I escaped from the hardest prison in the world when threatened with execution
David McMillan was the first Westerner to escape Thailand’s infamous “Bangkok Hilton” prison when he made an offer for freedom using a hacksaw, porn magazine and ‘an umbrella.
The convicted drug dealer was assaulted in Klong Prem Central Prison on two counts of narcotics and was facing the death penalty when he decided to escape.
David has since changed his life, cleaned up from a life of crime, and is now an author and has appeared in television programs such as Danny Dyer’s Deadliest Men.
Now aged 65, he wishes he had made better use of his youth and is “ashamed” of not having done something right rather than getting involved in the drug trade which almost cost him his life. jail.
The prison is ironically called the “Bangkok Hilton” – a mocking headline because the lock-up is anything but a five-star hotel.
But with the help of a homemade ladder, a hacksaw, a porn magazine and an umbrella, he managed to escape.
Recounting his ordeal to The Sun Online, David said, “I came to the night when I knew it wasn’t going to get better. I started cutting through the top bars of my cell.
“Every hit of the hacksaw on the bar made sounds, so it was only a bar and a half cut. I couldn’t wait any longer.
In 1993, David was arrested in Bangkok’s Chinatown and charged with trafficking heroin.
He was convicted and thrown into the “Hilton” – a maximum security prison with up to 20,000 inmates, electrified concrete walls and a 16-meter ditch as a perimeter.
Conditions were rotten, according to David, and he recalls that the dorms were packed with 150 people and a single toilet, lights on 24/7 and constant noise.
“There were no beds,” he recalls, “and everyone was shackled around their ankles.”
The only way to survive was to bribe prison guards and “administrators” – inmates who were allowed to perform certain guard duties after gaining the trust of prison staff.
One evening, when David was having chains nailed to his ankle, he paid a trustee with cigarettes to “not be careful with the mallet and break your ankle.”
David eventually settled in and paid $ 200 to move to a more spacious prison cell, where he had his own prison guards and assistants when told that a moratorium had been lifted on executions of foreign prisoners .
He started to panic.
David spent the next 18 months thinking about his plans “moment by moment”, saying that “every object” he came across he would try to think about how to use it in his escape plan.
He put in place a “step-by-step” plan to scale the 16-foot-high prison walls and used his comrades outside to aid him in his daring escape.
He remembers coming up with a plan to smuggle hacksaw blades into the prison and order an accomplice to place them in a Fortnum & Mason care package filled with spreads and exotic jams.
Hidden deep inside were taped cable ties and a scroll with Max Ehrmann’s poem Desiderata from 1920 – translated as “things wanted or needed” in Latin, ironically – which had the blades stored in rods. ankle top and bottom.
“[My accomplice] had taken the trouble to take the dowel and put it in a radial arm saw and cut a groove along it and wrap the blades in foil so the x-ray didn’t show the teeth , then sealed it, painted it, lacquered it, and made it look vaguely religious.
“We knew we had to throw something in there that the guards would confiscate and shake their minds so they wouldn’t think about it, so I said to my assistant, ‘Go get the most rank, but some pornography. high quality you can find ‘. “
It worked, and the prison guards confiscated the X-rated magazines and put the package back in David’s lap.
“I could see the dawn”
Packed with a homemade bamboo ladder with frames like steps, khaki blue pants, a pop-up umbrella and a fake gun, David was ready to take a step.
And in August 1996, he pushed his way through the bars of his prison window, hoisted a makeshift shelf out of his window, and got out.
“I fell using straps from the army boot factory as a rope,” he said, and walked to the nearest factory where he built his makeshift ladder in bamboo and used it to climb the walls.
David says he remembers being led by the strange smells coming from the infirmary, where AIDS patients were left to die, and was then led to an outside wall.
“I could see dawn just as I stepped through the outside wall and passed the electricity with a few tingles and fell.
“I was going to swim in the moat – it was an original plan – but I realized I was going to swim to where the guards lived, so I walked around the facade to the main entrance and I crossed the small footbridge.
“I had taken an umbrella with me – a black umbrella, which was also in the prison – and I had long khaki pants on the theory that I could look like a guard coming home late to work, which they sometimes did.
“In addition, fleeing prisoners do not walk around with an umbrella over their heads. “
It was 6 a.m. and the sun was about to rise when David managed to walk past a watchtower full of sleepy guards and encountered his own prison guard.
He recognized the “shoes and strides” of some of the guards in his detention center and knew it would be a matter of time before they noticed that he had left his cell.
At that point, David “reached the last lap of my bag” – his umbrella – and hid his face under it as he continued toward the front door.
“I thought back to that prison and thought to myself, ‘Poor bastards, they’re here forever,'” he said.
Once free, David was on a mission to board the next plane from Thailand.
Before his escape, he arranged for a Sino-Laotian prison buddy to cost him $ 1,200 and have a suitcase full of clothes left in a locker at the airport, then passed the receipt to smuggling into the prison.
He picked it up in the toilet.
“I jump in a few cabs to disguise where I’m going. I have a key. I put it in a door of an apartment that I had never seen before and I go and I go to the toilet and I feel in the back and there is the promise to have a passport », He says.
After a few minutes of wrangling, he pulled out a package and was “astonished” by what he saw.
“When I pulled out the envelope I thought I would find someone’s old dry cleaning bill, but of course there was my own face staring at me.”
David got to the airport and tried to book a long-haul flight when one of his two ATM cards reached its maximum.
Desperate to escape the Thai authorities, he instead bought a ticket to Singapore.
Once on the plane, David remembers the pilot on the intercom saying there would be a delay because a passenger was late.
The last step
The Briton insisted his time was up and Thai prison guards were swarming around the plane preparing to arrest him.
“But no, the doors closed,” and the plane took off, David said.
He spent some time in Singapore before traveling to the UK via Pakistan.
At that time, he was on Interpol’s Red List of Wanted Criminals and remained in Pakistan for a few years, where he worked for a close friend and was eventually behind bars again on other charges of drug trafficking, of which he was subsequently acquitted.
He was released and returned to the UK in 1999, where he was again arrested in Orpington, south-east London, in 2012 for allegedly stitching 35g of heroin into the liner of a shirt and mailed it home.
While serving a sentence at Wandsworth Prison, Thai authorities withdrew their extradition request, clearing David of a death sentence.
Now David is a free man and says he is no longer in the drug business.
He wrote a book about his 40-year career in the narcotics trade – including 20 in prison – titled Unforgiving Destiny and now lives a fairly simple life with his 15-year-old partner, Jeanette, and sets up CCTV for a living.
David still thinks all drugs should be legal, but admits it would have been better if he had taken “an opportunity to do things that help the world.”
“Of course, if I hadn’t lived 40 years in smuggling and escape, I wouldn’t have had experiences that few people have ever had, and so I know and appreciate some rare perspectives.”