"Tricked into being a drug mule"

Warning: Graphic content. Pregnant, alone and sentenced to death.

WARNING: This excerpt contains content that may be upsetting to sensitive readers. Proceed with caution.

About Drug Muled:  Sixteen Years in a Thai Prison (The Vanessa Goosen Story)
It’s 1994. South Africa is on the brink of freedom.

On the verge of a big break in modelling, Miss SA finalist, 21-year-old Vanessa Goosen is caught up in every traveller’s nightmare. Duped into carrying books with 1.7 kilograms of heroin hidden in them, Goosen is arrested and tried on drug trafficking charges.

Deaf to her pleas of innocence, the Thai courts sentence Goosen to death. On appeal her sentence is commuted to life, to be served in Bangkok’s notorious Lard Yao prison.

Pregnant, terrified and desperately alone, Goosen begins a harrowing 16-year journey behind bars.

Forced to part with her beloved daughter three years later, Goosen’s story traces the joy and hurt of motherhood behind bars, the depression that comes with long-term incarceration and separation, and her return to a hugely changed South Africa in 2010.

Read an extract below

“Spread your legs!”

I am standing suspended over a chair, my arms gripping the back rest, my legs straddling both sides of it. My thighs are beginning to ache from this half-squat. Her swollen fingers are slithering under my brown skirt. Suddenly they thrust into me from underneath.

“You’re hurting me!” I cry out, as she probes, digs, violates me. But I get no reaction. She only stares blankly, small eyes buried in her large face, while her two calloused fingers, muscular, forked, jaggedly scour the walls of my vagina.

This skirt which I’ve already come to hate so much – reeking of the body odour of someone else – is the thin film that stands between me and complete nakedness.

My upper body is bare, my chest exposed. I’m among the last in a human production line that’s all bare flesh and wide-open mouths, jutting tongues, dangling breasts and parted legs. They search us with care. Invade every nook. Breach every cranny. They’ll come to know us new arrivals intimately – each spot, each blemish, each fold.

Now it’s dark, but that hides none of my shame. From the moment I got off that bus, I knew this wasn’t a place anyone tries to escape. I look at the inmates who’ve been here for a while. They’re resigned. They know not to protest. Not to complain. It could be worse.

They could be standing in front of a firing squad instead of a warden with her fingers up their vagina. And that’s why they submit from the moment the bus driver cuts the engine, and guides them through a small door to the second set of gates. That’s why these grown women line up without question, like school children for roll call.

 These women all address the wardens as “Khun”, meaning “officer”. “When the warden calls your name,” one woman tells me, “you must say your surname because you do not have a prison number yet.” I nod gratefully. I feel like a child in the presence of a Grade 1 teacher, who will give me a gold star if I do as I’m told. The list of names and numbers seems endless. Mine is the last to be called.

“Wanessa!” the warden says. “Goosen…” I respond, none of the enthusiasm in my voice that the others show.

As darkness settles, we’re led up to the last set of gates that gives way to the prison grounds. We line up outside the hospital building, single-file, the wardens in the lead. The old inmates need no cue. As soon as the procession stops, they start undressing.

They meekly shed their clothes, an old habit. But I’m too ashamed to remove mine. They’re already buck-naked, ready for their cavity searches. And I’m peeling my clothes off item by item, hesitantly – a clumsy stripper undressing with one hand, hiding her bare skin with the other.

This is how the guards make sure that after every court outing, we come back without drugs or weapons stuck up our holes. The wardens go about their work like they’re sorting sirloin from offal in a meat factory.

The hunks of meat in front of them aren’t human beings anymore.

They pinch large tracts of flesh between their fingers, grope their way along thighs, scratch around in armpits and ears, prise apart fingers and toes or lift breasts to see what’s underneath them. Fingers, stiff as pokers, look for the presence of drugs under tongues, scrape the plump insides of cheeks for any trace.

False nails are ripped off, hair extensions are massacred.

I wince at the mention of my name. I haven’t been quick enough to undress. And the officer holding up the diarrhoea-brown skirt meant for me is growing impatient. Her colleague is barking orders at me, looking on in scorn while my panties fall to the floor and the jewellery melts off my hands.

“Open mouth!” she shouts in a high-pitched voice. Her fingers yank at my tongue, drill into my gums, almost cause me to gag as they lengthen down the back of my throat. My eyes are shut.

Maybe it’ll be easier if I can’t see her huge hands looming. “Loosen hair!” My thick, curly mop falls out in all directions. Her fingers get stuck in it. Frustrated, she breaks through the knots as I yelp in pain. Her fingernails scratch at my scalp. My breasts are young and pert. She knows I can’t hide anything under them but she still jabs at them for fun. She tells me to part my legs – Part One of The Vaginal Examination.

Rough and indifferent, she grabs at me superficially, finds nothing there. “Tie skirt and go room,” she orders, and calls out to the prisoner behind me.
That’s how I’ve come to be here. In this small room with one chair in the corner that I’ve been squatting over since I came in.

Featured with permission from Jacana Media, this extract is taken from Drug Muled: Sixteen Years in a Thai Prison (The Vanessa Goosen Story)  by Joanne Joseph.

For more information about the book, you can visit Jacana's website.

Visit Kalahari.com to purchase a copy of Drug Muled: Sixteen Years in a Thai Prison.

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