I Spent 6 Months In A Thai Prison For Shoplifting. Here's How It Changed My Life.

In January 2018, I left my house in Olympia, Washington to embark on a two-year international journey that I hoped would assist me be taught extra concerning the world after which about myself. I had simply divorced an exquisite man – and the equally great life that went with him – after being married for six years.

I left the whole lot I knew – and the whole lot I couldn't slot in a 60 liter backpack – as a result of I spotted that my possible way was to journey alone and achieve my information of yoga and holistic well being share. I booked a ticket for my first vacation spot, Thailand, and as I flew into my new life, I used to be full of religion within the unknown, trusting that I used to be honoring my true path. Little did I do know that an ill-advised determination would transform my view of the whole lot I believed I knew about myself and myself.

For the primary week of my journey, it was 2:00 p.m. on a Friday and I used to be in Pai, a bustling hippie vacationer hub in northern Thailand. I went into a store that I hadn't observed throughout my 4 days on the town. The door was lined with a vibrant silk fabric, and inside have been cabinets of handmade jewellery and leather-based items. The shows have been lovely and clearly had been sorted with nice care.

I bear in mind the subsequent few moments with absolute readability. The proprietor sat together with his again to me at his desk, which was proper in the course of the store. I used to be the one buyer, and whereas looking I observed a fantastically handcrafted leather-based belt pouch studded with Laborit and Citrate. I preferred it and took it off the shelf and put it in my pocket. I say this casually, however my abdomen lurches on the reminiscence. I grew up stealing small issues – apples and particular person rolls of bathroom paper – after I got here from a poor house and was typically hungry as a baby and compelled to surrender easy pleasures (and even requirements). The must survive quickly turned a vice that continued into my grownup years. I solely did make-up on Walmart out of behavior, however this was the primary time I'd been stolen in an unbiased retailer.

His request for what was in my pocket solely took a second, his fanny pack took one other one, after which I noticed an expression of disbelief flash on his face. He grabbed my wrist and in simply three seconds my future modified dramatically.

The proprietor turned his head, absolutely registered my continued presence, and stood up. One have a look at me and he appeared to know precisely what I had achieved. His request for what was in my pocket solely took a second, his fanny pack took one other one, after which I noticed an expression of disbelief flash on his face. He grabbed my wrist and in simply three seconds my future modified dramatically.

The police have been referred to as, together with the entire household of the proprietor and the homeowners of neighboring companies – Thailand is a big group so there have been many individuals round after I used to be stolen. I used to be taken to the closest police station a couple of miles away, the place my mug shot and fingerprints have been taken. The arresting policeman suggested me to plead responsible – and I did – as a result of I used to be caught red-handed and since he mentioned I used to be speculated to face a small nice and be free after simply two days in detention.

He has lied. I spent the night time on the police station in a unclean cell with two different ladies arrested for allegedly smuggling methamphetamine throughout the border with Myanmar. The subsequent morning, I used to be taken to a small courtroom, the place I appeared with out a lawyer, and sentenced to 6 months in jail within the close by city of Mae Hong Son. After my conviction, I used to be denied the best to a lawyer, to name my household, or to pay bail. I used to be solely allowed to name a buddy in Oregon who I reconnected with whereas we have been each touring by Pai. She reached out to my ex-husband, who contacted the US consulate and did the whole lot potential to get me out of Thailand. But he couldn't assist in any manner apart from protecting in contact with the consulate and protecting my family and friends knowledgeable of my well-being.

So I used to be despatched to jail for six months for stealing $ 200 price of products. Perhaps this appears harsh to some folks – and it could not appear harsh sufficient to others – however regardless, in Thailand the extent of punishment for a prison is predicated on the ethical worth of the crime, and in a Buddhist nation stealing is a giant deal.

Emilia Semrau

The cell at Pai Police Station the place Zemrau was held for 5 days earlier than she was taken to Mae Hong Son Prison.

Before I used to be despatched to jail, I used to be scared and hoped that my time there wouldn't be as horrible as I imagined. I anticipated unbearably soiled dwelling circumstances, lice and routine diseases, sharing house with harmful criminals, an entire lack of communication with family members, inedible meals, a language barrier and the necessity to develop thick pores and skin shortly. When I arrived in jail 5 days after my arrest, I used to be relieved to find that solely a fraction of my fears turned my actuality.

During my six months in detention, I used to be with 79 different nonviolent ladies, virtually all of whom have been current for meth – smoking, trafficking, or smuggling – associated crimes. I sewed floral embroidery on shirts for 9 hours every single day – a job that was required of all inmates. I ate the identical pork soup and rice meal every single day. I showered each afternoon with all the opposite inmates with a small plastic bowl that I dipped into a protracted moat in a hand-sewn bathe gown. I slept shoulder to shoulder with the opposite ladies as I lay on a single folded blanket and laid the onerous concrete flooring with brilliant lights shining by my closed eyelids. I used to be handled pretty and given plenty of house as I used to be the one foreigner there and the opposite ladies in jail saved misunderstanding me.

I shortly realized that every single day in jail handed because it did earlier than and my life was stagnant. After my optimistic "This is not so bad" method that I held onto for my first week light, I made a decision I wanted to focus my psychological vitality on self growth and made the house for train, yoga, and meditation in my new routine.

