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An age of innocence "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." by Garth Hattan
It's an inane axiom, a conditioned response thoughtlessly uttered by those who have never felt the pain and helplessness of having a loved one imprisoned. People can spew such tactless sentiments and cold indifference because these horrid scenarios only happen to other luckless people in other unfortunate families. But think about this: What if it was one of your family members? Or, worse, what if it happened to you?

You're probably thinking, "Well, it could never happen to me because I'd never let myself be caught in such a compromising position." But that would depend on your definition of a compromising position. Would sleeping in a Bangkok guesthouse fall into that category? This was the "crime" of the man I want to tell you about. More than 10 years later he's still waiting for someone to hear him out with an open mindand hopefully an open heart.

The prison environment is similar to war, in that the first casualty is truth. Just about everyone behind bars is innocent. There are even some guys who take on the nickname "Innocent." But there are a unique few who truly are, and some of them, including my friend, Jack, have case partners who can corroborate this fact. Unfortunately, as these case partners are themselves suspected criminals, their stories verifying Jack's innocence are perceived by the authorities as just that: stories.

Following a deeply troubled youth in a Southeast Asian country, Jack sought a fresh start in what he had hoped would be a better life, travelling to Bangkok with a fellow labourer and staying with him in his guesthouse room. In the middle of his fifth night there, Jack was awakened and arrested by a group of policemen. They had responded to a tip-off that in a house across the city, three foreign men were preparing heroin for transport inside pearl-inlaid picture frames. Jack's work mate was one of them, and when asked his home address he gave the name of the apartment where Jack was fast asleep. There was no evidence to implicate Jack, and even the house owner and his wife who had been caught red-handed confirmed that they had never before heard of nor met Jack.

However, five days after his arrest, another tip-off revealed the whereabouts of another apartment leased by one of the three men. In a bizarre twist, which puzzles him to this day, Jack's name appeared on the lease of this apartment. Somehow, nobody noticed that Jack's "co-lessee" had leased the apartment seven months before Jack ever set foot in Thailand; or that Jack was flopping in a guesthouse because he didn't have the money to lease an apartment in the first place. Unfortunately, what had been noticed was that the apartment contained an additional 1.4 kilos of heroin.

And that's how Jack found himself in the compromising position he has endured and regretted every single day of the last 10 years.
Through a lengthy and arduous court process, Jack, like all heroin trafficking defendants that I know of, had been presumed guilty until he could prove himself innocent from the confines of a prison cell. Because he would not plead guilty to a crime he didn't commit, Jack was eventually sentenced to be executed and condemned to Bangkwang's odious death row. I can tell you from personal experience that it is an unbelievably harrowing ordeal to be sentenced to death since that was my initial sentence.

Jack spent four years on death row, shackled in heavy chains, never knowing when he would be taken out and shot. To compound the anxiety, death-row inmates share cells with up to 26 men. Since they spend 23 hours a day inside together, and share a unique adversity and tension that would be the stuff of anyone's most terrifying nightmares, they develop a strong camaraderie. I'd be hard pressed to describe the plummeting energy and emotions after one of the doomed brethren has been quietly escorted out for the final time, dropping the cell count to 25.

Finally, in a turn uncharacteristic of his lifelong string of bad luck, Jack's sentence was commuted to life while mine was reduced to 40 years.

No matter how you view it, this is excessively harsh; not only for a guy who has no criminal history, but who could also prove his innocence if he was simply given the opportunity to do so.

And even if Jack was guilty of his alleged crime, he's already served 10 years in conditions that challenge the most lurid imaginations. Even guilty, how much more time should he be obliged to serve? How much is enough? How much is too much?

The most astonishing aspect of this disturbing account is that on meeting Jack, you'd find him to be one of the most cordial guys around. If you were to encounter him outside of Bangkwang you would detect no indications that he has spent the last decade languishing in the soul-stealing oppression that permeates every fibre of one's being within these walls. He exudes an upbeat persona that you wouldn't associate with such prolonged abuse. Amid such unbearable hardship, he's always ready with a smile and an offer to help you in any way he can to ease the friction of the day. I believe that's his innate selfless nature shining through an amiable countenance that has survived from another time and another place.

It's difficult to believe that such a decent guy got caught up in such a compromising position. But that was a long, long time ago. It's time for him to go home.

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

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