Billy Moore, from Liverpool, was jailed for three years after police stormed his apartment on a drugs bust back in the late 2000s.
But despite having spent a number of years behind bars back home, nothing could prepare him for the brutality that he experienced at Chiang Mai Central and then later at Klong Prem Central Prison in Bangkok.
Speaking to LADbible about his first night in prison, the 48-year-old said: “That [the dead body] was my introduction to 309, which is the newcomers’ cell.
“When I went in, on a Friday, I was told to sleep in the far corner, and in the corner was a body that was just lying still with a sheet over his face.
“And I was under the influence of drugs as well, I was quite heavily sedated, but I knew something wasn’t right.
“The guy next to me had died earlier on in the day, but because it was a Thai bank holiday, they couldn’t move him until after the weekend.
“So he was just left in there for three days.”
Billy was only supposed to be in Thailand for a few months when he arrived in 2005, but after falling in love with the country, he decided to stay, working as an English teacher and even starring as Sylvester Stallone’s stunt double in Rambo IV.
But he eventually fell into a vicious cycle of drink and drugs, and soon found himself locked in a cell with 80 other inmates, often on long sentences for violent crimes, where life was cheap.
“It was as violent as watching someone get killed right in front of you with a knife that was plunged into his body at least 50 times, and you could not intervene or do anything about it,” he says, looking back.
“HIV-infected gangs would threaten you with syringes filled with their blood, demanding money or drugs or whatever.
“They would never fight you on your own, they would surround you, then someone would put you in a headlock or on the floor. I remember they had it [the syringe] close to my neck, and they said, ‘Look, you, you need to pay’. It was absolutely terrifying. No one valued life.”
Such violence took its toll, not just physically but mentally too.
He continues: “You become hardened over time. I remember being in my cell back in Thailand and a guy was stabbing himself in the neck and in the chest.
“And because he was angry and his blood pressure was up, his blood was squirting everywhere. And this guy was known to be HIV positive, he was taking himself hostage.
“Now, everybody was staring at him, transfixed on this guy stabbing himself, but the first thought that came to my head was, ‘I can get myself some hot water for my coffee because everyone’s distracted by him’. That’s when I knew I was conditioned.”
After proving he was committed to staying clean, Billy was eventually allowed to join the prison muay Thai (Thai boxing) team, competing against other prisoners.
“They called me ‘Crazy Foreigner’ because I just wouldn’t give up. Even though I was getting beat sometimes, I just wouldn’t stay down,” he says.
“For Thais, if they win competitions, they can have time taken off, so they’re fighting for freedom whereas I was fighting for food and safety and my mental health.
“I would have gone round the bend if I hadn’t had some focus.”
Billy’s incredible story was turned into the hit movie A Prayer Before Dawn back in 2018, which was based on his book and saw Peaky Blinders star Joe Cole play him.
He now has a new book out, Fighting For My Life, which looks back at his childhood, how his life spiraled out of control and he fell into a world of drugs and violence, and how he eventually managed to find some peace. – LAD Bible