Monday, March 8, 2010

PORNCHAI MOONTRI IS WORTH SAVING

This is a plea for an attorney to take on a worthy pro bono case. Perhaps you have met my godson-to-be, Pornchai Moontri,(Ponch)through his cellmate, Fr. Gordon MacRae (http://www.thesestonewalls.com/Files/PornchaisPathtotheNarrowGate.pdf) He is from the beautiful Kingdom of Thailand, and he is 36 years old. Pornchai has been in prison since he was 18 years old which is exactly half of his life. To read his complete story go to: http://www.thesestonewalls.com/Files/Pornchais_Story.pdf.

Prior to that he was in prison of another kind. Pornchai and I have much in common; we have both been through the fire. We were both abused; we both suffered, and we still do. I often wish I could hug Pornchai and promise him that nothing will ever harm him again, that his nightmares about that abuse will never haunt his dreams again, but unfortunately I cannot. I can only promise that he will always have the love of God, my love and the love of those who know him through Fr. Gordon.

In the Beginning

Pornchai has known little in his young life except misery. His mother left him when he was two, and he grew up in the country home of a distant relative where he labored in the rice fields and raised water buffalo. He had no opportunity to attend school. His mother reclaimed him when he was eleven. She introduced him and his brother to his new stepfather, an American from Maine where the family immediately moved to. Nothing was ever the same for Pornchai. In Maine there was only wretchedness at the hands of his stepfather who forcibly abused him for three years. Any resistance from Pornchai caused violence against him and his mother. By the age of 14 Pornchai ran away from “home” time and time again. The police picked him up and took him “home” time and time again. He fled again as soon as he could. After being kicked out of a juvenile home for fighting, he lived on the streets. Occasionally his mother would seek him out and take food to him. Pornchai fought everything and everybody. Anger was the only thing he had.

The Incident

Pornchai began carrying a knife to protect himself from others also on those mean streets. He barely remembers the night that resulted in his imprisonment. He was out drinking with friends. They went into a supermarket to buy cigarettes. Pornchai, already drunk, opened a bottle of beer in the store and began drinking it. The manager ordered him to leave, but as he tried to leave, the manager and other employees tried to detain him. Pornchai fought them off and stumbled out of the store. Outside, a manager from another store who had seen the incident, tackled Pornchai and they fell to the ground. Pornchai says “’IT’ was happening again!” As he was pinned down by the much heavier man, memories of his stepfather’s assaults flooded back. Pornchai panicked and remembers nothing after that.

The Trial

In jail he was told that he had stabbed the man who died a few hours later. His mother went to the jail to tearfully plead with Pornchai to protect her and “the family” by not revealing what his stepfather had done to him. He honored his mother’s plea. The family of Pornchai’s co-defendant could afford to hire an attorney, and he received a sentence of nine years. Pornchai was assigned a public defender who offered no defense, and he was convicted of “Class A murder with deliberate indifference.” At age 18 he was sentenced to 45 years in prison. In effect, it was a life sentence (a death sentence to Pornchai) because Maine has no parole. Pornchai was sent to Maine’s “supermax” prison. “Supermax” means super maximum security and it is for the most violent offenders. Prisoners are locked into a cell for 23 hours a day; no radio or TV allowed; no books; three showers a week; under constant observation by video cameras; lights on day and night; total isolation. For the one hour of recreation a day, a prisoner is taken outside and put into a “cage” where he can do limited exercises, but as Pornchai says, “At least you are outside and smelling fresh air.” Pornchai spent the next 13 years in and out of the supermax facility. He fought with everybody – guards and other prisoners. Although he didn’t remember the murder, he regretted taking a life. Remorse and anger in prison are, as he puts it, a toxic mix.

The Aftermath

The night that he learned his mother and stepfather had moved to Guam, he also learned that his mother had been murdered by being pushed off a cliff. His stepfather was the only suspect, but there was no evidence. Pornchai suffered in his cell with his guilt, anger, and now the bitter loss of his mother. As his anger deepened, so did his rage. When Maine officials decided to rid themselves of this troubled youth, he was sent to New Hampshire. He welcomed his new facility by promptly getting into a fight and being sent to solitary confinement. Later he met an Indonesian waiting to be deported who introduced him to Fr. Gordon. Pornchai says, “Gordon seemed to be the only person who ... cared.” A few months later Pornchai was moved to the same unit as Fr. Gordon. He says: “By patience, and especially by example, Gordon helped change the course of my life. “ They became friends. Little by little, Pornchai’s anger abated. He gradually realized that there is more to life than anger. Now he spends his time educating himself and being an example for other young prisoners. With the help of Fr. Gordon he obtained a scholarship to take courses in Catholic studies at the Catholic Distance University. He excelled in his studies. He has completed courses in the prison in Anger Management, Victim Impact, etc. He is also taking culinary courses. Pornchai is a master wood carver and model ship builder. He spends thousands of hours hand carving every part of the ships he creates. Some are sold in the prison gift shop and others are available by special request. On the outside his hand carved masterpieces would sell for thousands of dollars, but he has no one to represent him in this endeavor.

