Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Report 2: Doing The Crime, Doing The Time

If we're to believe what most accused people say there are precious few folks in custody for one infraction or another who are actually guilty. If you dig back into your earliest memories of childhood I'd guess you can all remember someone tagged for something and hollering in protest "I didn't DO it!" Siblings in particular come to mind, but school friends were undoubtedly included too, right?

Anyone who's watched professional sports like basketball, baseball or football - gridiron and soccer combined - or most any other has heard it repeatedly, even when a replay shows their claim to be an obvious lie. In the corporate world it's all too often a job requirement. It's one of the less honorable forms of lying, and I'd wager lunch that with rare exceptions it's a part of every culture around the world.

The recent "I didn't do it" stories in the sporting news lately reminded me of it, so here's the second book report/review for the series.

Oftentimes greed is more a part of it than a matter of honor by dishonorable means, and that greed can be a want of prestige, popularity or face; but more often than not it's in an effort to gain money, one way or another.  It can also have to do with sex and/or drugs, but those themselves are  a form of currency in many cases. 

Warren Fellows wrote a book in the late 1990s called "4,000 Days - My Life and Survival in a Bangkok Prison" that I'd heard of but didn't get around to reading until 2005, after hearing repeatedly in Thailand of how horrific conditions were said to be in most Thailand prisons. In it, he spends 20 pages describing how he got himself involved with areas of Thai life no clear thinking foreigner has any business dabbling in, and then another 180 talking about how horrific the penalties of said dabbling can be.

On the first page of the prologue he says "I do not tell this story to bring pity on myself. I know that many people hate me for what I did and would believe that I deserved whatever I got. If, at the end of my story you still believe that anyone could deserve the horrors that I saw, then you, too, are a criminal."  Hmmm.  I damn near put the book back on the shelf at Asia Books in Bangkok after reading that, but I was told it was a good representation of inhuman prison practices there, so  I thumbed through the rest of it for another few minutes and then purchased it.  I read a bit of it while resting in my room that afternoon, said to myself "Oh, man... what a whiner", and didn't get back to it until a couple of years later back home.

Let me be clear here, however: I find the gross inhumanity visited on prisoners in many parts of the world to be reprehensible, but I'm not at all sure we have the privilege of telling those of other countries and cultures that what we find gross indecencies should be stopped because we don't do it that way in our own homelands.  There's no debate here today - just a report. 

Giving credit where credit is due, the book may well have been intended as a warning to others, but in all honesty, after Fellows extensive sharing about how much he knew of the pitfalls of drug smuggling and cooperating with the seediest sides of trafficking between Australia and Thailand it's difficult to see him as a sympathetic character, despite the horrific things he experienced and witnessed.  I felt for him, but I kept saying to myself "but you knew". 

If you're a person who's genuinely disturbed by man's inhumane treatment of other human beings, this isn't a book for you.  However, if stories of life in Bang Kwang, Maha Chai, Bumbud and other places referred to in general as the "Monkey House" pique your morbid curiosity, you'll find stories a-plenty here.


Was Once said...

Some people need something extreme to wake them up, and then to chronicle it makes the it all finally seem worth it, thus letting it rest mentally.

khunbaobao said...

That's true in many cases, I agree. For those in 12 step programs, that's 1 and 2.

Fellows lived a life that must have involved hearing horrible tales of life in prison, and yet for comparatively very little he risked everything. That just made him sound foolish to me, to be kind about it.

As I said, tone of the book wasn't one that made it natural/easy to sympathize with him, and I guess I expected to read about someone who was a victim of an imperfect justice system that I could root for. What he offered was more like tabloid (albeit fairly well written tabloid) journalism.

Still, as a means of getting his head clear - i.e. therapeutic journal writing - it probably served its purpose. At least, I HOPE he's been clean since his release.