The best part of Jon Cole’s book Bangkok Hard Time is the descriptions of Bangkok in late 1960’s. It was a dense jungle sprinkled with a few high rises.He’s view point is on top of the Grace Hotel on Sukkunvit. Cole was a spoilt cross culture child, he admits. In the beginning of the book he says that there was lots of liaison with pretty Thai hookers but so as not to distract from the theme of the book, he won’t go into any lurid details. That’s the first cop out in the book. I wonder how many other parts he decides to white wash to keep his karmic theme glowing a pure white?
He’s description of his supplier, a Thai man in the slums of Kloeng Toey are evocative. He’s coming of age, and the warnings from his drug dealer, a diminutive Thai man who has also been banged up. The difference between him and Cole, is that Cole is seeing big dollar signs. The moral of this book could well be greed, which is never really broached. Instead he takes the sanctimonious line. He plays the goody goody reformed criminal who has been blessed with Thainess… but you can tell the Thais can see through that. He’s just another con man banged up in prison making the most of it.
He completes four years of a sixteen year sentence. He’s been caught with enough drugs to be convicted for life, but one decimal has been moved in the chemist’s report, so he’s done for possession of heroin for personal use. He’s mates been busted in US for heroine smuggling on a ticket he purchased. But the DEA don’t push that information in his case in Thailand, which makes Cole’s story here very improbable.
The book is all about Karma – he doesn’t like the look of two American inmates and smashes them, to help their Karma along. At the end of the book we are rooting for the author to enter a Buddhist monastery and become a monk and practise Vipassana meditation. Cole doesn’t waste the opportunity to slag off Warren Felllows book The Damaged Done, another book on drug smuggling and redemption in Bangkok Hilton. He says Fellows is just a con man, and refutes that foreigners get bashed up by the guards. He also meets Dave MacMillan in jail, the author of Escape: The True Story of the Only Westerner Ever to Escape from Thailand’s Bangkok Hilton. Of course they are best of mates, and Cole can’t praise him enough. Ever way, Col is capitalizing in the tradition of Fellows and MacMillan while also spilling the beans on corruption of guards in the prison system. Won’t that make it harder for those following in their footsteps, as the loop holes are closed up for ever?
Cole is very obsequious, he’ll do anything to get his sentence reduced – even sell his grand mother if there’s no karmic repercussions. . There’s no mention of the consequences of him being a drug smuggler, and the lives he might have ruined.Those karmic musings never get a mention. He’s out for himself and the piety he injects in the book just doesn’t work. At least with Mac Millan, he lays it all down. He’s a criminal and doesn’t hide the fact with any “born again” perceptions of himself. Cole in comparison is just a petty crook who who’d squeal to get his sentence reduced. That’s the impression you get reading his school of hard knocks story.
There is something just a bit smug about the book. Cole was one of the lucky inmates who had cash and contacts. His his father was high-up in the military with good connection in Thailand – to cushion his incarceration. I’d love to see him doing time as a poor man.Cole has a monkey on his back. He’s shaken off his addiction in jail. But you read of him spliffing reefers, and ordering sleeping pills and drinking booze in jail. You can see he’s really having a good time. He talks also of the lady boys, and has access to their compound through Sompong, a Thai drug smuggler ( he fails to explain the Thai-Farang bond here, a wasted character development). He’s adverse ladyboys but sees them as an illusion for what it’s like in the outside world. You just know that Cole got down and dirty. Four years without sex in a Thai jail, he’s just a bit too squeaky clean. He’s Teflon cloak of piety does wear thin throughout the book.
The book could have done without an epilogue. He returns home a free man to see his four-year old son and continues on with his relationship. Everyone at the boarding gate is staring him down. What did he do with all the money he stashed from his previous drug runs that he had in storage? He was a snake skin salesman after all, by his own admission – its a good cover for moving dope. He should have just finished the book off on leaving Bangkok on a 747, with the heady dose of the tropics in his nostrils.
If you want to read about preferential treatment in Thai jails, then this is a good book. Cole can’t do wrong, karma is on his side.