Holly Dean Johns, sentenced to 31 years in the notorious Bangkok Hilton, reveals her harrowing survival in her 2024 book. From drug addiction to brutal prison conditions, her story is a chilling warning against illicit drug taking. Her whole family was devastated by heroin.

An Australian woman has revealed a vivid description of what it was like being banged up in Thailand’s notorious Bangkok Hilton. Sentenced to 31 years behind bars by the Criminal Court in 2000, Holly Dean Johns fought for survival but promised herself that one day her story would be published. The book gives a blow-by-blow account of Holly’s harrowing ordeal, which came to an end in 2007 when she was transferred to a prison in Australia to complete her sentence. Even today, Holly describes that day as the happiest of her life. Indeed, she recalls that the luxury of a high-security prison in Perth put her on the road to rehabilitation. At the same time, the Australian woman quit drugs 10 months into her period behind bars in Bangkok. She had to in order to survive in the febrile world of Thai prison hell.

Holly Deane Johns (left) was interviewed by Channel 10 TV in Australia in February when she launched her book Holly’s Hell (inset). (Right) Scene from a Bangkok court in 2000 when the then 29-year-old Holly Dean Johns was sentenced to 31 years in prison.

A 53-year-old Australian woman this year published a book detailing her seven years of hell at a Thai prison. She was imprisoned at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution in the Chatuchak area of Bangkok.

The high-security prison is known otherwise to foreigners as Klong Prem Central Prison or notoriously as the Bangkok Hilton.

The book was published on February 8th by Hembury Books. It is titled Holly’s Hell.

Then 29-year-old Australian drug dealer Holly was arrested by police in 2000 after being placed under surveillance by the Royal Thai Police for 3 months

Holly Dean Johns was arrested by Thai Police in 2000 after a surveillance operation by police over a 3-month period. 

The then 29-year-old woman was known to the force, having joined her boyfriend Stephen in the kingdom that year. Previously, Holly had finished a five-year sentence in Bandyup Prison in Perth, Eastern Australia for drug dealing.

In Thailand, the pair were drug dealing and sending small amounts of the drug to Australia.

Holly had been introduced to drugs at 15 years of age by her mother.

In turn, her mother had picked up the habit from a new boyfriend. This was in the 1980s after Holly’s heavy drinking and abusive father had left.

Her mother operated a busy escort service from the family’s home in the fashionable Mount Lawley suburb of Perth, Western Australia. The area is known to be stylish and at the same time, a cultural hotspot.

A man called Simon brought heroin into Holly’s family home. This led to 3 overdoses. In addition, Holly and all her siblings became addicts and inmates

However, the decision by Holly’s mother to take up with a man called Simon who brought the heroin habit with him proved disastrous. Holly’s mother later died from an overdose. 

In addition, her younger sister and one of her brothers overdosed on the drug.

Thereafter, Holly and all her siblings ended up hooked on heroin and imprisoned.

In 1992, one year into her stint in Bandyup Prison in Western Australia, Holly and her sister were both brought to their mother’s funeral in handcuffs.

However, all of this is the prelude to what happened when Holly was released in the mid-1990s. She jetted out to Thailand to be reunited with her drug-dealing boyfriend Stephen.

In 2000 Holly was arrested at a post office in the kingdom as she attempted to mail a heroin package back to Perth in Australia with 15 grams of heroin

Speaking recently to Australian national TV Channel 10 she surprised the interviewer. 

Holly described Thailand as the place to be for heroin users at that time. In short, the drug was cheap and easily accessible because the kingdom is a hub for its export from the infamous Golden Triangle area.

Nonetheless, she was arrested one night at a post office in the kingdom.

She explained that the 15 grams she was trying to post in a calendar was for her own use. The drug-dealing Holly had gotten into the habit of flying back to Perth. 

Therefore, she needed her own supply of the drug at home at Thai prices.

Certainly, it was an ill-conceived proposition that landed Holly behind bars at a Thai Police Station.

Australian woman avoided the death penalty but was initially handed down a daunting 31-year prison sentence at one of the toughest prisons in the world

After that, Holly knew she was facing 20 to 30 years in prison. In brief, while luckily avoiding the death penalty, she received a 31-year sentence. Subsequently, on appeal, this was reduced to 22 years.

Her book ‘Holly’s Hell’ deals with the atrocious conditions she endured at the Thai prison from 2000 to 2007.

In February this year, in her emotional interview on Australian TV Channel 10’s The Project, a hard-hitting news and current affairs show, Holly explained what life in the infamous Thai prison was like.

Holly’s seven years in what her book described as hell can be understood from her reaction at the end.

At length, this came when she was sent back to prison in Australia for a further five years. The Australian woman describes it as the ‘happiest day’ of her life.

Certainly, Holly’s nightmarish experience in Thailand got her off drugs. Despite this, she took heroin for the first 10 months inside.

However, she needed her wits to understand what was happening in the dangerous and febrile atmosphere of Klong Prem.

A toothache for a person incarcerated at the Bangkok Hilton can become an unbearably painful experience and a real threat to a prisoner’s health and sanity

The Australian woman explains that there was little or no medical care.

For instance, a small thing like a toothache could become a serious threat to any prisoner. In her book, she recalls a Thai woman with rotting teeth using pliers to extract them.

Holly described life in a Thai prison as a fight.

‘It was a fight. You fight for everything, even something as stupid as water to shower with. That’s a fight to get the water,’ she told Australian media recently.

