Marking time behind the bars of a Bangkok jail: Teresa Poole visits Patricia Cahill, jailed for nearly 19 years for heroin smuggling

The Lardyow Women's Correctional Institute is hidden away in a northern suburb of Bangkok, not far from the city's airport where Patricia Cahill and Karyn Smith were arrested in July 1990.

Yesterday, being a Thursday, when prisoners convicted on heroin- related offences are allowed visitors, several dozen Thais and a handful of westerners were waiting quietly in the piercing heat of the forecourt for the afternoon visiting session to get under way.

Inside, sitting behind the iron grille, on the prisoner's side of the noisy visiting corridor, Patricia, now 20, looks very different from the distraught teenager in the photographs of three years ago when she and Karyn were detained for drug trafficking.

With neat curly hair, a bit of lipstick, and a conspicuous silver crucifix around her neck, she manages to look stylish even in her regulation blue prison dress.

She greets visiting strangers warmly as a welcome break from the monotony of life at Lardyow. 'It's pot luck when we are allowed to see people.'

But when she realises the person is just another reporter, her suspicion and disappointment are intense.

'People just don't realise how much damage they have caused my family,' she said.

Patricia has often been seen as the villain of the affair, leading her friend astray. The two girls were sentenced respectively to 18 years 9 months, and 25 years.

Patricia is curious but not particularly optimistic when told about the latest developments in the case, for false hopes have been raised too many times.

The Independent revealed yesterday that the Government Chemist had cast serious doubt on the main plank of the evidence used by the Thai authorities to convict the two women.

Dr Terry Gough, head of the Government Chemist's Forensic and Customs Division, said in a letter to the Foreign Office that it was impossible for the 30.5kg of heroin that the two girls were found guilty of carrying to have fitted into the bottles and tins the Thai police said were found in their suitcases.

Three years later, Patricia gives the appearance of coping with life in prison. She now speaks fluent Thai, is teaching an older Thai inmate English, and has become a voracious reader.

'I really appreciate literature. It is difficult to get good books in here. When the missionaries bring them in we share them around.'

At the moment she is reading Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen.

Arriving at Lardyow the visitor sees a wooden-slatted, cream Thai- style house with a lily pond near by.

Patricia described the reality of life inside. 'It's a system here. They make you do things when they want you to do them.'

Lardyow has about 1,500 women inmates. Patricia has to sleep in a crowded dormitory of 125, lying on a mattress on the floor, wedged up against her neighbours.

Each day, everyone must get up at 6am and be ready after breakfast to start work in one of the prison factories. At the moment she is sewing smocking for which, like all the prisoners, she receives no pay.

There appear to be no opportunities for studying or vocational training. Nor is there any exercise programme, although Patricia said someone once tried to organise aerobics.

Told she was looking well, she said: 'They (the other prisoners) all say, you've got to look after yourself physically, or you go mentally.'

Time passes slowly. 'One year in here is like five years.' For foreigners, the weekly treat comes on Sunday evening when they are allowed to spend two hours watching videos.

She did not do anything on her 20th birthday. 'I tried not to think about it,' she said.

'When I came here I was very young,' she volunteered at one point. We do not talk about her arrest and conviction. But asked how the past three years at Lardyow changed her, she simply said: 'Behind bars, I have become a woman.'

Karyn Smith is two years older than Patricia. Yesterday she was suffering from a stomach upset. 'The water here is not so good,' explained Patricia. 'She is not going anywhere today.'

Karyn, on her lawyer's advice, rarely sees unexpected visitors. Patricia said that nowadays the two girls have an 'understanding' but are no longer particularly close.

Last year there was speculation that the two girls might receive a Thai royal pardon on the occasion of Queen Sirikit's 60th birthday in August. But it was not to be.

Did Patricia still look to the future with hope? 'It's all you've got inside here.'

She was brought up as a Catholic. 'There is a lot of controversy here (in Lardyow) about religion . . . but it's in your heart, isn't it?'

Did she think about being released? 'When my time comes, it comes,' she said.

Next year she should be eligible to transfer to a British jail to complete her sentence under an agreement between London and Bangkok.

On Monday, her parents, Frances and Patrick Cahill, will be paying a rare visit.

In May 1991, both travelled to Thailand for her trial. Her father was able to visit her last year, but this will be the first time for two years that Patricia has seen her mother.

'It's going to be very emotional,' she said yesterday.

She will try to negotiate with the prison authorities for extra visiting time for them.

Yesterday, after half an hour, the warden who had been patrolling the 3ft gulf between the visitors' and prisoners' grilles motioned that the session was over.

For a few more minutes, Patricia continued talking, and then followed the others out of the room, and back to the routine of an afternoon's smock making.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee