This is the story of Chai. He is a 50 year old farmer from a small city near Bangkok with 3 children: Chok (14), Leng (9) and Boss (5). Chai’s father was a farmer as well and so was Chai’s grandfather. A couple years ago an awefull accident changed Chai’s life forever.
Chai was driving his car to pick up his children when he crashed. He broke his backbone and ended up in a wheelchair. Hence he couldn’t work as a farmer any more. He was despirate and didn’t know how to support his family any longer. Then a friends offered him a solution: if Chai would deliver some drugs for him, he would pay all of his bills. And so it happened. Unfortunately it took a turn for the worse and Chai got caught by the police and ended up in jail.
Wife died because of HIVThis happened in 2004, Chai is in jail for 10 years already. He won’t be released in another 15 years. About 6 years ago Chai suddenly started feeling sick and found out he was HIV-positive. And so was his wife, who was still taking care of their children back then. She died 3 years ago. Chai had more luck: the medication made him feel better and now he doesn’t feel sick anymore, though he is still infected.
Share dreamsSiam-Care visites Chai twice a month in the Klongprem prison in Bangkok. We teached him how to take his medication and how to take good care of himself. Also we talk with him about his future and his dreams. We cannot bring his wife back and we cannot release him from prison. But we can accompany him in taking his medicin and taking care of his sick body. No one else will do, unfortunately. But for Chai our help makes a big difference. There is someone from outsite prison who he can talk to and share his experiences with. We are glad that, due to your donations, we can make a difference for people like Chai. Please continue supporting our work, for without your help Chai will be al alone. We use donations to buy basic supplies like soap and tooth brushes for the inmates and we use it to pay for the salary of our prison worker. So again: without your help, we cannot help Chai any longer.
Last Wednesday the prison staff invited us to visit them more often. You need to know that we are the only NGO in Bangkok that is allowed to go into the hospital section of the prison. Just once a month. But if we are allowed to go twice a month we can build better relations with the prisoners. And that is really important. An example what will affirm this, is the story of Derek.
DerekWe just met him for the first time. It is easy for our English speaking colleagues to talk with him because he speaks English. He is from Nigeria, and sentenced for dealing drugs. After they found out he was HIV positive he had to go to the prison hospital. He tells us that the circumstances in the prison are unbearable. The hospital section is a bit better. He also tells us that he feels very lonely. Because he is from Nigeria he does not speak any Thai, while his inmates only speak Thai. He is so happy he can talk to us in his own language.
HIV medicinsWe talked about HIV medicines. Because some of the prisoners do not know anything about medication, our guest speaker first explains the basics. He interacts with the inmates about what sort of infections they have besides HIV and the side effect of the medication. After that there is still time to talk about other things. The prisoners are asked to sit together and draw a picture of their ideal future. Most of them made pictures of the rural areas of Thailand, with a house, wife and some cattle.
Throwing your dreams awayWhen they are finished they are asked to tear up the drawing. They obey and there is nothing left of the drawings. We ask them why they tear up their dreams. Only because we tell them? We want them to always remember that whatever they are told to do, they should keep their hopes and dreams. Having dreams is important. It is the way to survive.
(For security reasons the names used in this article are not real.)
“My name is Joseph and I’m from Liberia. The last 6 months have been the most terrifying months in my live. I’ve been so stupid to smuggle drugs to Thailand. I was desperate for money and then you do unwise things sometimes. I got caught by the police and ended up in one of the most notorious prisons worldwide: The Bangkwan Central Prison in Bangkok.”
“In the Bangkok Hilton – a nickname for Bangkwan Central Prison – you have very little space for yourself. I share my room with about 30 other prisoners. We even take turns sleeping for there is not enough room to sleep at the same time. Did I tell you already we don’t have a toilet in our cell? You won’t be surprised that after a couple of weeks I started to feel weaker. After visiting the prison doctor and waiting for the results, I discovered something awful: I was Hiv-positive.”
On one speaks English“Of course I was shocked by the news. They immediately transported me to the prison hospital where I at least had my own bed. But all the other inmates were Thai en no one could tell me what I should do. The nurse gave me some basic information about my medication but I didn’t quite understand what she was telling me. Thankfully the nurse told me about Siam-Care. This NGO visits the prison hospital twice a month. I was very happy to see them for the first time; finally someone who spoke English and could tell me more about my infection.”
