In 2006, Wannawat “Bomb” Harnrungruangkit was 24 when he was first arrested. While there were many charges that Bomb could have possibly faced, his first arrest, he claims, was a stitch up.
“I was framed,” Bomb tells BK Magazine. “I admit I was selling drugs. But it was the Thai police who brought them to me.” He claims the police would seize drugs from other dealers and find someone to sell those drugs for them.
Bomb first became involved in a drug dealing network at 17. He excelled at it and worked his way into a small drug empire. Everything should have run smoothly, he claims, but then everything began to unravel.
“It all started with just a small bribe,” Bomb recalls. “But then that tiny amount would mushroom into B4-5 million per month, so I refused to strike a deal with them.”
He was cautious but eventually his network allegedly set him up to get busted for theft. Bomb was sentenced to 18 years in prison: Klong Prem Central Prison. He lost his house and his wife, the mother of his child, found a new lover while he was inside. But, for a drug dealer, prison was a new beginning.
“Prison has everything you could imagine—except for the women, of course,” Bomb says. During his early years at the prison, Bomb gathered the necessary resources and bonded with other big names in narcotics.
“You’ll find many suppliers who are willing to do business with you there,” Bomb says. “Since there are only sellers in prison, all you need is to find clients for them once you’re out of prison.”
On the morning of March 31, 2012, a court ruled that Bomb’s prosecutor failed to provide sufficient evidence to support his conviction. Although Bomb was due civil damages from his case of up to around one million baht, he refused. “No matter how much they paid me, the damage was already done.”
With his prison connections, Bomb slowly accumulated more wealth than he had ever had before, but in 2016 his career as a drug dealer reached its end when he was arrested yet again.
“I thought I would be mad at the world when they caught me this time,” Bomb tells BK Magazine. “But this second arrest forced me to reevaluate my whole situation...I was lucky that I was caught with a small amount of drugs. Had it been [a large amount], I wouldn’t have had the chance to turn my life around.”
During his second jail term, Bomb was sentenced to serve four years at Thonburi Prison. Unlike other prisons in Thailand, Thonburi Prison follows the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (The Nelson Mandela Rules). Prisoners there are eligible for career-building programs, ranging from basic carpentry and baking to professional painting and sculpture.
Bomb applied for the painting class, known for the better treatment and the luxury of air-conditioners. However, his plan almost failed, and it had nothing to do with his artistic skills.

"They were reluctant to accept me because of my tattoos...The class has many VIP visitors and they thought I would ruin their image.”

“They were reluctant to accept me because of my tattoos,” Bomb says while showing off his hands covered with Thai sakyant. “The class has many VIP visitors and they thought I would ruin their image.”
Refusing to accept their decision, Bomb calligraphed his name on his ward’s walls, on the toilet, on the tables. It took weeks of this civil protest before his art teacher finally relented.
“My calligraphy impressed him,” Bomb recalls. “He told me I made him change his view on people with tattoos: ‘Everyone deserves a second chance, tattoos or not.’”
Although Bomb had been accepted, things didn’t go as planned. In the first eight-month period, Bomb attended four basic classes and failed all of them.
Each week the art trainees completed at least one assignment, and Bomb was responsible for painting a temple’s door.
“At first I thought he would praise me, but he told me to give up and enroll in boot making classes instead,” Bomb says.
In front of his training hall, there was a statue of Ganesha. Bomb had never been any kind of believer, but there was nothing left to lose. He lit incense and placed it at the altar: “If you truly exist, can you please guide me out of this mess? If I succeed, I will worship you every day from now on.”
Bomb then chose Ganesha as his next subject, carefully studying the lighting and anatomy of the statue and then spent six months drafting his work.
“Despite what he said, my art teacher kept watching over me,” Bomb recalls. “He is one of those strict figures that will corner you to the limit while helping you when you don’t notice.” Without notifying Bomb, his art teacher sent the Ganesha piece to 2019’s Thonburi Prisoner Craft Product Exhibition. Bomb won first prize.
“During that exhibition, there was this client who really admired my works. He approached and said, ‘just keep on painting like this’ and told me if I couldn’t find any jobs he would buy all of my paintings.”
Bomb was 36 when he gained his freedom a second time. Like many ex-cons, Bomb struggled not to succumb to his old ways.
“Around 70% of people I knew from prison would return to a life of crime, and about 30% of them actually manage to settle down.”
It was hard, Bomb admits, to start over when people looked at him with disdain. “All I want is for you to see me for who I really am—not by who I used to be. Sometimes, people avoid me after having a glance at my tattoos.”

“All I want is for you to see me for who I really am—not by who I used to be. Sometimes, people avoid me after having a glance at my tattoos.”

Bomb admits that he almost fell back into old temptations. “When I was released from prison, I literally had nothing. I was less than a person. After my release, my friends offered me one last gig, an easy job that would make all my worries about the painting equipment costs go away. With this one job, my dream of opening a gallery would come true.”
His son changed his mind. The fear of losing a chance to be with his boy, he says, is what took him away from that dark life.
“My biggest regret is not having watched my son grow. During those years in prison, I used my fingernails to scratch on the walls to count the days until I could meet my son. When I met him, he wouldn’t let me hug him at first. I was devastated as a father. Never again would I let that happen.”
Using the new connections he gained from painting classes, Bomb succeeded in opening his small shop on Soi Khok Mah, both a working space and personal gallery. But it’s not just for him.
“As a former inmate myself, I couldn’t sit back and ignore what my friends have to go through. I’m planning to turn the first floor of this shop into a place where former inmates can open their businesses.”
All rights reserved to Coconuts Media Group. Photo credit: Poonsawat Sudtama.