Pornchai says he has now become a man. I might add that he is a man that any mother would be proud of. I know that his mother loved him. She thought she had found a safety net for her little family. How she must have suffered over Pornchai’s mistreatment at the hands of his stepfather. He loves his mother very much and speaks of her in such a loving manner. He does not hold her responsible for any of his misfortunes. I tell him that his mother watches over him from heaven, and she helps Fr. Gordon and me to watch over him on earth.

Fr. Gordon is immensely proud of who Pornchai has become. He knows the path Pornchai trod before reaching this point. Recently he was a mentor in a prison program for young offenders helping them to study for their GED certificates. Pornchai is extremely effective in tutoring inmates in all forms of mathematics. He was also a leader and tutor for the prison’s Fast Track, a program for young, first-time offenders. He designed the Physical Fitness Training plan and was responsible for developing new exercise routines for it. He led inmates through challenging routines twice a day. The program was very popular and a waiting list developed of inmates who wanted to join the class. Unfortunately the prison discontinued the program at the end of the last season. It seems that whenever a program becomes successful and helps inmates, prison officials find a reason to discontinue it. It’s as if they would rather have inmates sitting around discontented and idle. Those are grounds for trouble and trouble seems to be what they want.

The Future

Foreigners convicted of a crime in the US are deported to their home country at the end of their sentence. In 2007 Pornchai was ordered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to be deported to Thailand upon completion of his sentence – when he is 62 years old. Pornchai will return to a country where he has no known relatives and limited use of the language. He has never written or read Thai, and hasn’t spoken it since he was a child. Fr. Gordon was instrumental in getting prison officials to allow Pornchai to obtain Thai language materials, some donated, and to use them on the computer in the prison library.

It’s been rough going for Pornchai, but he has persevered. I pray for legal help for this exceptional young man. He has come a long, long way. Life has not been fair to him. He did not ask to be born. He did not ask to be yanked from his country and brought to the U.S. He did not ask to be abused by a horrible, horrible man. He did not intend to take a life.

A few months ago, Cardinal Michai Kitbunchu, recently retired Archbishop of Bangkok, replied to a letter I wrote to him about Pornchai.

Cardinal Michai Kitbunchu wrote:

“The story of Pornchai really touched my heart and I found the story very amazing since God has His plan. He has been working through Father MacRae, you and in the good heart of Pornchai. The Archdiocese of Bangkok would give you a hand and would do whatever possible to help….So when he will be deported to Thailand, I hope he will try to contact the Archdiocese of Bangkok referring to me or to Father Surachai.”

That was wonderful news. Pornchai knows that when he returns to his home country the Catholic Church will welcome him. He will never be alone where there is Christ.

For now, Pornchai desperately needs an attorney to ask for a reduction or commutation of his remaining sentence so that he may return to Thailand at an age at which he is still employable and can build a life. In Thailand, as in many developing countries, the mandatory retirement is 50 years. If he completes his sentence he will be 62 when he returns to Thailand. He does not want to be a vagrant in his own country – a country basically unknown to him now.

For more on this amazing person please read: http://www.thesestonewalls.com/Files/PornchaisPathtotheNarrowGate.pdf

We desperately need pro bono legal help in getting Pornchai’s sentence reduced, suspended, commuted or perhaps there are options I don’t know about. If you know of an attorney who is willing to help Pornchai, please have him contact:

Pornchai Moontri
P.O. Box 14 - #77948
Concord, NH 03302-0014

Or I can be contacted at ccduline@gmail.com.

I pray that an attorney will come forward to help Pornchai. Divine Intervention put Pornchai in Fr. Gordon’s path. Divine intervention put both of them in our path. How can we not help? Pornchai desperately needs a helping hand. Is there an attorney out there who will help him?

Thank you. God's blessings on all.

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