Australian drug trafficker breaks silence on hellish 7 years in Thai prison

An Australian woman convicted of drug trafficking has broken her silence about her hellish seven years behind bars in a maximum-security prison in Bangkok, Thailand.

Holly Deane-Johns was spared the death sentence and handed 31 years in prison in 2003 after pleading guilty to attempting to post 10.6 grams of heroin from Thailand to Australia in 2000 when she was 29 years old. She is now 51.

Deane-Johns spent seven years in horrendous conditions in the cramped Lard Yao Women’s Prison in Bangkok before she was transferred to a prison in Perth in 2007.

The Australian said she was shoved into a tiny five-by-six metre cell with 120 women.

The prisoners slept piled on top of each other like sardines and would lose their spot if they got up to use the toilet, she said.

On several occasions, Deane-Johns said she woke up with other people’s period blood on her. That’s how tightly the women were packed in the hot cell.

She often found stones, hair and maggots in her food but sometimes just opted to go hungry because she couldn’t bare it.

Deane-Johns told the West Australian

“Everything was harsh, even things as small as a toothache could turn into something big.”

One woman ripped a rotten tooth out of her mouth with a set of pliers, she said.

The heroin trafficker revealed the most heartbreaking moment in the prison when she lost her friend Aong after a long battle with AIDS…

“I watched from my cell as two guys picked her up in a bag and swung her three times before throwing her into a truck like a sack of potatoes. You could hear the thud and I was like, ‘That’s my mate.’”

Being the only Aussie in the prison, Deane-Johns said she wanted to blend in so she dyed her black, learned Thai and sold food, toiletries and silk flowers that she made to inmates.

Deane-Johns even reached out to Schapelle Corby, an Australian woman convicted of importing drugs into Indonesia when she was found with 4.2 kilograms of cannabis inside her boogie board bag at Bali Airport in 2004.

From inside her jail cell in Bangkok, Deane-Johns wrote a letter advising Corby to remain silent. She doesn’t know if Corby ever got the letter.

Corby served nine years imprisoned in Bali for a crime she still denies to this day. She says she doesn’t know how the cannabis got into her luggage.

A western Australian woman, Debbie Singh, helped Deane-Johns get transferred to an Australian prison. Debbie’s brother John Singh was the first ever Australian to be transferred from a Thai prison in 2003 after he was jailed for fraud in Thailand in 1997.

In 2007, Deane-Johns was able to be transferred to Bandyup Prison in Perth thanks to an extradition treaty signed between Thailand and Australia in 2002.

Australian inmates in Thailand can be sent to serve their sentence in their home country so long as their repatriation is paid for and they finish their sentence behind bars.

Former Premier of Western Australia Carmen Lawrence, Labour Party member Graham Edwards and former MP John Hyde also helped in transferring Deane-Johns to Bandyup.

In 2012, Deane-Johns was released from prison. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following her release. Now, she works as an Uber driver.

One day, Deane-Johns hopes to share her full story, which she has recorded in a document called “Holly’s Hell – My Long Road Home.”

Lard Yao Women’s Prison is part of Klong Prem Central Prison, a maximum security prison in Bangkok’s Chatuchak district housing up to 20,000 inmates including those on death row.

Two weeks ago, a 23 year old South African woman currently imprisoned in Nakhon Si Thammarat for drug trafficking wrote an open letter about how it feels to be locked up in Thailand.


Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.