Half a world apart
By ELIZABETH CARR
Florence Drake was puttering around the kitchen of her Readfield home on a sunny June morning in 2002 when the phone rang.
A man calling himself Sam told her that her son, Adam Ireland, was in jail -- in Thailand.
"Sam said Adam was being held by police in a small beach city about 100 miles southeast of Bangkok," Drake said.
"Sam" -- who claimed to be a friend of Ireland's -- said he would be freed in 48 hours.
But that wasn't to be.
In fact, it would be more than three years before Ireland was free and back on U.S. soil.
For Drake, it would be a long three years, as she tried to live her life while trying to help her son half a world away.
That first phone call was quick. Sam asked for money to help get Adam out of jail. Drake refused.
The next day her son called -- frantic.
"Ma, I've been arrested," he said. "You've got to bail me out."
Drake, in shock, said she'd try to find out how.
She was used to getting phone calls from her son from exotic places.
Over the years, they had come from Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, Columbia, England. From Russia, Iran, China, Japan, Taiwan. Even from Cambodia, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
"We were in contact a lot, but many times he would call and say, 'Hi, Ma, guess where I am,' " Drake said.
But she certainly never expected getting a call from a foreign prison.
AN INQUISITIVE KID
Drake said Ireland always was adventurous and inquisitive.
Born in Bangor, he grew up moving around Maine and attended Maranacook Community High School in Readfield, where he discovered art.
From high school, Ireland went to the San Francisco Art Institute on a four-year half-tuition scholarship. The merit-based award proved Ireland clearly had talent, Drake said.
But the creativity came with a disdain for authority. "He always had a creative bent when it came to rules and laws and stuff, so I wasn't surprised he made his own interpretations," Drake said. "Even when he was in elementary school, one day the principal said, 'Just tell me one thing, does your son always need an answer or reason for everything all the time?' " Drake said. "He always questioned authority and it got him in trouble, of course."
This time, it was serious.
It would be weeks before Drake was able to sort out exactly what got Ireland arrested -- even longer before she'd find out what he'd been charged with.
Meanwhile, for the first year, barely anybody in Readfield knew what Drake was going through.
At 57, she ran the Readfield Historical Society, worked as a volunteer on the town rescue squad, and lived a quiet life with her second husband, William Drake.
"But then there was this part of my life that was just awful that I thought about every day, several times a day," Drake said.
Adam Ireland ended up in Thailand almost by accident.
He said he had gone to southeast Asia to serve as a cameraman on a friend's documentary project about Burmese death practices. Since the United States doesn't have diplomatic ties with Burma, also known as Myanmar, the two went first to Thailand to get visas.
But after some disagreements -- Ireland prefers not to get into details -- the two parted ways.
Ireland liked Thailand and its people, however, and found that living in Thailand was cheaper than living in the United States.
"So I came back to America, folded up shop and moved," he said.
He started teaching English at a junior college in Bangkok, but found the job dull. He looked for opportunities to put his computer graphics and art skills to use. And he found them -- in the Bangkok underground.
Ireland built a business forging documents -- passports, driver licenses, visas.
He defended his choice by saying it not only made him a decent living, but also allowed him to help others.
"I was allowing people -- citizens of Earth -- to go where they wanted, allowing a person to reunite with their family, a poor person to find work abroad, a mother to visit her children, a family to escape religious persecution, a wronged man a chance to start over," Ireland said.
Bangkok, he said, was the perfect place for his kind of business.
"One can do business with the Russians at 9 a.m., the Tamil Tigers at noon and the Chinese around 5 p.m.," Ireland said.
Ireland went to Pattaya in June 2002 to deliver forged passports to a group of men he had done business with before. The two Pakistani men he met there asked Ireland to cash several thousand dollars worth of stolen and fraudulent traveler's checks.
But the woman behind the cashier's counter called police, and the three men were arrested.
Ireland was first taken to the Pattaya police station jail.
After several days, he learned that the U.S. Secret Service had asked a judge to deny him bail. They wanted to know more about the travelers checks -- and, according to Drake, where the money was going. Ireland was then transferred to the Pattaya Remand Prison, which he said was "hell." The facility was in a large, dusty coconut grove, 20 miles from the nearest town, with nothing around it but sand, coconut trees and a 23-foot wall topped with electrified razor wire.
Armed guards perched in watchtowers, while Ireland sat in a two-story cinder-block building.
The guards were rough; each was assigned to work there as punishment for breaking rules at other Thai prisons, Ireland said.
"I saw them kill, beat and torture people for sometimes no reason," Ireland said. "They carried long wooden clubs about the size of ax handles and weren't afraid to use them."
Ireland said he suffered two broken ribs at the hand of one guard.
"It was very much like dying a little every day," said Ireland, who said he survived on rice, water and will power. He said his weight dropped from 175 pounds to about 120.
In Readfield, Drake was fighting her own battle.
Every day she could, she tried to get answers from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.
"When I couldn't do anything about it, I would go about my life. But when I could do something about it, my life shifted and I dropped everything to tend to it," Drake said.