‘There’s that many people and there’s not enough water. So if you don’t get in pretty much first, you don’t get a shower.’

On the Channel 10 show, she said life in the Thai prison was ‘horrible’.

She gave viewers a full insight into what life was like living in a crowded cell.

‘This is horrible. You’re just stuck to each other. If one person wants to turn over in that line, the whole line has to turn over. And you’re thinking there’s 30 years of this. I knew it was going to be a long, long time.’

At one time, Holly recalls waking up covered in menstrual blood.

She also poignantly recalls a Thai friend who succumbed to Aids. She said the woman was placed in a body bag and swung onto the back of a truck with a thud by two men.

Back in the fashionable Perth suburb in the 1980s, Holly’s home served as a busy escort service headquarters run by her mother, separated from her father

Holly took viewers back to the 1980s in Perth at her mother’s fashionable home which was also an escort agency headquarters.

‘You know, you go to a friend’s house after school, and you do normal things. Come to my house, and you’re walking into a house where phones are ringing, and girls are coming in and out dropping money off. It’s not normal.’

She explained that her mother had previously separated from her father when she was just 15 years of age. Afterwards, her mother’s new boyfriend Simon introduced heroin to the family.

In turn, for Holly, it was the start of her slow decline into hell. Not long afterwards she was immersed in the drug underworld with its criminal connections.

‘There’s five of us siblings, and we all became addicted to heroin, and we’ve all ended up in prison,’ she explained.

Holly, as she ventured into the drug underworld, found her lifelong companion. His name was Stephen, the man she followed to Thailand. He died in 2023

Holly was not alone in this new world, however. She had formed a relationship with another heroin user called Stephen. The pair were bound together as man and wife until Stephen eventually died last year from cancer.

Meanwhile, in 1991, Holly was convicted in relation to a plot to import heroin into Australia from Thailand. Consequently, she was sent to jail for five years.

She served her sentence at Bandyup high-security prison in Perth. She would return there 16 years later from Bangkok a reformed person.

Indeed, such was the relief at escaping the Bangkok Hilton that Holly immersed herself in everything the prison had to offer by way of rehabilitation.

The Australian prison was like luxury living in contrast to her period at Klong Prem, also known as Lard Yao.

Thailand in the mid to late 1990s was the ‘place to be’ for heroin junkies. In short, Holly and Stephen became drug dealers exporting the substance home

While Holly shocked Australian TV viewers when she described Thailand as ‘the place to be’ for heroin users, she also admitted to the darker side. It certainly was not the ‘place to get caught’.

Undoubtedly, Holly did one night when detained by officers as she attempted to post her heroin calendar parcel to Perth.

‘I was arrested at a post office one night trying to send a letter which had a calendar in it. Inside that calendar were 15 grams of heroin. This is Thailand, this is a totally different kettle of fish to Australia,’ she told TV viewers. ‘But it’s true. It’s definitely not the place to get caught.’

In particular, when pressed as to what it was like at Klong Prem Prison, she was frank and brutal.

Life in Thai prison was an ordeal from day one

‘I couldn’t be shy about anything anymore, I had to eat what I had to eat. I had to shower how I had to shower. You’ve got a small plastic bowl that you’re dipping into that has hair in it, pubic hair in it, lice, stones,’ she explained.

Corrections boss dismisses guard for affair with inmate’s wife and extorting money from family 
Drugs leave Thai prisons chronically overcrowded with 87% of female prisoners jailed for meths

But her new life as a Bangkok Hilton inmate brought one silver lining.

Holly finally got clean.

‘You hear about people having a lightbulb moment, which sounds really cliché, I know, but that’s really what happened to me,’ she told the TV interviewer.

Holly began her rehabilitation and training for a new life after escaping the nightmare of prison life in Bangkok. That was in 2012, she never looked back

Holly Deane Johns began rehabilitating herself even while still in prison in Perth following her transfer back from the hellhole of prison in Bangkok.

That was in 2012, twelve years ago.  She has never looked back and vows she never will.

Subsequently, after completing her five years in Australia, Holly went straight. She has never gone back to heroin.

Afterwards, she was reunited with her boyfriend and the pair lived as husband and wife peacefully together from 2012 to 2023.

Significantly, she now describes the pain of losing her husband to cancer as the most traumatic experience of all she has endured.

Australian woman, now 53 years old, would tell any young person in particular girls not to even touch drugs at any time. In short, it is a gateway to hell 

The 53-year-old now works as an advocate and activist in trying to prevent young people from going down the wrong path.

In the meantime, she has worked variously as an uber-driver, a fly-in and fly-out mining worker and now a writer.

In addition, she became a trained youth worker and hypnotherapist.

Her final message when asked by her Channel 10 interviewer while looking at a book cover which shows her behind bars is that the young woman there is not her anymore.

For that young girl and other young girls out there, her message is stark.

Do not touch heroin or drugs, ever or at all.

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Further reading:

Corrections boss dismisses guard for affair with inmate’s wife and extorting money from family

Thai prisons have a bad reputation with international human rights bodies due to chronic overcrowding, lack of hygiene and cruel punishment regimes

Thailand jails more women than any other country in the world over pink yaba pills and ongoing drug arrests

Prison guard gets life for attempted murder as Thai top brass crack down on prison corruption and ill discipline

More foreign nationals in Thai prison but there are conflicting reports on harsh conditions

Long road still for UK man jailed in Thailand for 50 years in 2015 but family support is inspirational

Thailand at war with drugs as regional anti drug effort gains steam, foreigners must not be the enemy