If you tuned in to Angela Carnegie’s incredible story on Locked Up Abroad: Busted in Bangkok, I’m sure you have questions. We checked in with Angela to get answers and see what life is like for her today and here’s what she had to say:
After Andrew discovered you were in Bangkok and called you at your hotel, did you have second thoughts about going through with it at that point?
I was very torn about what I was doing, but I had already been in Thailand for a while and didn’t have any money and knew that I had bills stacking up at home, I thought that if I could just get through this then it would catch up things financially, and make things easier for us to have a “fresh start” together… I was also afraid that if I backed out at that point I would have no way to get home and get back to a normal life. The last words I spoke to him were I love you and I’ll see you in about 3 or 4 days.
At the beginning of your prison sentence, you learned the hard way that showing the bottom of your foot to someone is rude in Thai culture. What other cultural differences did you learn about during your time in prison?
There are many many differences in the South East Asian culture and that of North America, apart from pointing your foot, or walking over someone, it is also considered rude to be over some one’s head, basically if you are taller than someone and you tower over them you must sit in their presence. Also, the Thais have a philosophy that no matter what you feel inside you just smile and pretend. There are a lot of differences… huge obstacles to over come at times
What were the conditions like in the prison?
The conditions were very crowded, dirty, and unsanitary. We showered outside rain or shine, often times standing in floating sewage which overflowed from the sewage canal that ran all around the edge of the prison. You were not supplied with any of your needs, uniforms, toiletries, writing materials, medicines, nothing… if you had no money there to survive life was just that much harder. The government food that was provided was barely edible and often had rocks or bugs in it. After it was “served” onto metal trays it often sat on the table for more than an hour before the prisoners actually got to it. During that time birds would sit and eat off the side of the tray…There were huge rats all over the prison, hundreds of cats who were not always the cute and cuddly variety, but often mangy and diseased. We were often sleeping next to to AIDS patients, exposed to TB, Leprosy, pink eye, constant colds and flu, various skin rashes and infections, and pretty much any other disease you can imagine. There were times of water shortage, exposure to extreme heat almost constantly, power outages at night while in the room with 200+ other people so no fans or running water even for toilets… It is nothing that someone who hasn’t experienced can really imagine… ever.
Were you able to communicate or exchange letters with Andrew, or any of your friends or family while you were incarcerated?
I did exchange letters with some family and friends, we were allowed to write three one-page letters per week. The mail was often backed up weeks and months at a time basically just to torment the foreigners because they knew it was the only real happiness we had. I did not write to Andrew, the only address I had for him was his Mother’s home and I was embarrassed and ashamed at how his family would view me should I try to reach out to him. He ran into a mutual friend twice, who knew where I was and how to reach me but refused to give him the information.
It took a lot of mental fortitude to keep yourself going for almost nine years after facing a life sentence. After your breakdown at the prison, what kept you from succumbing to those feelings of pain and helplessness again?
I got a job at the prison bakery and basically buried myself in work and trying to adapt to the Thai way of doing things. Once I came to terms with the fact that I was going to be there for a very long time I just tried to put my head down and do it. Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. I learned to find faith in God when I had no more strength of my own. I had friends in the prison that I spent time with and we tried to be supportive and encouraging to each other… that was sometimes hard because we were all in an awful situation… that in itself was often what gave us the strength to support each other through various bad times.
What realization did helping the heroin addict help you come to regarding your own situation?
It wasn’t like I didn’t know heroin was bad, but it really hit me that this drug that I was trying to bring into the US was so very powerful and destructive. I really got how much of a hold it could have on someone’s life and what it could do. So helping her along with the fact that I had seen so much pain and misery over the years simply over this drug… it just really hit me that I wanted no part of something like that ever again. I wanted to help people, not help destroy their lives. I wanted to uplift people and show them that you CAN survive and you CAN face your demons and you CAN get through it… It was then that I finally began to feel like I was going to be OK when I returned home. It was then that I knew that I would never go back to the type of life I was living again. It was then that I really started to mentally prepare for going home and all the challenges I would face. It was then that I also realized that there were far worse fates that being in prison in Thailand… I never ever wanted to be a prisoner in my own mind or body. I was ready to be FREE…not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
How did this experience change you as a person?
This experience helped me become the woman I am today. I see life differently than most..I don’t worry about the “little things” so to speak, I focus on life and happiness on a large scale, not the small day to day trials and tribulations that we often have in life. I learned to appreciate every thing in this life no matter how small. There are still moments today almost ten years later when just simple things like the ability to flush the toilet, or open the refrigerator, or taking a hot bath are the simplest sweetest pleasures. I appreciate the friends and family I have, I appreciate the fact that I can get up and go to work everyday and work towards improving my life constantly. I cherish my life, I appreciate my life, and I will never stop trying to better my life.
Can you share a bit about your life now? What are you up to?
I am married to Andrew, and we are raising our son and trying to teach him and help him to be the best person he possibly can. I manage a small business and spend time with friends and family whenever possible. We have a wonderful full life that isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s perfect for us! I try to inspire others with my story when I can, I try to remind people to cherish the small things they have and not worry so much about what they don’t. I am happier than I have ever been in my life and I know that is because of what I endured, and learned during the 9 years I spent in prison.
Do you have any regrets?
People ask me that often… I regret so much the pain and sorrow I put my family through, all the worry that they had to endure. I regret never getting to see my Grandfather again before he passed away and being able to show him that I was finally OK in life. I am not proud of the choices I made or where they led me, but I can say with 100% conviction that while I am not proud of who I WAS I am very proud of who I AM. I proud of who I am as a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I know that I over came what I needed to in order to be a better person, and that I do not regret at all.