Australia’s most notorious drug smuggler converted to Islam during 21 years in prison

Diaries from death row: Australia’s most notorious drug smuggler tells how he survived drug-crazed assassins, ran a smuggling operation from his cell and converted to Islam during 21 years in some of the world’s toughest prisons

Martin Garnett was put on death row in Thailand in 1993 for drug smuggling
While behind bars he was targeted by ‘Samurai’ death squads
After being pardoned in 2011, he was immediately extradited to the U.S. for exporting drugs to an Indiana prison – from his Bangkok cell
Returned to Sydney last year after his mother raised $20,000 for a prison swap
Has shared his story in a series of exclusive letters from jail
Credits his turnaround to a month-long hunger strike – and Islam
By Taylor Auerbach

One of Australia’s most notorious drug smugglers, who has spent more than 20 years behind bars in some of the world’s toughest prisons, has given a detailed and brutal account of his incarceration in a series of letters written from his jail cells.

Martin Garnett, now 47, a former luxury car dealer from Sydney who has been imprisoned in three different countries, was first arrested in 1993, aged 26, in Bangkok as he tried to smuggle 4.7kg of heroin out of the country.

He was put on death row and forced to survive horrific conditions – including attempts on his life by drug-crazed Samurai death squads.

Nabbed: The moment Martin Garnett’s life changed forever, arrested at a Bangkok airport in 1993 with 4.7kg of heroin strapped to his body

Nabbed: The moment Martin Garnett’s life changed forever, arrested at a Bangkok airport in 1993 with 4.7kg of heroin strapped to his body
But even those experiences, which led to him attempting suicide numerous times, failed to completely break him and he began exporting drugs, with the help of corrupt guards, to a jail in Indiana, in the U.S., an operation which earned him yet more time behind bars.

Thanks to his handwritten letters, MailOnline can reveal the true horror of his past 20 years, a terrifying narrative which ends with Garnett claiming he has finally seen the error of his ways – and even converted to Islam.

Garnett, who is currently in Sydney’s Silverwater jail after his mother raised enough money to secure a prison exchange with US authorities, first detailed the moment he was arrested in Bangkok with packets of heroin strapped to his body.

‘(It was) an out of body experience,’ he wrote. ‘I viewed it from up near the ceiling. I was already gone.

‘As soon as the heroin was placed on scales in front of me I began eating the corner of a block of pure heroin. I ate, I’d guess, 10 grams. More than enough to kill me.


1993 – Garnett is arrested at Bangkok airport when officials find 4.7kg of heroin strapped to his body. He is sentenced to death

1994 – Sentence commuted to 40 years

2001 – Indicted by the United States for mailing drugs to an Indiana prison

2011 – Pardoned by Thai authorities and transferred to America to serve out a 57 month sentence

2012 – Transferred to Sydney’s Silverwater prison after his mother Lyn raises $20,000 to secure a prison swap

‘I vomited all over a cop as he opened the mini-bus door…I ate the heroin to die. I knew I’d be in for life or get a death sentence anyway – so – why wait?’

Garnett, whose death sentence was ‘reduced’ to 40 years before he was eventually pardoned by Thailand’s king in 2011, soon learned that money was power – and meant the difference between living or rotting in a cramped, stinking hell hole until disease or another inmate finished him off.

He said the death squads would kill instantly for coffee or drugs – and their method of choice was bashing a victim’s head in with barbells.

‘The HIV rate among needle users is about 90 per cent,’ he wrote. ‘They inject heroin by sucking it up off the spoon with the ink tube of a ballpoint pen, with a needle attached to the end.

‘Then they stick it in their friend’s vein, suck up some blood and blow the heroin into their friend’s arm or neck.’

‘For years I could not go near free weights. The sound of a skull crushing stays with you.

THE SAMURAI ASSASINS – Martin Garnett on the prison death squads

‘The “Samurais” are prisoners, usually tattooed from head to foot, always drug addicts, who will happily kill for a few grams of heroin.

