A Man with a Flashlight


Undiscovered Writer of the Week: Garth Todd Hattan
March 28, 2007, 1:13 pm
Filed under: Crime and Punishment, Undiscovered writers

garth hattanGarth Hattan hasn’t published a novel, and as far as I know, he hasn’t even published a short story. All of his work to date, to the best of my knowledge, was written in 2001 and 2002 for Farang Magazine, an online and print journal targeted at English-speaking expats in Thailand, which has since been renamed Untamed Travel.

Hattan’s pieces were more or less journal entries, so technically he could be called a blogger. However, it was an unusual blog, because he didn’t have internet access, or even a computer. That’s because Hattan, a surfer and musician from California, composed his columns using pen and paper inside Bangkwang maximum security prison, on the outskirts of Bangkok, where he was serving a life sentence for trafficking heroin.

You may be thinking that I chose a heroin-smuggling con to be the Undiscovered Writer of the Week not because I dig his writing, but because I want you to dig how street-smart and hip I am myself. Is this Undiscovered Writer of the Week or Hard-as-Nails Cunts?you may be wondering. In fact, there’s nothing tough about Hattan’s writing, and though you might call him hip, it isn’t the empty pose of the cool kid whose wardrobe is in lock-step with the fashion elite. He is hip in the older sense of the word – wise, and with a powerful awareness of what matters and what is bullshit.

It could be that was a side effect of going to prison. Whatever the case, Hattan’s writing resonates with a quality that can’t be faked. Far from calling for pity, he details the myriad frustrations and scant pleasures of Thai prison life with zen-like calm. Reading his essays doesn’t leave you feeling sorry for him – well, yes, it does, but more powerfully, it leaves you wishing some of his appreciation for life’s small mercies would rub off on you. And that demonstrates a strong mind indeed.

If you’ve ever tried snapping a picture with your digital camera, you may have been amazed to watch how, when you point the camera into a shadowy corner, instead of turning to black in the insufficient light, the camera screen brightens and shows you a new level of detail. Hattan’s writing has the same quality – in dark circumstances, locked inside what is certainly a hell on earth, he doesn’t fade to black. Instead he takes a careful look around, and describes what he sees. The price of fried rice or a massage, etiquette of the morning shower ritual, the ins and outs of getting high behind bars, and the pros and cons of recieving visitors are all presented in a calm, often funny tone. Hattan doesn’t speechify or rail against anything much, which for a man in his position is in itself quite an achievement. But even more of an achievement is the emotion his writing conveys, which I can only describe as gratitude – a whole-hearted appreciation of the few good things that can still be savored from inside the belly of the beast.

I am glad to report that Hattan’s story has a comparatively happy ending – in 2002 he returned to the United States under a treaty agreement with the Thai government. Whether he continued serving his sentence isn’t clear from news reports, but it seems possible that he was freed. I certainly hope he was. While in prison he got engaged to Susan Aldous, an Australian woman who works for better conditions for prisoners in Thailand, and I have seen at least one website which refers to her as Susan Aldous-Hattan, suggesting they have married. [Update: The ending is not as happy as I had hoped; see Susan’s reply to this post and my new post here.] My hope is that we will see a full-length autobiography, if not more, from Hattan in the next few years. It remains to be seen whether he will keep up his writing, or if it was just one method by which he passed time while behind bars. Given the unique qualities of the writing he’s done so far, I certainly hope not.

Click through to Hattan’s articles in Untamed Travel here. A good place to start is Human Monkey in the Cage, but you can read his whole body of work in a pleasant afternoon. (Note that the 2005 article “Afghan Loony Bin” wasn’t written by Hattan at all and has little to do with his work.)

Advertisements

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Yes, you are right, Garth is an incredibly talented man who can write up a storm about the storm and the peace that can be found within it.
To update you: Garth was released from the LA dentention center after three months from the day he returned to the USA, we got married, lived teh fairytale and then divorced when he went back to old ways and unfortunately reoffended. Prison awaits and perhaps more chapters and let’s hope that in so doing, he will find eventual freedom from his past and the things that haunt him.
In the meanwhile, I am releasing my own book this month, The Angel of Bangkwang Prison, published by Maverick House.
Cheers,
Susan.

Comment by Susan Aldous-Hattan

831.601.6274

Comment by Cynthia Bottero

G.H. – IF OR WHEN YOU GET OUT, DO NOT GO ANYWHERE EVEN REMOTELY NEAR C.B.’s HOUSE. YOU ARE NOT WELCOME THERE. EVER. GOT IT?
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT YOU WILL NEVER WALK THROUGH HER DOOR AGAIN. I PROMISE.

YOUR WRECKAGE IS ONLY NOW, BEING REPAIRED… J.M.

Comment by JOHNNY M

I would like more background information on this individual as he is currently house in the treatment center I manage, Sincerly mackierobert@ymail.com

Comment by Robert Mackie




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: