"I was awakened late one night by the screaming of a young French prisoner in the cell next door. The sound of his scream was excruciating. It wasn't just the sort of scream of pain, but of madness too. It was the sort of sound you never want to hear coming from a human being...It became obvious that whatever was torturing him was so overwhelming that he couldn't hear us at all. He was lost in his own pain.
When we entered the Frenchman's cell, he was alone, curled into a ball...On his neck, just below the ear, was an enormous lump, about the size of an avocado. As we looked at the lump, it appeared to be moving. David seemed to know what was going on and dashed back to our cell to get a razor blade. David told us to hold the Frenchman down, as he was going to lance the lump with the razor. As soon as the blade sliced the skin, the wound opened up like a new flower. And out of the gash in the Frenchman's neck spilled hundreds of tiny, worm-like creatures, wriggling and oozing out like spaghetti."
Everyone has their own personal tragedy, whether it's losing a relative, losing a loved one, losing anything that matters, anything that means something. Remember that day when you lost that something, remember that day when your personal tragedy became a reality. Imagine 4,000 of those days, altogether, as one long nightmare, as one long day that never ends.
Warren Fellows experienced one of those days. It lasted for 12 years. He was caught smuggling heroin in Bangkok: possibly the worst place to be caught. Partly due to bad luck and circumstance, on Wednesday October 11 1978, Warren Fellows heard a knock on the door. Armed Thai policemen entered his room, searching for a suitcase of heroin. They found it in his friend's room, Paul, who had never smuggled contraband in his life. This was his first and last time.
The Damage Done is a vision of hell, and surviving hell. It is an autobiographical account of a young Australian man who gets caught up in the drug traffic scene of the 1970's. Warren Fellows introduces the book shamelessly, telling the reader that he seeks no pity for his crimes. He believes he should have payed and he did. However, the extent of the punishment, the torture, becomes clear, becomes unnecessary and shameful. Shackled from the onset in leg irons, beaten at any sign of defiance, the murders between the prisoners, the guards beating prisoners to death for the slightest act such as not exercising in the yard. Warren Fellows ends up here, he ends up in Bang Kwang men's prison.
Bang Kwang (or the Bangkok Hilton) is a notorious prison which is legend among travellers, drug traffickers, and the mafia. If you end up there, and you survive, you too are a legend. The torture is constant. Everyday, every waking (or unconscious) minute is drenched in fear. Fear from the guards brutal punishment. Fear from solitary confinement, fear from the darkroom where 20 men are put into a cramped room without light, the only edible food are cockroaches, maggots, sewer rats (which are farmed throughout the prison), anything that moves. Staying in the darkroom, hideously cramped with 20 strangers for 3 months, and with a man who has gangrene and is slowly rotting away in the corner, the smell of which is making the other prisoners sick, is a glimpse at the nightmare Warren Fellows experienced.
The torture is not just physical, it is also psychological. The ultimate torture in Bang Kwang is when the guards blindfold you, tie you to a pole and beat you with a cane. The guards walk around you in circles, tap you on the face with a cane, whilst you blanch - waiting for the inevitable strike. It doesn't immediately happen, several seconds pass and then out of nowhere you are struck on the back with a mighty blow. The guards continue to circle you, tap you on the face, you get ready for imminent attack, but again nothing happens. Then, after a minute, they strike you in the face. This goes on for an hour. When will the circling stop? When will they hit me? Where will they tap me? Does the tapping have anything to do with where they will strike me next? Have they finished?
This carries on indefinitely until the victim is so traumatised, that the physical pain from the guards no longer matters, it's the psychological damage that's destroyed the victim's human will. This is, however, just a moment in Bang Kwang. This is everyday life.
The Damage Done is written by Warren Fellows with help from Jack Marx. It took Warren Fellows 8 years to write his account about life behind bars at one of the world's worst prison's. He draws from many experiences as 'One day...' this happened and that happened, hardly ever distinguishing between time and duration. Hooked on heroin for a large part of his ordeal to cope with life, many days blurred into one another. The narrative is fast, simple, and flows seemlessly. The experiences are hell-like, and it will leave your mouth open, it will leave you speechless, but it will leave you with an anomalous desire to tell the story of Warren Fellows time in Bang Kwang.
I first came across this book at Heathrow. I was on my way to Bangkok for a month. I nearly bought it, but I decided (after reading the first 10 pages) I couldn't possibly read this on the flight. A couple of weeks later I was on a Thai island and I had finished all my other reading material so I ventured to the nearest secondhand bookshop. The Damage Done is, unsurprisingly, in every bookshop I came across. I decided to buy it and took it back to my cabin on the beach. I didn't put it down until I finished it, the trauma from the very first page until the very last page made it a restless night. I will never forget this book, but even more worrying is the fact that Warren Fellows will never forget his time in the Bangkok Hilton because for him The Damage has been Done.
The Damage Done, Warren Fellows, Pan Macmillan Australia 1997.