Kiwi’s prison plight ends: Thai hellhole release brings a breath of relief

Picture courtesy of New Zealand Herald.

A Kiwi national who thought he was going to die after being imprisoned last year for the possession of drugs can finally breathe a sigh of relief after being released from his Thai hellhole.

Ari Michael Salinger, son of prominent New Zealand climate change expert Dr Jim Salinger, was arrested in Patong in September last year for the possession of two ecstasy tablets.

The 45 year old, initially released on bail, expected to pay a small fine and then be sent on his way. Instead, the New Zealand national was incarcerated for several months in what he described as a hellhole, his worst nightmare.

Salinger was cuffed, starved and forced to sleep naked on prison floors in Patong, Phuket, and Bangkok prisons. He said, it was worse than any movie depiction and, he thought he was going to die.

“I thought I would be killed.”

Kiwi's prison plight ends: Thai hellhole release brings a breath of relief | News by Thaiger
Ari Michael Salinger. Picture courtesy of Alex Burton

Pre-Covid-19 Salinger moved to Thailand from the Philippines because he believed his cryptocurrency business would thrive in the Land of Smiles, reported the New Zealand Herald.

“The business was great when I came here, I made a lot of money and then Covid hit. I was unable to go back to the Philippines to my partner Vanessa and our son.”

The Kiwi’s cryptocurrency business tanked during Covid and, as if things couldn’t get any worse, suspicious Patong Police picked up and arrested Salinger as he was leaving his Patong hotel for drug possession.

He was carrying two ecstasy pills he now claims weren’t his, even though he initially pleaded guilty to the charges.

Salinger claims he was humiliated by Patong Police Station officers.

“In the interview room, they tightened my handcuffs and refused to even let me use the toilet. I have irritable bowel syndrome and they did not care. I told them I’ll have to relieve myself here if they won’t let me use the toilet.

“So, six officers took me to the toilet. I requested to have my handcuffs loosened so I could pull my pants up but they wouldn’t let me. I asked for one of them to help me pull them up but they did not offer any help.

“They made me walk half naked with my pants down all the way through the public corridors, they pushed me, made me fall over, they were all laughing and taking a video recording. It was very humiliating.”

Kiwi's prison plight ends: Thai hellhole release brings a breath of relief | News by Thaiger
Inside the Thai Immigration Detention Centre, Picture courtesy of New Zealand Herald.

Salinger said he was initially denied access to a lawyer and the New Zealand Embassy and had to spend the night locked up. Patong Police provided the Kiwi with some counsel and he was pressured to please guilty.

“Three times I pleaded not guilty. Then one court date, they said we have a great deal for you, if you plead guilty everything will be fine.

“The lawyers told me if I plead guilty, I would get no sentence and if I plead not guilty and it was proven otherwise, I would get two years in prison, so I decided to plead guilty so I could leave Thailand for good.”

So far, so good, or so Salinger thought. The nightmare continued for the Kiwi.

“At that time, I did not know there were life-threatening situations in the IDC (Immigration Detention Centre). It was a nightmare.”

Salinger paid his unnamed fine and was scheduled to go to the Phuket IDC on May 8. He remained at Patong Police Station for another week.

“It was like a nightmare going back there. They took all the clothes off me. It was like out of a horror movie.”

Salinger wasn’t the only inmate going through a personal nightmare. He saw a female prisoner being treated badly in the cell opposite him.

“I think she was making a lot of noise so they handcuffed her next to the toilet. There were five others in that cell.”

Kiwi's prison plight ends: Thai hellhole release brings a breath of relief | News by Thaiger
Salinger and his Filipina girlfriend Vanessa Pagarigan in Phuket.

Salinger had no clothes, nothing to eat, and he was starving. He gave money to a guard to get him some food but he pocketed the money. He didn’t complain after witnessing the treatment dished out to the handcuffed woman opposite him and hearing a story about the death of an Australian man at Patong Police Station two weeks earlier.

Salinger endured another four nights and five days in a Patong Police Station prison cell before being transferred to Phuket IDC.

Salinger’s girlfriend had arrived in Thailand at this point and was bribing prison officers to take food to her boyfriend.

Then news came he was being transferred to a Bangkok detention centre.

“I was taken with 28 people in a police van, we were all chained and handcuffed to one another. It was a 13-hour trip. It was very hot and if we had to use the toilet, we were given a small plastic bottle.”

The Bangkok centre was a large basketball court crammed with 400-500 people and the food was inedible.

“There were barbed wires around the fences. The only good thing about it was we could walk a little but every other day someone would get sick.”

Salinger’s belief that he would be soon out of the hellhole gave him hope to hang on but there were more obstacles in his way.

A criminal conviction and his ADHD condition meant that he had to pass a medical check and a risk assessment before an airline would accept him onboard.

Several times he requested a doctor in IDC but only when news of his detention broke was he provided with a nurse, which again delayed the process.

“ADHD affects work and study, not being a passenger on a flight.”

Salinger then wrote a desperate email to the New Zealand Embassy saying…

“Please just stop delaying and book the flight!

“The embassy kept on telling me my flights were confirmed. But at that stage, I had lost hope, I thought I’d be stuck here like many others for years.

“I was sleeping on the floor, with minimal clothes, less food, watching all other foreigners leave except me, I was losing confidence in the embassy.

The day Salinger got the news that his flight was finally booked and he was out of his hellhole, he did not sleep the whole night.

“I did not want to miss my chance, because I know if I overslept the guards would not care, I absolutely did not want to miss my flight.”

The 45 year old Kiwi says he is now trying to rebuild his life after he landed in New Zealand yesterday.

“Last night I had a good sleep but it is still a long journey, the prices have gone up here and I have to rebuild my life.”

Kiwi's prison plight ends: Thai hellhole release brings a breath of relief | News by Thaiger
Salinger enjoying a haircut and shave. Picture courtesy of Alex Burton.

World News

Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.

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