Four years ago after the passing of his father, Charin Chamket, an IT staff member at a hotel on Sukhumvit, decided to bring his mother from his native Chai Nat to live with his wife and two sons in Bangkok. That's when he decided he needed a second job to secure his financial situation, and driving a taxi seemed a sound choice at the time.
As things have turned out, it was the worst choice he had ever made.
Charin, 35, twice made headlines last month. On the first occasion, newspapers splashed pictures showing victims pointing accusing fingers at him, blaming him for several crimes.
Two weeks later he was back in the spotlight, this time as the victim, following his release from jail after evidence showed he had been wrongly arrested.
On June 30, Charin was driving his passenger, a manager at a hotel he worked at, to Chai Nat in the hotel car when he received a call from Lat Krabang police station, informing him a taxi with licence plate number "Mor Jor 621" was being sought for a robbery. The plate number matched Charin's taxi.
He called his family to ascertain if his taxi was still at home, and not being driven around by somebody else. He thought the matter could wait, because a letter from his manager backing up his alibi would be enough to clear his name.
After driving his boss back to Bangkok, he immediately reported to the police station to declare his innocence. But what transpired wasunexpected.
"That day, with fingers pointing that I was the driver who had committed crimes, everything changed for me," Charin recalls of his nightmare.
He was asked to stand in a line with some other suspects. Charin, a father of two, had no clue that on the other side of the room there were other men who would soon be identifying him as the criminal. Later, he was moved to another room and made to sit on a chair surrounded by the alleged victims pointing at him, with camera lights flashing. In that moment, Charin remembers, everything turned pitch black for him.
"I tried to tell [the police] I didn't do it. 'I've never seen these people,' I said when shown before the press, but no one bothered to listen to what I said," Charin says.
Charin was put in jail for two days, then transferred to prison where he was locked up for a week.
"I heard the charge was robbery and I think two cases of sexual assault too. These were serious accusations and it meant that I may have to spend the rest of my life in prison"
Night after night he could hardly sleep, knowing that he would never be able to take care of his family. When his wife visited him, he told her not to tell the kids. Or if they asked, tell them that their father was away for work, and he would be back later. "There was a moment that I wanted to climb to the top of the prison building and kill myself. I wasn't afraid of death, but locked up, I couldn't stand being a burden on my family."
After seven days, his brother managed to retrieve video footage of a snooker club where Charin was seen on the night one of the crimes was committed. On that night another robbery took place, and the licence plate of the taxi suspected of being involved was "Mor Jor 621". It was clear the real criminal was still out there with a fake licence plate. Charin was immediately released.
"It was such a relief," he says. "I remember walking out of the prison and never looking back.
"The first thing I did was go on my knees with my palms on the ground to thank Mother Earth for my freedom."
It is true, Charin says, when we are in serious trouble we can tell who really cares for us. It was probably the only good thing he learned from the worst experience in his life.
"When I first returned home from prison, my mother told me that our neighbours didn't want to have any contact with our family.
"My kids were mocked that their father was a thief. They didn't let their kids play with mine. When I heard this I wept in front of my apartment," he says.
"I was pretty lucky in that while in prison I was never bullied. Some of the inmates even cheered me up for they trusted that I was innocent."
After his release he returned to the prison once to visit and thank them. They were kind of his "new friends".
Charin received compensation worth 20,000 baht, but the question that begs asking is whether the reward was worth the trauma he went through.
"My boss wanted me to sue the alleged victims and the policemen. He was very angry for what had happened to me," he says. "But I told him that I forgive them and even if I could gain more compensation from suing them, I wouldn't be happy keeping the money because I know it would have caused them trouble."
All he needs is a simple phone call from those who pointed at him that day, offering their apology.
"Only three of them called to apologise. There were seven of them that day. I am no longer mad at them. I forgive them. But the rest _ the other four _ never apologised to me. I don't know what they're thinking. When a man's life is judged based on their flawed judgement, it's like killing that person."
Charin lives in a tiny room in Hua Mak district where he is happily reunited with his family. Now the only vehicle he owns is a motorcycle that he and his wife ride to work each morning. The couple met at the hotel he works at when he started there 11 years ago.
After this fiasco Charin decided to sell his taxi and has never again given that career a second thought.
"I think the car was never meant for me. Doubling as a cabbie didn't suit me either," he says.
From a different perspective, Charin is aware that many in society seem to harbour negative views about taxi drivers. What happened to him is one example, but other than that, Charin thinks it is not easy being a taxi driver.
"Many people may have a prejudice against taxi drivers and feel unsafe riding in a cab. I would say this _ when I was still driving my taxi I was afraid of my customers too. Sometimes they were drunk or incredibly rude.
"There was one time when I was waiting for the green light an intersection and there was this guy fleeing police. He tried to force open the door of my taxi and sneak in to escape."
Having four lives to take care of, Charin needs to find another job. He wants to do something more independent, so he has been studying to become an insurance agent and salesperson of some franchise.
"I never committed myself to driving taxis," he says, laughing. "I only drove it at the end of my full-time day-job.
"The times when I was supposed to stay on the road and make a few extra bucks, I often ended up driving home to be with my kids. I just wanted to be with them. That's all."
About the author
- Writer: Yanapon Musiket
Position: Life Writer