She felt she was getting more information from mysterious callers asking her for money than she was from the U.S. and Thai governments.
And she knew, if she was going to succeed, she might have to go to Thailand.
Drake's trip to see her son on April 25, 2003 -- his first day in court -- was the third of five trips she made from Maine to Thailand.
When she arrived at the courthouse, Drake could immediately tell that her son was nearby.
She knew his gait. She knew the rhythm of his body.
"I can hear the shackles on his legs," Drake said to her friend, Heide Munro, outside the courtroom in Pattaya.
The Thai lawyer Drake retained met the pair in the hallway before escorting the women into the sparkling courtroom.
All around them was bright, light-colored wood.
Two judges -- one young and handsome, one older who appeared to have a cold -- sat on wooden benches at the front of the room.
Even though no one was supposed to talk, Ireland translated the proceedings for his mother.
"It was like trying to walk through oatmeal, because I didn't speak Thai," Drake said.
As she listened to Ireland's words, Drake felt guilty.
She wondered if she had failed as a mother, having never told her son to keep his artistic skills legal.
To get help for her son, she called the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, whose inquiry into Ireland's case got the attention of the Consul General in Bangkok.
In the meantime, she also kept in contact with various "friends of Adam."
"They would call all the time," Drake said. "And every time they called, they wanted more money."
But Drake never gave anyone a cent.
Even if she could have paid off a judge, it didn't matter now.
Ireland was being charged with five counts: an attempt to cheat by pretending to be someone else; counterfeit and use of fraudulent travelers checks; counterfeit and use of fraudulent passport; receiving stolen property; and immigration violations for overstaying his visa.
Ireland was sentenced to 16 years in prison, cut in half to eight years because he pleaded guilty.
As Drake learned of the sentence, she wondered if there was any way it could be further reduced.
Her son's resourcefulness would provide the answer.
Ten months after sentencing, things started looking up for Ireland.
He was transferred to Klong Prem Prison, which, compared to the notorious Pattaya Remand, was the "Club Fed" of Thailand.
Klong Prem held about 10,000 prisoners in 10 buildings. Every building had a large yard where prisoners spent the daylight hours.
The prison also had a soccer field, a weight room, TVs in every room, new magazines and newspapers, and three prison bands.
And, the guards at Klong Prem never carried weapons.
"They were mellow and slept a lot," Ireland said.
But the prison rock band was a bright spot for Ireland.
The various bands played regular gigs once or twice a week in their own buildings, and would make tours of the other buildings on holidays.
At home, Drake had a bumper sticker made up: "My son is the lead singer in a prison band."
Other parts of her son's imprisonment weren't so bad, either.
"He learned to speak, read and write Arabic and Farsi to add to his Thai and Spanish," Drake said.
Best of all, it turned out this time behind bars was shorter than expected. On Queen Sirikit of Thailand's 72nd birthday, she reduced many prisoners' sentences -- including Ireland's.
His 16-year sentence, already reduced to eight years, was cut to six.
And, under Thai law, after he had served a third of that, he could apply for transfer to his home country.
By September 2005, Ireland was transferred to a jail in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Detention Center, where he served three more months before being released.
According to Drake, even her son's release didn't come easily.
While waiting for Ireland's release paperwork to be signed, the parole board requested all Thai court records from the case.
Ireland's lawyer in Los Angeles called embassy officials in Bangkok, who said the case was closed and that they couldn't help him.
But Ireland happened to meet a fellow prisoner from Bangkok, whose family went to the court, got copies of Ireland's records and sent them to his lawyer.
Since Drake did not know about these events, she was taken aback when she answered the phone one day in late November 2005.
"Hi Ma, guess where I am," Ireland said.
"Where?" she said.
"I'm at LAX," Ireland said.
After 31/2 years, Ireland was at Los Angeles International Airport -- released from jail and en route to his father's house in North Carolina.
It wasn't until then that Drake's migraine set in.
She had called embassies and senators, traveled to Thailand five times, dealt with strange men calling and asking for money, and read heart-wrenching letters from her only son.
But with just one phone call, the journey ended the same way it had begun.
Since then, their lives have settled down a bit.
Ireland is trying to settle into a "normal" life with his father in North Carolina.
But he said he's not sure if he knows exactly what "normal" is anymore.
"I no longer feel pity for the weak or sadness for loss. I no longer respect the compassion people so blindly spout, because I have seen what is real human nature when all this money and softness are gone," Ireland said.
But, he said, he has no regrets.
"I would do it all again, even though prison in Thailand really, really sucked.
"The amount of adventure I had before imprisonment totally outweighs the hardship."
Now that he's home and safe, he's thinking about going back to college and has found a job working the night shift as a screen printer.
As for Drake, she still occasionally gets migraines when she recounts her son's story.
And she's finally starting to relax after years of being "on red alert."
"It feels like Christmas," Drake said. "After you've opened all the presents and had dinner there's that feeling like ... now what? Adam was never a boring child ... and he still isn't."
Elizabeth Carr-- 623-3811, Ext. 433