‘The HIV rate among needle users is about 90 per cent. They inject heroin by sucking it up off the spoon with the ink tube of a ballpoint pen, with a needle attached to the end.

‘Then they stick it in their friend’s vein, suck up some blood and blow the heroin into their friend’s arm or neck.

‘Various Samurai have killed other prisoners and are quite happy to do so again.

‘When you kill a prisoner in Thai prison, it’s only a five year sentence. If you have AIDS and a 100 year life sentence, what does another five years on your sentence mean?

‘From 2001 until 2004 they did all they could to have me killed or have me kill myself.

‘Four or five men will converge on the victim, who usually will be asleep in a deck chair in the yard.

‘Each killer comes from a different direction. One carries a home made cement dumbbell, the other four have knives.

‘The man with the weight crushes the man’s skull. The other four stab him many times each. Death is not quick like in the movies.’

Hell on earth: The filthy corner that Garnett had to use as a toilet (left) and the tiny cell he shared with up to 35 other prisoners (right)
‘When you kill a prisoner in Thai prison, it’s only a five year sentence. If you have AIDS and a 100 year life sentence, what does another five years on your sentence mean?’

He eventually stopped becoming a target and began using the tricks he had learned on the streets of Sydney as a gun-toting drug dealer.

He got his hands on a mobile phone to access a dial-up internet connection in 1997 and started importing goods to sell at a profit to his fellow inmates.

Happier times: Martin Garnett with his sister Holly, who committed suicide in 1998
‘Generally in Thai prison, prisoners are not referred to as human…But when you are a good earner – “Good morning big brother, how are you today? Have you eaten?”

With the help of crooked guards he then began exporting drugs from Thailand to a prison in the United States, 14,000km away.

American authorities found out what he was doing and added a further 57 months to his sentence – but only after he had served his time in Thailand.

‘I was indicted (by U.S. authorities) in 2001,’ he writes.


‘Very crowded, you sleep shoulder to shoulder. The lights stay on 24 hours a day. Almost everyone smokes. It’s hot. It smells.’

‘On the first day in the remand centre, after the strip search in the rain with the woolen glove and having the heavy chains and ankle loop closed with the hammer and anvil, the guard asked “do you want some dinner?”

‘On the table was a bowl of fish heads in grey water and red rice. A cat was enjoying a fish head – really enjoying it. The guard pointed to that table.

‘The cat hissed at me. In a few minutes the guard said “why you no eat?”

‘I realised Puss Puss had been eating my dinner. I would never be that hungry – I thought.’

‘By 2004 I’d had enough. America could have extradited me at any time, but it was better value for them to simply leave me in the Thai prison.’

As he came to terms with the possibility he would never taste freedom, he went on hunger strike for 31 days.

‘I woke up on that last morning and I could not see,’ he recalls.

‘Starving to death is actually really interesting. I was not hungry after a week. Above all the mental clarity is staggering.

‘You feel no pain, you don’t notice the heat, you feel no discomfort. I reviewed my entire life. While oblivious to everyone else, I was finally able to see that every bad thing that had ever happened to me was caused by me.

‘The zenith of my 36 years of life was to be starving to death in a Thai prison cell…It was a pathetic realisation. The clarity was stunning.’

For the first time in his life, Garnett found himself wanting to live rather than die. He had to achieve extradition to America, even if it meant surviving until his Thai sentence was completed in 2026.

He began reading the only book in his putrid cell – a Quran – and eventually converted to Islam, taking the name Amin Mubarak.

Locked up: Garnett, who converted to Islam in Thai prison, has spent 21 birthdays behind bars. He would later take the Muslim name Amin Mubarak

Locked up: Garnett, who converted to Islam in Thai prison, has spent 21 birthdays behind bars. He would later take the Muslim name Amin Mubarak
He stopped dealing drugs and started behaving himself, praying five times daily. His turnaround earned him a pardon from the Thai government in 2011.

