Vanessa Goosen and was for 16 years, six months and 16 days the former Miss SA semi-finalist was incarcerated in Lard Yao women’s prison in Bangkok. Goosen claimed to have been duped into carrying four engineering books, which were found to have compartments in the front and back hardcover and spine containing 1.7kg of heroin. Now available to book through Conference Speakers
Aged 21 and pregnant, she was arrested and tried on drug trafficking charges.
She was sentenced to death, but her sentence was commuted to life.
Through two appeals – one of which was rejected – and a process of amnesty from the king of Thailand, Goosen eventually served 16 and a half years.
On October 30, 2010, she was released, finally reaching Johannesburg on November 5.
Goosen is now 40 and has launched her book, Drug Muled: Sixteen Years in a Thai Prison!
The book, penned by Joanne Joseph with Larissa Focke, traces her years in prison and her brief period of motherhood before her daughter Felicia was taken away from her at the age of three and sent to South Africa to be cared for by her best friend, Melanie.
The book has been a difficult yet cathartic experience for her and “a step for me in moving forward”. Reintegrating into society has not been easy.
Her first year home was an “emotional setback”.
She had come back to a family that had changed, grown older. Felicia was 16 and an independent teenager.
Vanessa Goosen – Drug Muled still saw her as the three-year-old she had to let go. In the book, Goosen describes the moment when she walked through the airport terminal doors where her family, particularly Felicia, were anxiously waiting on the other side.
“Felicia runs up to me and flings herself against me and I take her in my arms tight, so tight, almost suffocating her. God! How long have I waited to hold my child like this in my arms? “And I break down because she’s here, her warm body bonded to mine.
I can feel her heart racing in her chest and I want this moment to last forever. I never want to let go of her, ever.
Because in this body of a teenager, I still feel her childish frame of three years clinging to me in that prison, saying in her small voice, ‘Mommy, promise you’ll come back soon.’ And I’m nodding and saying, ‘Yes, I promise Mommy will be home soon.’ “And it hurts so much that it’s taken me thirteen and a half years to keep that promise.”
Vanessa Goosen had to learn how to use a cellphone. She had to get used to taking warm showers, sleeping on a bed and wearing shoes. It was difficult getting used to eating supper late. Lockdown in the prison was 5.30pm.
Her stomach had to get used to digesting food that she hadn’t eaten for years.
The first time she ate peaches, her favourite fruit, she felt sick. “I wanted to eat everything in sight. I was overwhelmed with all these nice things.
When I received a parcel in prison, with a slab of chocolate in it, I would eat one block a day, just to make it last.” She had also taken to hoarding food in her bedroom, just in case the supply would run out. “I had forgotten that here you could always just go out and buy again.”
She had also forgotten that there were people she could call and talk to if she wasn’t feeling well. She wasn’t alone. Often, however, she still felt alienated when in conversation with people. “I feel stupid and cut off from the rest of the world. Recently, I was on radio being interviewed by Gareth Cliff, and it was the first time I had even heard of him,” says Goosen.
The prisoners were allowed only two hours of television, with a choice of royal Thai news and Thai soapies. World news was kept from them. “We only found out about the Twin Towers and the tsunami when the guard left the television on by accident,” she adds.
In the beginning she feared that she had very little to offer the outside world with her scant experience, despite the courses – massage therapy, make-up, fashion design and other educational programmes – she took in prison. But now she has become a motivational speaker, addressing churches, businesses and young people.
Her dream had been different before Thailand.
Vanessa Goosen – Drug Muled Inspiration and her boyfriend, Felix, had owned a clothing business in the Carlton Centre. She had planned to study to be a social worker. It was Felix’s friend Jackson who had suggested that Goosen explore the fashion industry in Thailand. It was cheaper, he told them, and it would be good for them to get stock.
“I had no idea…”
When Vanessa Goosen – Drug Muled was in Thailand, Jackson had phoned to ask if she would bring back some books for him, which his “brother” would deliver to her hotel. The drugs were later found in the books at Don Muang Airport.
The day the nation witnessed the world’s most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela, vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections on April 27, 1994, was the day Goosen went to court. It was also the day that she was taken to Lard Yao.
Is she still angry over what happened to her? “For years I was very bitter. But it was because of that bitterness and anger that I suffered.” She fell into a deep depression for four years.
She was overwhelmed by everything and she no longer had the energy to fight. Felicia had been taken away from her.
Her mother tried to commit suicide. And her pardon was rejected.
The depression nearly killed her. She got so sick that she had to be admitted to hospital. While lying on her hospital bed one day, a foreigner approached and reprimanded her. “She told me that I was very selfish for giving up, that I wasn’t thinking about my daughter,” says Goosen.
The woman’s words hit home, bringing a realisation that she was forgetting Felicia, who was waiting for her to come home. “It broke me and I cried. I realised that the depression was destroying me.” She prayed, asked for forgiveness from God and her outlook on life changed.
“I had to learn how to talk and walk again. I still get angry, but I will never let hatred and depression be a part of it again.” She still gets flashbacks from her time in prison. The book and gruelling interviews she has given are taking a toll on her. “I’m learning to cope. It helps to talk, but it’s exhausting,” she adds.
She wants to give back to society through her experience, to listen to people’s heartaches and nurse their broken souls. “I can help people who are going through depression because I understand it. I can give hope to someone. I didn’t ask for my situation, Vanessa Goosen – Drug Muled, Inspiration was put there but I made the decision to survive.”
During her imprisonment, Goosen lost her sister Jacky, her grandfather, and her best friend, Melanie, who died three months before her release. “I will never be able to ask her details of my daughter’s childhood.”
Her relationship with Felicia is fragile. They are still getting to know each other and finding a way into each other’s hearts. Dealing with a teenager is alien to Goosen.
Felix is no longer a part of her life; she forgave him for not being there for her. She was scared of not being able to forgive him –”it would have been just too painful”, she says. She found God in prison – “I gave my life to Him” – but she is still on a journey of finding herself.
“God kept me through this and helped me. There is nothing in the world that can give you peace, strength and a fighting spirit like God can,” she says. “I’m not on a pity party. I survived and I’d like to share that. No matter the situation, you can survive it. I did.”