Billy Moore – Surviving Being Locked up in Thailand’s Bangkok Hilton (interview)
“I knew that being involved in drugs was a dangerous game. (But) I was careful and changed my phone and sim card once a week. As my paranoia increased, I had strong feelings of being watched, or followed. Fortunately I was able to shake these feelings off, and I convinced myself that it had to be the ya ba.
I began to believe I was bullet-proof, one of the untouchables. I thought I was too clever for the police. I never carried drugs on my person, was never involved in selling them to the public and kept a low profile. Not many people were aware of my lifestyle . . .”
Growing up amongst the endless poverty of 70s council estates rigidly divided into ganglands’, Liverpool raised amateur boxer turned Thai kickboxer Billy Moore embraced his environment’s brutality ending up ‘in and out of jail since I was seventeen: dangerous driving, burglary, robbery, violence, drugs.’
Detailing his life bluntly in his gripping recent autobiography ‘A Prayer Before Dawn- A Nightmare in Thailand’ he’s candid about how dangerous he was an an out-of-control drug addicted criminal with nothing (or so he suspected) left to lose.
“Years ago in British prisons, I would be called mad, nuts, lunatic and other names associated with psychopaths,” he recalls.
“This made me feel important, feared and respected. It sounds sad but being just Billy wasn’t scary enough.”
Though the book begins with him protesting on the roof of a British prison, as its title suggests, its main emphasis is on his Thailand experiences both before and after he ended up in Klong Prem- the notoriously harsh jail better known as the Bangkok Hilton (where he served just over two years),
Published in 2012, the book has already been picked by British movie company Hurricane Films for movie adaptation and details his experiences as a Thai kick boxer and eventual methamphetamine (ya ba) midlevel drug dealer.
Admitting ‘it was much later on in my life that I learned the kind of really bad things that can happen to you in prison’, the begins the book with a chilling depiction of one of his worst encounters.
“A young Thai, no older than twenty-five, ran past me, his face showing pure terror. He slowed and turned to look at his assailant, who then passed me swinging his metal chair, striking the victim’s head. He lost balance, slipped, and hit the concrete with a loud thud. Another man appeared with a nine-inch knife, and stood over the young man’s body.
A crowd gathered; even trusties stood and watched as the older man repeatedly plunged the knife into the young Thai’s flesh. It wasn’t done in frenzy; it was slow, cold, and calculated.”
“Still no one helped or attempted to intervene. They all just stared, while a few shouted teng kao and kaa man.
I knew enough Thai to understand that the crowd was shouting “stab him” and “kill it”. The knifeman kept thrusting the blade into the young man’s body, each time sinking it in up to the handle. The knife went into his neck, lower back, chest, legs, and stomach; so many times I lost count.
I stood only a few feet away, watching in fascination and feeling guilty. Finally the victim lay still and quiet, in a pool of his own blood. It was horrible. I felt bad for not helping. But what could I do? This was a Thai problem. And I was a foreigner, one of many in Klong Prem prison . . .”
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): When exactly did you decide to write the book?
Billy Moore: “I decided to write it when I was in the prison in Bangkok. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing; murder, rape, corruption and the inhumane degradation. You couldn’t even invent or conjure up the things I saw and I just felt it was important to write my experiences down on notes that soon developed into a book.”
Skrufff: How did you tackle the process of actually writing it? (From reading the book I’m guessing you didn’t have much formal education as a kid?)
Billy Moore: “I began with the rawest of memories and fleeted back and forth in time I wrote it in my own unique style and remained humble. That was difficult, yes, but I didn’t want to glamorize the horrors I experienced.”
Skrufff: Going into your background: as a teenager in Liverpool: how much was club culture part of your life? Where were you going out?
Billy Moore: “The State was big when I was young in the late 80s and in the early 90′s Pink Echoes was the choice of the day. Spend £25 and you were twisted then I’d end up at Quadrant Park, the Underground and the Coconut Grove so club culture was a massive part of my young life with plenty of raves and blues parties. But I soon developed an appetite for more and different drugs.”
Skrufff: The book starts by describing some of your experiences in British jails; you refer in the book to fighting on prison landings and seem quite comfortable there: what made British jails then something you can handle? (what stopped you from being frightened of committing crimes such as dealing drugs in Thailand?)
Billy Moore: “The drugs themselves took over and fear left my soul. Finding and using drugs became my primary purpose and nothing else mattered. I boxed as a kid which gave me the ability to handle myself plus having an over inflated ego kept me in denial about the horrors of prison life in the UK. Being able to fight and survive were my key life skills.”
Skrufff: When you got to Thailand it sounds like you’d consciously stepped over the edge at one point and somehow knew you’d be eventually busted: is there anything you could have done differently to maintain your freedom indefinitely?
Billy Moore: “I could have been more vigilant and used the knowledge and tools I had but I just chose the easiest way out which was fantasy to escape the unbearable feelings I was experiencing whenever I stopped using drugs. The good news is that you get your feelings back when you stop; the bad news is ,you get your feelings back. I just didn’t know how to express them appropriately.”
Skrufff: What stopped you from jumping on a plane and quitting while you were ahead?
Billy Moore: “The fantasy of this new world I had entered and the fear of reality.”
Skrufff: Being a kick boxer and clearly confident of your fighting abilities, when did you first feel genuine fear after you’d been arrested?
Billy Moore: “When I was placed in a cell with 70 other Thai prisoners who didn’t speak my language. I wasn’t afraid of them I was afraid of myself and my reactions.”
Skrufff: There’s been quite a few books from expats in jail there; did you meet many others admitting they were writing?
Billy Moore: “No, the people I met had no thoughts of writing, only surviving.”
Skrufff: When you came back to the UK prison to serve out that last 90 days of your 3 year sentence, how much were you challenged by fellow inmates there? How did your experiences in Bangkok change the way you behaved back in the UK prison?
Billy Moore: “I was left alone and went about my business quietly. My behaviour changed, I respected the staff and was grateful to be on home ground.”
Skrufff: It almost seems like you got rehabilitated from being so shocked by the brutality of the Bangkok jail: might you have been deterred from a life of crime if British jails had been similarly dreadful?
Billy Moore: “I guess jail is what you make it to survive, you either need to be tough or clever but that rules out clever criminals because there are no clever criminals banged up. I doubt if it would make any difference if Thai prisons were the same as British prisons it would just breed a different type of criminal. What woke me up is that I no longer wanted to just survive, I wanted to live and to achieve that I needed to change so writing helped me believe in myself.”
Skrufff: How did you set about getting a book deal after being released? And how did you manage to avoid slipping back into crime?
Billy Moore: “I wrote to many different publishers and sent a synopsis of my story to them and one guy got back to me; Derek Sharron an American publisher based in Pattaya Thailand who helped me with my story and has encouraged me to seek publishers in the UK. I now have a contract with Maverick House publishers who launch the book in September.”
Skruff: The book’s been optioned for a Hollywood film: how did that come about and what’s happening with it?
Billy Moore: Yes, we have a director Jean Stéphane, the director of Johnny Mad Dog lined up, and a potential cast. Apparently Charlie Hunnam is keen as is James Mcavoy. Nothing is concrete yet but finance from France has helped. Hurricane Films are developing the film and pitching A prayer Before Dawn worldwide with massive interest from big companies, so its a process I’m positive about.”
Skrufff: What have been the key lessons you’ve learned from the whole experience?
Billy Moore: “To think of the consequences before I act.”
Jonty Skrufff: https://twitter.com/djjontyskrufff