He was immediately transferred to an Indiana prison, which he says was surprisingly worse than his Silverwater home.

While banged up in America, his mother Lyn launched an online appeal and raised the $20,000 needed for her son and two guards to travel by plane to Sydney. She now enjoys daily phone calls from him.

Pure joy: Earlier this year, Garnett was granted leave to visit his 93-year-old grandmother Marie Madden. He is pictured here in his Silverwater prison greens
Recently, MailOnline spoke with Garnett in the Silverwater Prison meeting room. He was clad in the obligatory all-green tracksuit and wore glasses.

Asked how he would spend his first day as a free man – he is due for release next May – he said he planned to travel to Bondi Beach and stare out at nothing but blue.

In his letters, he revealed how relieved he was to be back in his home country. He also visits his 93 year old grandmother Marie while out on day release and works in Silverwater’s coffee shop.

‘I have a beautiful grey ghost gum tree outside my cell,’ he wrote.

‘Australian sky above and all our amazing birds. Here the rainbow lorikeet welcomed me home by eating the jam packet from my hand.

‘I’m so glad to be here. I thank God five times a day that I’m still alive and every day is valuable.’

His life behind bars has also taken its toll on his family. His sister Holly, a former pop star in the chart-topping Australian band Euphoria, committed suicide in 1998, aged 29, due to her brother’s plight. Before her death she recorded a song with Jodhi Meares, the future Mrs James Packer.


‘Having me killed proved harder than they thought. I got on well with the Thai prisoners and was well liked.

‘When the guards would offer them drugs to attack me, the Samurai would tell me.

‘How did I avoid being killed? – You enter a “siege mentality”.

‘Never sit unless against a wall, never fall asleep in the yard, watch constantly. Never relax. When a threat appears deal with it immediately and decisively.

‘It is very taxing. Living like this for years did break me.

‘In Buddhist culture, the feet are the most dirty part of the body. In Thai prison, if you step over the legs it is a grave insult.

‘Of course, you do not know this when you arrive.

‘I stepped over the feet of several prisoners as I tried to get to the squat toilet. In chains, sick and exhausted, I’d have lost that fight but they let me off.

‘Having had no luck killing me in Bangkok, the Thai guards sent me to Klong Pai. It’s where they send the worst of the worst. The prisoners who’ve made too much trouble in Bangkok.

‘In the 366 days I was there I saw five murders in just one cell block.

‘It’s not easy to live with. You get tired. You become more extreme in order to deal with the constant threat.

‘I negotiated, manipulated, persuaded and evaded – just as I had in life before prison.

‘I was a mess, mentally and emotionally by the time I got back to Bangkok.’

‘The Muslims prayed their noon prayer outside the cell where I was kept during the hunger strike.

A Pakistani Muslim man, Habib, would sit outside my cell for hours after the prayer. Habib could not speak English but he learned one sentence that he wanted to say to me: “you don’t have the right to do this”.

‘I was so annoyed that this man was saying I did not have the right to kill myself – but he was not being rude or mean by saying this.

‘He was saying it with real concern, with love even.

‘I had only one book in my cell during that month. It was a copy of the Holy Quran with an English translation. I read the Quran, I watched the Muslims pray, they sat with me and we talked after the noon prayers.

‘I thought I’d selected the hardest path I could possibly choose. Imagine my surprise when I not only never missed a prayer but also discovered that Islam made my whole life easier.

‘I’m still in awe of how blessed I have been to have become a Muslim…to be one who submits to the will of God – this I felt was more accurate, more relevant to me. I got it. I understood.

‘I became a Muslim. I chose the name Amin Mubarak – The Trusted, The Blessed.

‘There is no colour in Islam. No difference in status. It does not matter what country you were born in. It does not matter how bad a person you were.

‘You do not have the right to be unhappy.

‘I discovered, to my surprise, that freedom, happiness and success are not bound by the geographical restriction of prison.’

Read more: Notorious Australian drug dealer’s Martin Garnett letters from prison | Mail Online
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