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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
The Real Bangkok Hilton
Dubbed the "Bangkok Hilton" by the West, Thailand's Bangkwang jail is one of the most notorious prisons in the world.

This World crew in visitor area of the Thai prison
Drug offenders are only allowed to see one visitor per week

Until now, the reality of life in Bangkwang has remained a secret. But after two years of negotiations between the BBC and Thai officials - and for the first time ever - television cameras were allowed inside.

The film tells the human stories of prisoners struggling to stay sane in the jail's cramped conditions, and the Thai staff struggling to cope with the ever-increasing number of inmates.

The Real Bangkok Hilton
Thursday, 22 July, 2004
2100 BST on BBC Two (UK)

Two of the nine British prisoners in Bangkwang are Michael Connell and Andrew Hawke.

Michael, 19, a thin and frail supermarket worker from Manchester, was the first Briton to be arrested under new, harsher drug laws introduced by the Thai Government in 2003. He is the only foreigner in a dormitory of 1,000 and teaches his fellow inmates English to pass the time.

Andrew, who has served nearly six years of a 50-year sentence, talks freely of his foolish decision to smuggle heroin after an offer from a stranger in Amsterdam. "I really didn't want to do it" he says. "Everything screamed against me not to do it... but I went ahead and did it anyway."

The jail's transvestites share quarters. One smuggled drugs to pay for a breast augmentation and she now works for the prison television station BKP TV as a make-up artist.

Last rites monk
Executed bodies pass through the "ghost gate" to the last rites monk

In the prison hospital, patients are shackled to their beds. One stares vacantly into the camera as the doctor explains how Thai society is reluctant to donate medicine because it thinks the inmates deserve the suffering.

And then there are those on death row - the men just waiting to die. Each of them will get only two hours notice before they are executed by lethal injection.

The head executioner demonstrates his routine on an execution day for the crew, and the monk who administers the last rites - also on site - talks about why he thinks the condemned are "lucky" because they can prepare for death.

But luck is not a word usually associated with Bangkwang - for the prisoners or the guards.

In the last few years the prison's population has trebled to 7,000 - each inmate serving a sentence of more than 25 years - and the guards are out-numbered 50-1.

To try and ease this situation, some tough prisoners become "blue shirts" and are given the task of assisting the guards. But this simply creates more tension.

"Thai prisons are tough," says Director of Prisons Khun Nattee as a warning to tourists... "you don't want to be in Bangkwang."

The Real Bangkok Hilton was broadcast on Thursday, 22 July, 2004 at 2100 BST on BBC Two in the UK.

Director/producer: Chris Jones
Editor: Karen O'Connor

The execution of Thai justice
22 Jul 04 |  This World
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20 Jul 04 |  This World


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