Written by Nokkānām
Illustrated by Boonchanin Soodtasom
Being a volunteer bailor lets you come into contact with a multitude of stories that show you the big wide world. You get to see the worry in the eyes of those waiting for the decision on a bail request, the tears of those who lose, the smiles of those who win. You get to hear a wife’s voice at the top of her lungs, a baby tight in her arms, saying goodbye to her husband through the window bars of a prison bus. But one thing you probably wouldn’t expect to encounter at all, unless you were already there as a volunteer bailor, is a professional bailor.
. . .
At a court, fictional name “Criminal on Ratchada,” on the judgment day of a political case in the court of the first instance, a defendant was sentenced to prison without suspension of punishment. So a volunteer bailor was needed to bail out the defendant so they can continue fighting their case.
As I was leaving the Public Services and Public Relations Division (nickname Bail Request Room) to receive documents from Brother Courier outside, a random auntie hollered at me and beckoned me over. She was light-skinned, pudgy, and quite well-dressed a la trendy office worker with a collared shirt, black slacks, and closed-heel shoes—unlike me, a volunteer bailor who sported sandals, stretchy pants, and a free tee given me by activist friends during a rally.
(I quickened my steps to her, thinking she was a relative of the defendant for whom I was the bailor today.)
Auntie: Have you been granted bail? Let me know if you need any help.
Kiddo: Not yet, thanks. I’m getting documents together now.
Auntie: If you don’t have a bailor, let me know. You can count on me; I’m a bailor. I can help you.
(I was confused. I thought, Am I not a bailor? Or does the relative want to be the bailor herself? If so, why didn’t the Fund and the Lawyers Center give me a heads up?)
Kiddo: Thanks. I’m actually a bailor from the Ratsadonprasong Fund. Is there supposed to be a bailor switch?
Auntie: Oh, you’re a bailor yourself? Very well. We can count on each other.
I rushed down the courthouse steps to get the documents from the courier. When I got back, the auntie was still sitting in the bail room as if waiting for somebody.
After that day I saw Auntie every time I had errands to run at the court, but she never approached me again. One day I had a chance to talk to a court official, so I asked about Auntie, who she was, whether the court had public bailors available. The court official told me:
“People like her aren’t court officials. They’re teen rong teen saan—the dregs who live off people in court. They come every day to nickel and dime people with their services. Being a bailor, as she told you, means that she’ll post bail for a defendant and bill them with high interest rates. Sometimes they’ll be middlemen who find a lawyer for a defendant’s relatives and then collect fees from both the relatives and the lawyer. The court doesn’t have a way to curb them. We can’t just drive them out. Professional bailors do exist—they’re from the registered companies stationed in the court’s basement, with bonds available for purchase in case the relatives don’t have the bail money.”
Oh, so Auntie is a con bailor? How come she’s strutting around every day in the hallowed halls of this Court of Justice?
. . .
At another court near Taling Chan, on the day the volunteer bailor was fined because the defendant had missed a court appointment due to an accident.
The defendant was now discharged from the hospital, so the bailor, the lawyer, and the defendant came to court to pay the bailor’s fine. In the room we overheard a man talking very loudly into the phone. He was sitting at a big table with a sign clearly indicating he’s a bailor from one of the private bail bond companies for which the court reserved a prominent seating area. That male professional bailor was presumably talking to a defendant or a defendant’s relative in a case under his care, as he was bellowing out threats like a hazing upperclassman, saying if they didn’t come to court today their bail would be revoked and off to jail they’d go, plus a torrent of abuse. We sat there listening to the one-sided conversation for a long while, because it took a long time as usual before the court official finally called us forward to sign documents and pay the fine so we could go home.
While listening, I thought, what a stern guy, this professional bailor. Should volunteer bailors follow suit? Just maybe, if one behaves sternly, then the defendants (especially the ones who are activists) might learn to be on time and be there every court appointment.
. . .
At a provincial court near the capital, in the afternoon of a judgment day that disappointed, the volunteer bailor rushed out of the courtroom where she’d been listening to the judgment in order prepare a bail request for the defendant, a task which usually fell to the bailor, but on this day the lawyer took it upon himself to prepare all the documents (how nice!), leaving me to chill and chat with the defendant in the seating area.
It was close to evening, almost government closing time, when the lawyer came to ask me to sign documents and post bail. When I arrived at the court’s Bail Division, I saw a random uncle sitting in wait of a bail decision. And that decision—which some like to call “order”—“descended” from the court in time before five o’clock: Uncle’s relative would be permitted to be released on bail of 50,000 baht.
Uncle’s face showed a mix of cheer and worry upon learning of the court’s order. He asked the official, “If there’s not enough money, what do I do?”
The official responded, “If you don’t have the money to post bail today, you can come back another day, or go talk to the professional bailors over there,” pointing to the group of people from bail bond companies sitting to the right of the Bail Division counter. Uncle took out his phone and called someone to discuss the bail of 50,000 baht before hanging up. His getting up, pacing around, and sitting down again while fidgeting with his glasses as his eyes were fixed on text messages on the phone screen was a tell of his distress and anxiety, palpable to anyone who saw.
After I finished signing documents under my responsibility, I walked up to Uncle and asked if he’d talked to the bail bond companies. I also suggested that he let the defendant be strapped with an EM (electronic monitoring) device so as to reduce the bail amount. He looked at me, hope in his worried eyes, fidgeted again with his glasses before asking me, “What’s EM? Can it be strapped today? And the 50,000 baht, it’s a lot, will the bailors be able to help me? I can’t bring myself to talk to them. I’ll probably borrow money from people first. Don’t know if I’ll manage.”
As we were talking, the court official called me up to pay the bail money, which was a bank transfer for seven defendants, 10,000 baht each, total 70,000 baht, from the Ratsadonprasong Fund, that is, from the people who pitched in money to bail out fellow citizens who were accused of crime for their exercise of the right to freedom of political expression in accordance with democratic principles.
The duty of a volunteer bailor was done when the official handed me the receipt of bail. At almost five thirty, the defendants came down from the courtroom, said goodbye to the lawyer, the bailor, and to each other before going home with smiles and laughter.
But I don’t know whether or not the uncle managed to find 50,000 baht to post as bail in time before the court closed. A feeling of inequality lingers with me: ordinary people who have no money nor credentials as freedom fighters—don’t they also have the right to a bailor, whether pro bono or professional?
Why haven’t we heard any lawyer or court official refer people to the services provided by the government’s Justice Fund? And why doesn’t the Justice Fund which also comes from the people (in the form of taxes) have bailors stationed in the room like the con bailors whom the courts tolerate? Or like the professional bailors whom the courts accommodate?
I’ll leave the questions open.