More knowledge about Hiv “I spoke with one of the staff members of Siam-Care for quite a long time. He gave me more information about Hiv and about how and when I should take my medication. He also explained why it is so important for me to take my medication. I know a lot more about Hiv and that gives me more peace. Of course my situation is still very bad and I’m not even sure how much longer I need to stay in prison. It might be 20 more years. But at least I know there is someone I can talk to about my situation, someone who’s really listening. Siam-Care has been a great help for me in prison and I’m definitely more relax now.”
Would you help us to keep on supporting people like Joseph? Please donate money, so that we are able to keep on hiring someone to visit the prison hospital as much as possible.
(For security reasons the names used in this article are not real.)
It is a usual sunny Wednesday morning, when we arrive at the prison hospital. Because we want the prisoners to trust us, we make sure they see the same faces every time when we visit. Colleagues Ard and Thorung know the prisoners very well, and the prisoners know them very well. Arriving in the room where the activities will take place, prisoners are already waiting.
We start with a little ice-breaker. (what was the ice-breaker of that day?) While the group is talking about how they see their future, Thorung went for a walk to see the prisoners who are too sick to attend the activities.
Uncle Saeng ‘When I, Thorung, arrived at Uncle Saeng his bed, he is already trying to get up because he is looking forward to our visit. He directly starts telling me stories. He used to be a police officer, for the prevention of drugs. For several reasons, (he will not tell) he ended up dealing drugs himself. At the age of 35 he got caught and got life sentence. Because of his HIV-infection he cannot move his legs anymore. I am checking if there is any feeling in his feet by ticking on his feet. He nods. ‘I can feel them, but I just cannot move them’ he tells me. I know this is not only due to HIV but also the lack of hope he has for the future.’ Miracle Last year uncle Saeng almost died. He was very sick and had bedsores everywhere. His last wish was to see his family. Siam Care arranged this family reunion where he could see his wife and two children. Nobody knows what exactly happened but Saeng got better. He was even able to walk a little. It is about waiting Saeng has to wait. After he sits two third of his time in prison he can make an appeal asking permission to go back to his wife and children. It is still a long time to go. But it is worth waiting for. We keep reminding him that. So that he will not lose hope.
The Christmas-season is about to start. December is always an extra difficult time for the prisoners of the prison-hospital of Bangkok. Where other people come together to eat and celebrate Christmas, the life of the prisoners ‘just’ continues. Therefore in December the Siam-Care staff brings them an extra visit to sing Christmas carols for and with the inmates, to let them know they’re not alone. We try to encourage them to not lose hope.
Life after being releasedThis story is about someone for whom we have always sung for in prison previous years. This year he will not be there. Prem is in fact released after more than 10 years in prison. Whether he will be happy this year with Christmas? That is highly questionable. After he was released, the contact with the Siam-Care prison-workers was diluted. Last week, he suddenly rang. Despite his freedom he got in trouble and he didn’t see an outcome anymore.
Not able to support himselfEven after being released, an ex-con can always come to Siam-Care for moral support. Two days after Prem called us, we visited him. Unfortunately he was suddenly suffering from paralysis on the left side of his body and he could hardly walk. He was in quite a lot of pain and wasn’t able to work, according to himself. In his livelihood Prem completely depended on his elderly mother, who sells fried bananas. Unfortunately, she doesn’t earn enough to cover all their expenses. All charges of Prem's medications could hardly be paid for and eating three meals a day was absolutely no option. Prem felt so depressed that he was seriously considering putting an end to his life.
Small things with big influenceWhat do you do when someone like Prem calls you and asks for financial support? We are more or less the only people he knows, there is no one looking after him. Basically Siam-Care never just gives money to people. We always encourage people to take care of themselves as much as possible. So we spoke with Prem and gave him moral support. Together we thought about what kind of work he could be doing to support himself. We showed him that there are enough options, even for a physically disabled person. Besides this we have made a small donation to his mother, so that she can improve her food stall and hopefully earn more money in the near future to support herself and her son. The things we did were just small things. But for Prem and his mother is meant the world. Prem regained faith in a good future. And he knows that his life is valuable, that there are people who care about him and want to inspire him to do something with his life.
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