Taken from Thailand to America at age 11 by a now-convicted sex offender, this Thai victim will now be an ICE detainee awaiting forced deportation 36 years later.
“I’m reclaiming my time!” That term became a familiar line of political theater during a recent congressional grilling of Attorney General William Barr. Our friend, Father George David Byers, wrote a short post highlighting the ridiculous nature of that sad moment in American politics.
I’m reclaiming my time, too. All 26 years of it. That’s how long I have been unjustly held in an American prison while its crazy politics play out before polarized audiences. At about the time I reach the 26-year mark in September 2020, my friend, Pornchai Moontri will have been handed over to the hidden national shame of ICE detention. It is easy to stay on the sidelines and keep this topic out of sight and out of mind until someone you know and care about is on the receiving end of it.
This looming deportation process, especially its weeks or months in overcrowded detention, is a personal crisis for us. The politics of it do not help at all. A word of advice: Try to avoid having a crisis in a deeply divided presidential election year. It will inevitably become subjected to the political, and some of those around you will use it to score political talking points.
It has already been suggested to me that President Donald Trump is to blame for my friend’s looming deportation, and for the inhumane treatment that he and other ICE detainees will endure. The deportation order that is just now unfolding in the case of Pornchai Moontri was a decision of a federal judge in 2007. It’s the result of a one-size-fits-all policy requiring removal of any non-citizen who commits any crime on U.S. soil regardless of circumstances.
Then it was suggested to me that ICE detention and forced removal is a strictly Republican endeavor that Democrats would happily fix if elected and given the power to do so. I subscribe to a publication of the Human Rights Defense Center called Prison Legal News. If anything, it leans to the left of our divisive political spectrum. In the July 2017 issue is a well researched article by Derek Gilna entitled “Deportations of Undocumented Reach Record High.” It is an analysis of deportations in the six years prior to the 2016 election. Here is an important excerpt:
- “In the past six years, the number of people removed from the country against their will far surpassed the totals of the previous administration of George W. Bush reaching over two million people. According to human rights advocates, President Obama had become the ‘Deporter in Chief.’”
So please don’t subject the real human tragedy of what is happening now to the polarity of our “if you’re not with us you’re against us” politics. We are struggling right now behind These Stone Walls and I do not want our struggle to become political ammunition. Instead, I want to point you to something deeply unjust – demonic would be a better word – that has happened here. In his recent post, “Pornchai Moontri: Hope and Prayers, for a Friend Left Behind,” Pornchai wrote something that struck me like lightning and stabbed at my conscience as an American:
- “In December of 1985 I was taken from Thailand and brought against my will to the United States. Though it was my mother who took me, I did not know her. She had abandoned my brother and me in Thailand when I was only two years old. She waited until I was age eleven to come and take me away because her life was under the control of a monster who sent her to bring me to him. It is that Simple, and that terrible.”
Pornchai’s mother, Wannee, was only 22 years old when she left her two small sons. She was in desperate straits, unable to feed them. So she went to the city to find work. Instead, she found Richard Alan Bailey, an American helicopter pilot serving in Vietnam who was in Bangkok for a long recovery in the 1970s. He took control of Wannee’s life, and brought her to America where she was kept in servitude. Wannee could not speak, read or write English and was permitted no friends outside Bailey’s home.
AN AMERICAN HORROR STORY
Pornchai’s mother would later be murdered – beaten to death according to the autopsy report – on the U.S. Territorial Island of Guam in the company of Richard Bailey. Referred to by Pornchai as “An American Horror Story,” the case remains today an unsolved “cold case” homicide despite new evidence pointing to Bailey.
The murder occurred in 2000 as Wannee filed for divorce from Bailey and just before court-ordered dispersal of finances and property to Wannee was to take place. After the murder, Bailey sold his home and left Guam without settling the financial court orders with Wannee’s estate. He returned to Thailand to bring back a young Thai woman barely out of her teens. They settled in Oregon.
