other hardcore traveling destinations in that once you've been around for a while you can pretty much settle in and go with the flow. The hard part is that initial adjustment. Here are a few ways we go about making life easier on this side of the wall.

First of all, here, like anywhere, is the place to be a heavy-sleeping night owl, as it's a veritable zoo we're talkin' loud, folks, 18 hours a day so late nights are the only time you can find any semblance of tranquil solitude. It's the time you'll be confronted by the staggering reality of your loneliness and wallow in the deepest realms of utter social desolation.

If you're a conscientious writer, it affords you the only peaceful and relaxing periods to focus upon your correspondence. At any other time of day, forget about it, particularly if you are writing in English. Even seven and a half years down the road, I invariably draw a group of inquisitive Thais who find some novel and curious fascination in watching a Westerner scribe his native language. I've yet to figure out why, but I do know this: when you're attempting to concentrate on a magazine piece and meeting a deadline it can be the most grating annoyance one can imagine. I suppose that is why I'm writing this now it's 12:30am

Being up late every night, I tend to sleep late each morning. Well, late for this place anyway. I generally get up and stumble out into the already glaring heat of the Siamese morning by 7:30am, leaving the guy who cleans our room to roll up my sleeping pad not quite a futon for which he receives the none-too-princely salary of one pack of Krong Thip cigarettes monthly the going rate.

Getting up late-ish has its advantages, since there's the inevitable rush of about 1,000 rapists, murderers, and horror of horrors, heroin traffickers, bellying up to the nearby river-filled water trough for their showers from the moment the doors open at 6:30am. The later you can emerge from the cells, the more diminished the shower crowds. This makes a helluva difference when you wish to avoid getting elbowed upside the head by the guy next to you who's brushing his teeth. Over the years, I've lost count of how many fights have erupted for this very reason. So Thailand may want to consider either erecting more prisons or evicting a lot of these inmates who'd benefit immensely from being offered a new lease on life. Perhaps someone could lobby the Interior Ministry to pass the Elbow Room Initiative.

Now, if you survive your shower and can walk away without some bonehead splashing soap all over you after you've just rinsed off, and if you can find your towel and your change of shorts on the clothes line amongst the throng of frilly pink bras and lacy red panties the katoeys (ladyboys) leave out to dry (you think I'm making this up, don't you?), your next thought should be focused on a five-baht cup of coffee and breakfast. That is, of course, if you don't have to go and see the doctor first to get your head stitched up.

At the very least, your head ought to be thoroughly examined for even hypothetically entertaining the thought of ever coming here -other than for a greatly appreciated visit, of course. But for further insights into everyday Bangkwang etiquette, like learning how to decipher from a ladyboy's cunning smile whether he/she wants to join you for lunch or slice your ear off to wear as a romantic keepsake on a chain around his/her neck, check out the next installment in my rough and lonely guide to prison life.

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

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