Teenager educated by life in Thai jail: Pardoned drug smuggler becomes older and wiser

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The Independent Online
'ONE YEAR in here is like five years,' Patricia Cahill, 20, told the Independent from the Thai prison where she has spent the past three years.

The Lardyow Women's Correctional Institute is hidden away in a northern suburb of Bangkok, not far from the airport where she and Karyn Smith, 22, were arrested in July 1990. She has changed greatly from the distraught teenager in the photographs from three years ago, and now has neat curly hair and a conspicuous silver crucifix round her neck.

Before her arrest she was interested in nightclubs, smart clothes and rich men in Birmingham. After three years in prison, sleeping in a crowded dormitory of 125, rising each day at 6am, and a regime of sewing smocks for no money, her perspective has changed.

To combat the boredom, and the regimented life ('It's a system here, they make you do things when they want you to do them'), she has become a voracious reader. Last month, when she was in the middle of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, she said: 'I really appreciate literature . . . It is difficult to get good books in here. When the missionaries bring them in we share them around.'

She now speaks fluent Thai, is learning French, and is teaching an older Thai inmate English. She thinks she would like to become a journalist when she returns to England.

Her closest companion among the 1,500 women in the institute is no longer her co-defendant. Wilf Lamb, a family friend who went with her father to visit her, said her closest friend was now an American.

She pays a Thai woman to wash and iron her clothes, and to wait on her. Her last birthday passed unnoticed. 'I tried not to think about it,' she said.

Mr Lamb said: 'She was a girl when she went in there. She's a woman now. She has aged 15 years. She accepted her punishment, and is wiser as a result.

'She was a typical teenage girl, wanting high life, bright lights, flash men and flash cars. She has paid the price.'

How will she adjust to life back in England? She had not dared think about it. 'When my time comes, it comes,' she said philosophically.

Mr Lamb said: 'She is going to find Birmingham very different, it has changed so much.'

(Photographs omitted)