I discovered 4 books in English on Buddhist meditation within the jail's dusty library and devoured every one 3 times. The books describe the apply of vipassana, also called mindfulness meditation – or the commentary and information of the thoughts – which is alleged to assist get rid of struggling by eradicating cravings. When I used to be in jail for theft, which if you consider it, is a product of greed and lust, I made a decision to commit my time to incorporating vipassana into my life. I had meditated many instances earlier than touring to Thailand, however I solely felt a way of calm and lightness and interior calm for a short while earlier than it left me. As I meditated in jail, I discovered that I may go a lot deeper as a result of I used to be so determined for peace.

Semrau on a hike to the "White Buddha" in Pai. This photo was taken two days before she was arrested.

Courtesy of Emilia Semrau

Semrau on a hike to the "White Buddha" in Pai. This picture was taken two days earlier than she was arrested.

Shortly after participating in day by day meditation apply, my understanding of "self" modified fully. I quickly got here to consider that there is no such thing as a struggling within the current second. It solely exists once we take into consideration the previous and the longer term – or with the wanting, analyzing and worrying that usually comes with fascinated with them. I spotted that the supply of my many earlier issues was greed – my best expression of want.

I had spent a lot of my life wanting extra and I spotted that my want took many kinds, together with gluttony, selfishness, and fixed dissatisfaction with the abundance I already had. I began writing about my meditation apply and the questions of who I used to be and the way I had lived my life earlier than I used to be arrested.

Day 15 of 180. Some questions that got here up throughout my morning meditation as we speak: Why am I egocentric? Why is there a lot resistance to my giving after I know that I get pleasure from it a lot? Why do I lie compulsively and make up an existence that I haven't lived – and that I don't wish to dwell? Why do I steal after I've all the time had sufficient? Why is it so troublesome for me to present when that’s my most important objective? It feels good to put in writing these items to confess their existence. I lie. I steal. I take. These are the issues I wish to put apart.

After a couple of weeks, I felt calmer, much less indignant, and even much less determined as my time in jail handed. I understood that it doesn't matter the place my physique is – struggling and happiness solely exist within the thoughts. Realizing that helped me regain my freedom, if not bodily, then at the least internally. For the primary time in my life, I used to be capable of entry my reminiscence financial institution, each second I had lived earlier than. I may shut my eyes and be on high of a mountain I'd visited within the Annapurna vary in Nepal or snuggled into that hammock on San Juan Island the place I noticed orcas taking part in in entrance of me. My physique was in jail, sweating and feeling uncomfortable, however my thoughts was elsewhere and my coronary heart was with all of my family members.

Spiritually touring to my favourite moments in my life helped me keep wholesome whereas I used to be serving my sentence. I meditated every single day it doesn’t matter what distractions I used to be uncovered to. I practiced yoga every single day, even when it was just some solar salutations, regardless of how little house I had or what awkward corners I pushed my physique in order that I wouldn't kick anybody within the face.

I saved attempting to make progress. I counted my gratitude and practiced love and kindness to maintain the stress of being locked in a international jail at bay. Still, it didn't all the time work. On my 42nd day in jail, I wrote the next in my journal:

The solar is shining, the birds are singing, I’m fed, rested, clothed, with house to stretch my thoughts and train my physique, however I’m dissatisfied and lengthy for extra – extra meals, folks, journey, freedom – as a result of fixed chatter of the thoughts and its manifestations of the feelings and wishes that defile and confuse the thoughts. Why does the thoughts must need? I might be content material with this easy existence if it weren't for the thoughts.

I knew that at some point my sentence can be served and I might be launched, I simply needed to maintain on. Over time, I turned grateful for the smallest issues, for the simplicity of dwelling sparsely, and for a way a lot worse life may have been in these six months in jail.

I’ve realized how dangerous an extreme quantity of greed and want may be – not solely to myself, but additionally to the folks I’ve stolen or in any other case harmed in my complete life – and the way pointless they’re to true abundance .

I began instructing English to a number of the different inmates in alternate for Thai therapeutic massage classes, and on the weekends I taught yoga. I realized thai. I’ve realized how dangerous an extreme quantity of greed and want may be – not solely to myself, but additionally to the folks I’ve stolen or in any other case harmed in my complete life – and the way pointless they’re to true abundance . I've realized which elements of me I don't like and the way I can work on altering them. I found calm my thoughts and realized that karma is actual and actually must be revered with a purpose to lead a productive life.

During my six months in jail, I typically dreamed of after I can be launched and what I might do if I have been free. In the start my daydreams have been full of the meals I might eat, the locations I might go, and the folks I might be reunited with – all very affordable issues to dream of when you’ve got 1000’s of Is locked in miles from the facilities of house. But as I continued to serve my sentence, I started to grasp that there’s much more to life than these items, and I promised myself to be glad about what I had, regardless of how little it may appear at any given time, and my stability restore karmic financial institution by giving again at any time when I may.

I used to be launched from jail on July 24th and safely returned to America on a nine-day journey. Since arriving house, I’ve continued my journey to heal myself and, at any time when potential, others by training and instructing yoga and meditation. I’m now far more grateful for the straightforward issues in life and never solely have I finished shoplifting, I all the time attempt to solely preserve what I want – and nothing extra.

I consider my time in jail gave me the chance and house to find out about myself and do the work to kind out what didn't serve me. My sentence was actually a simply karmic consequence, it was rightly deserved and I’m taking what I’ve realized from these unbelievable six months and utilizing all of it to get the very best out of the remainder of my life.

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