CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

From Thai jail to booming business: Young entrepreneur thanks The Winch for helping to turn his life around

12 March, 2015

A BUDDING entrepreneur who was locked up in Thailand for using counterfeit money says his life has been turned around with the help of a Swiss Cottage community centre.

Amaru Fleary, a former maintenance worker at St Pancras station, said a “foolish mistake” led to his arrest after he tried to exchange fake Euros.

Now back in London after 13 months stranded in Thailand, he says The Winch centre has helped get him back on the right track.

The 28-year-old was held by Thai police at his hotel in November 2012 after trying to swap the counterfeit notes at a bureau de change.

He said: “It was the worst feeling ever. There were a million things going through my mind as they took me to the station.”

He recalled the smell of urine in the cramped police cell he shared with “about 30 people” – men, women and children – for four days. When he was taken to court, he saw other prisoners in shackles, some carrying their own chains, stooped over “like the Hunchback of Notre Dame”. 

He was told he would be going to jail, and admitted: “The only reason I didn’t cry is because I was in that much shock.”

In a prison truck, he said, “we were squashed shoulder to shoulder like sardines”. 

He added: “When we got to the prison, they took my shoes and cut the pockets out of my cargo shorts. We were rushed out to the showers, then given a big bowl of rice, before being put into a room with about 50 other people. 

“In the night, you could feel other people on either side of you when you were trying to sleep. Another prisoner gave me a plastic bottle to use as a pillow.” 

He spent four weeks in prison, before being granted bail on condition that he stayed in the country. The authorities later fined him before he was sent home after 13 months.

“I was stuck out there. I was the obnoxious kid,” he said. “I did something that was a foolish mistake with a heavy consequence. But it was kind of necessary to make me realise, and see a bit of sense.”

He has decided to call his clothes-printing and textiles venture, Obnoxious Kids, after the experience. 

It has grown with help from organisers of The Company, a business development course for young people held at The Winch. The centre has helped him pitch ideas and run pop-up shops.

He said: “The support here is second to none. It is like a family here. I can’t even find the words to describe it really. I am so thankful for The Winch. 

“I do value my life a lot more. I am fully aware that one silly mistake or one choice can make a huge difference. Your life can turn around in a matter of minutes.” 

 

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