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Vanessa Goosen and Joanne Joseph Launch Drug Muled with Melinda Ferguson

Drug MuledA huge crowd of expectant literati crammed into Novel Books on Tuesday for the launch of Joanne Joseph’s book about Miss SA finalist Vanessa Goosen’s harrowing sixteen and a half years in prison in Thailand after being caught with 1.7 kilograms of heroin hidden in the spine of three books she was carrying for a friend of her boyfriend.

Goosen’s presence at the launch was delayed by a flat tyre, which gave Melinda Ferguson a chance to tell the audience how she came to publish this book. She wrote Smacked in 2006 about her own drug addiction and eventual recovery, and when Jacana Publishers offered her an imprint of her own she said she had to go out and look for books. The first one she wrote herself – The Kelly Khumalo Story, followed by The Goddess Boot Camp and then the story of the suicide of Kate Shand’s teenage son, Boy.

Joanne Joseph is married to Ferguson’s brother, and over lunch one Sunday Ferguson asked her, half-jokingly, “When are you going to write a book for me?” Joseph has a Master’s degree in English Literature but had no intention of writing a book until she interviewed Goosen as part of her job as a television journalist. Joseph described how Goosen’s story gripped her: a pregnant beauty queen sentenced to death in Thailand, who gave birth in prison and had to give up her child when she was three years old.

Joseph managed to write the book in three short months, sending Ferguson up to 5 000 words a day to look at. Asked how she managed to find Goosen’s voice in the telling of this story, Joseph said that it was difficult at first, as she started off writing in her own register and from her own point of view, but the more she listened to the hours of taped interviews with Goosen the more she was able to decipher her voice.

Because of her pregnancy, Goosen’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and then slowly reduced further by various amnesties in Thailand. She was eventually released in 2010 and met her daughter Felicia again at the age of 16. Goosen described the debilitating depression she suffered after she was forced to give up her daughter. As she had no real family support, a childhood friend, Melanie, and her husband Hilton brought her daughter back to South Africa and raised her. Just before Goosen’s release, Melanie suffered a fatal heart attack and Goosen never got to thank her.

Asked how writing the story had affected her, Joseph said that she was often on the verge of tears and had to use that emotion to tell the story, particularly the chapter where Goosen had to give up her child. She said the story still haunts her, but she holds onto the fact that Goosen made it out alive.

Goosen described how she suffered depression and deep despair for four and a half years after her child was taken away. She ended up in the prison hospital, unable to walk or feed herself until one day a woman came and spoke to her. She said Goosen was being selfish for giving up as she had a child to live for. Goosen said she cried for the first time in years and that marked the turning point when she decided she had to fight and survive.

She also described an average day in the notorious Lard Yao Prison in Bangkok. They were woken at 5am and from then on they did everything at a run. A cell of 80 square metres held 250 women, with three toilets between them. They slept on two folded towels and had to pay for everything, including food and hot water. Goosen received donations from sympathetic South Africans through the SA embassy. Those who had no money could earn some by working in the prison factories where wages were low.

Ferguson asked Goosen to describe how it felt when she came out of prison after such a long time. Goosen said she went into prison in 1994 and had never seen a cell phone. Her daughter had to teach her how to use one. She described how hard it was to get used to using Facebook and email. She particularly appreciated seemingly small things, like sleeping in a proper bed and having a hot bath.

Goosen also told the audience how difficult it was for her daughter Felicia to be reunited with her mother after so long. She said she still has many unresolved issues that they are trying to work through. Felicia feels she was never able to really be a child as she was always worrying about her mother and how she was doing. She broke down when Goosen was released, having just lost her “other mother” Melanie.

Ferguson said that in one way or another Vanessa Goosen’s story has changed the lives of everyone who has been associated with it. She said that people are often judgmental about those who get involved in drugs, often justifiably, but this story is of a person who was innocent and lost 16 years of her life, which is why the book is titled Drug Muled rather than “Drug Mule”.

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