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Thai Internet wunderkind captivates audiences from behind bars

Panrit Daoruang, popularly known as ‘Gor,’ once blogged about his life as a teen drug addict. Now he crusades about prison overcrowding and helps fellow inmates.

By Tibor KrauszCorrespondent / October 7, 2008

Online diarist: Panrit Gaoruang, who has written bluntly about the troubled lives of Thai teens under the name of 'Gor,' is shown blogging at a historic site in Thailand.

Photo courtesy of Richard Barrow

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Samut Prakan, Thailand

For Thailand’s most famous blogger, who launched an online diary at age 12, the current method of updating his website seems rather anachronistic.

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From behind wire mesh and plexiglass, Panrit Daoruang – or “Gor,” as he’s popularly known – dictates to his former English teacher, Richard Barrow. Mr. Barrow takes notes and uploads the new entries for him on a laptop.

Though his autobiographical blogs remain extremely popular, Mr. Panrit, now 22, hasn’t touched a computer in two years. He is serving a three-year sentence for drug possession, and inmates like him at Samut Prakan Prison, near Bangkok, aren’t allowed access to the Internet (or even newspapers and TV).

At night, he shares a small cell, initially planned for 25 inmates, with as many as 65 other prisoners. For recreation Panrit plays chess and writes letters. The focus of his blogs has changed from the life of a troubled teenager to crusading about prison issues and being an electronic nanny to fellow inmates. “Richard,” Panrit says to Mr. Barrow at one point, “write down this number.... Tell Yui she must call Phi Ple [elder brother] more often because he misses her.”

An olive-skinned man with boyish features, Panrit is a popular inmate: He often translates for guards and foreign prisoners, one of whom had been reading his blogs before he wound up in the same prison.

“I want people to know we’re not all criminals and bad guys,” Panrit says of his reason for continuing to blog from behind bars. “It [also] helps prisoners’ families to know they’re doing well.”

Panrit and Barrow now run thaiprisonlife.com, a popular website (it’s ranked first on Google) about life inside Thailand’s notoriously overcrowded prisons. They also campaign against drug use and warn foreigners about the country’s draconian narcotic laws.

Panrit’s own misadventure with the law occurred three years ago, when a random search by police revealed “yaba,” or “crazy medicine,” amphetamine pills hidden under his belt. By then, the youth had been battling drug addiction for years, narrating his struggle on “Confessions of a Young Teenage Addict,” a blog, in English and Thai, that he started when he was 15.

Panrit gained a devoted following as thousands of readers, from kids to Vietnam War veterans, became attracted to his tale of transformation from precocious schoolboy to teenage addict to prisoner.

“As his story developed, I became hooked,” says David Millar, a technology manager in Manchester, England. “I had come to think of Gor as a personal friend. His honesty about his drug problems and troubles in his life really touched me.”

Today Panrit’s online diary is widely used for English educational classes in Thailand and abroad. He’s featured in an English textbook published by Longman, a leading British firm. “I want kids to know that nothing good will come out of drugs,” Panrit says.

Readers of his blog from as far away as the US have visited him in prison and looked up his primary school. “He has made our school famous around the world,” says Seesagoon Krishanachinda, the principal of Sriwittayapaknam School in Samut Prakan. “Although he left 10 years ago, he still inspires our students.”

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