Back in the 1970s when Bailey prepared to bring Wannee from Bangkok to the United States, he knew she left two young sons behind in Thailand but he had no interest in a two-year-old. They settled in Bailey’s town of Bangor, Maine. Just blocks away, Stephen King was writing his own American horror stories. Bailey bided his time until Pornchai was 11 years old. Then, in 1985 he sent Wannee to Thailand to retrieve her sons.
This is a clear story of human trafficking, but it remains off that radar screen. In Bailey’s devious and narcissistic mind, these were human beings whose rights were at his personal disposal. Bailey would not permit Wannee to apply for U.S. citizenship. He knew her sons would one day reach an age that no longer interested him. It would thus be easier to be rid of them if they were not citizens.
In September 2018, Richard Bailey was finally brought to some form of justice. He entered a “no contest” plea deal, but was found guilty in Penobscot (Maine) Superior Court on forty felony counts of violent sexual assault against Pornchai and his brother. He was sentenced to 44 years in prison, all suspended, and 18 years of supervised probation. He returned to his lakeside home in Oregon without ever serving a day in prison.
That the vicious sexual and physical assaults against Pornchai and his brother had never previously been investigated or prosecuted remains another unsolved mystery. They took place over four years after Pornchai’s arrival in Bangor in 1985. There were school reports of a battered child. There were neighbors who expressed concern about the bleeding and traumatized Asian boy at their door pleading for help in a foreign language. There were reports from sheriff’s deputies who picked up a runaway child and handed him back over to Richard Bailey because they could not understand his protests.
Bailey’s violence and perversion drove Pornchai into homelessness – a teen stranded in a foreign country. There were reports filed by staff at the Maine Youth Center that took custody of Pornchai at age 14. There were reports when he was made a ward of the state at age 15. There were reports when he again became a homeless adolescent living alone on the streets of Bangor at age 16. It does not take rocket science to connect all this to the offense of a drunken 18-year-old in 1992. But all this history just disappeared.
Pornchai could not himself raise it. Right under the noses of state officials, Richard Bailey sent a battered and desperate Thai woman – Pornchai’s mother – to warn him while held pre-trial at the county jail that her life would be in danger if Pornchai told. Pornchai thus refused to participate in his own defense.
At sentencing, Judge Margaret Kravchuk told him that he was given a new life in America but squandered it.
Certainly no one can claim that sexual abuse was not on the public radar at that time. Just one state away in New Hampshire in 1988, a witch hunt was underway involving Catholic priests. The story that sent me to prison was just taking shape at that time while some local lawyers were taking out their calculators. The dollar signs were dangled before them by a local sex crimes detective who brought over 1,000 cases while Maine, right next door, was ignoring the predator who was openly destroying the lives of three young Thai immigrants. A lot of people in the State of Maine covered up for Richard Bailey. Who investigates the investigators?
GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER ON THE ISLAND OF GUAM
On the U.S. territorial Island of Guam, officials have reacted with silence about inquiries into the unsolved homicide of Wannee in 2000. The Guam police, the Attorney General, and the U.S. Attorney there have been only minimally responsive over the last two years.
Pornchai Moontri, whose life was destroyed by Richard Bailey when he was twelve to fourteen years old, has now spent the last 28 years in prison for an offense that Bailey himself set in motion. In days or weeks, Pornchai will be moved to an overcrowded ICE holding facility where he will be forced to wait out the Covid-19 pandemic sleeping on a dayroom floor filled with ICE detainees.
Meanwhile, Richard Bailey, now convicted of 44 felony counts of sexual abuse against Pornchai and his brother, has not spent a single night in prison. He waits out the pandemic in his lakeside home in Oregon. He has simply ignored attempts by Pornchai’s advocates to recover what he owes to Wannee’s estate – funds that could make an enormous difference to someone who must now start his shattered life over. Not a single American attorney would agree to represent Pornchai for civil protection.
In his moving recent post, “Hope and Prayers for My Friend Left Behind,” Pornchai himself raised the enormous paradox in our parallel stories of imprisonment:
- “Father Gordon MacRae freed me from the evil this man inflicted on me. He taught me that this evil is not mine to keep. What do I do with such a story? If Father G had not been here, what would have become of me? He freed my mind and soul from the horror inflicted by a real predator. It breaks my heart that the man responsible for my freedom will now be left behind in prison.”
These are Pornchai’s questions, but they are not the questions I would ask. For 26 years, I have witnessed the unbridled outrage leveled at Catholic bishops and priests over allegations of sexual abuse and the necessity of protecting the vulnerable from abusers. But Americans are very selective in their outrage. Is there none left for Richard Bailey? Is there no outrage for Pornchai’s expulsion from the very country where his horrific abuse took place?
Some time ago, I wrote a post entitled, “President Donald Trump’s First Step Act for Prison Reform.” This President undertook a bold initiative for criminal justice. He called for the removal of “The Box” from all federal employment application forms. “The Box” was infamous among prisoners. It was a check-off box on most employment applications asking if the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony. In effect, it was an extension of a prison sentence that had long since been fully served. It took a non-politician to do what most politicians lack the political will or courage to do. “The Box” served only one purpose: to prevent former prisoners from finding meaningful jobs.
The President’s rationale for this is the fact that if a man or woman applying for a job had ever been in prison, the fact that they are now filling out this application means that the sentence has been served and it is over.
By mid-September 2020, Pornchai Moontri will have fully served the entire sentence that the State of Maine imposed upon him at age eighteen. He has accomplished many things in that time, and is today an asset, not a hindrance, to his country. His country is Thailand, but he was taken from there as a child by a monstrous American predator who has never answered for it. Now America will keep the predator in freedom while expelling the victim.
The truth is that Pornchai wants to go and is ready to go. Thanks to These Stone Walls, a future has been built there for him, and a fresh start with people who will care for him. Our well-founded concern is not for his deportation, but for the added insult and injury that he must emerge from prison just to wait out this pandemic in a horribly crowded ICE detention facility – aka, another prison. He could not be deemed any threat to the community because his sentence is over. If he were not an ICE detainee, he would simply walk free.
And he could not be considered a flight risk because he has worked long and hard to build a future in Thailand that he now looks forward to. The Divine Mercy Thailand organization has a team waiting for Pornchai. The Father Ray Foundation (www.fr-ray.org) has a plan for training him and putting his skills to use. It is an awesome place as a visit to their website will show.
Public risk and flight risk are the only real reasons why ICE detainees are held. We were hoping and praying that bail could be arranged for Pornchai to live in the community until Thailand can open its borders for a flight during this pandemic. Some TSW readers nearby had an ideal location for Pornchai to spend those weeks learning instead of just surviving. However that was deemed to be impossible.
What follows is a recent letter I received from another former prisoner, an Asian friend from here who recently went through ICE deportation and is now back in his native country after an ordeal lasting months:
- “You will first sit in a holding tank with a bunch of junkies and young criminals whining about a two-week county sentence in a county jail. Then at about 11 PM you will get moved to a federal detention pod. If you are lucky you might get a cell with one other person, but more likely you will be sent to a crowded dayroom with a thin mattress. You will have to find a place put it among the crowd. If there are no bunks, they use these things like plastic canoes to sleep in. You will have to find a place to park it. One of the cells is kept empty so all the detainees living on the dayroom floor can use the single toilet in it.”
Justice is supposed to be blind, but sometimes it is deaf and dumb too. Our friend deserves better than to go to his new life like this. Here is a small exercise in the blindness of criminal justice you can easily do and that we now hope those who measure Pornchai will do. He has the most unlikely internet footprint of any person who has been in a U.S. prison for 28 years. Do a google search for “Pornchai Moontri” using the quotes. It is a great stretch of the imagination that the results are anything less than a good man deserving of our protection. America was once better than this.
Please pray for us as we do for you.
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Note from Father Gordon MacRae: For the full story of Pornchai’s life, don’t miss:
If you are in a position to assist Pornchai Moontri is starting a new life, please consider a gift to him.
You may use the PayPal link at These Stone Walls. Just add his name in the subject line. You may also send your check in his name to Pornchai Moontri, to:
These Stone Walls
P.O. Box 205
Wilmington, MA 01887-0205
Finally, a PayPal account has also been established in his name. The donor address is: firstname.lastname@example.org