Loong Chai is always one of the first to be waiting for the Siam-Care staff on their prison visits to the hospital. Seated in his wheelchair or sometimes standing and waiting, he will be right at the entrance of the ward (huge cell) and as soon as the staff step in, his face turns into a big smile.
After he fell during his work on a construction site he ended up with back problems, unable to work, and having difficulties walking. He ended up using a wheel chair, depressed and no longer able to work. He felt so useless when his children started school and he didn't have money to send them. In a moment of desperation and not thinking clearly he decided to sell some amphetamines for quick money. He was soon caught and sentenced to 25 years in prison. This was in 2002.
Much has happened in the past 11 years; his 2 children grew into teenagers and his wife passed away. The children went to live with Loong Chai's sister who, together with her daughter, runs a rice-soup stall. Loong Chai's children help at the stall in the evening. Siam-Care staff visited his children and helped them with school supplies, also making sure they were able to visit their father in prison regularly.
This month, as we enter the prison hospital Loong Chai greets us with an extra big smile. Soon we hear the reason for the smile; his parole request has been approved on the grounds that he has served over 1/3 of his sentence and has a health issue. The exact date is not yet known but he will be released any time soon now.
He wants to be in the best condition he can be when released and to this end Loong Chai gets out of his wheelchair as often as his legs allow him to exercise, trying to walk or at least stand for a while every day. He will move in with his sister and hopes to be able to help her at the rice soup stall, he will make merit for his wife and he will be a father to his children again. He also wants to make sure that Siam-Care stays in touch and therefore he is asking our work phone numbers and already has memorized them all.
Many Thai prisoners have their hopes of early release raised by a recent introduction, by The Ministry of Justice, of the use of electronic monitoring devices ( known as “tagging”) for offenders as a means to deal with the overcrowded prisons in the country. The 143 prisons in Thailand have a capacity for around 106,000 prisoners based on regulations that each inmate has 2.25 square meters of space in a cell. Yet in March 2013 there were 262,077 prisoners, which apart from the overcrowded conditions, costs the government $1.40 for daily food per inmate.
Under the new law 4 categories of prisoners would be considered for the electronic monitoring device: those who may soon die in prison, those who must take care of parents, husband, wife or children who are dependent on them, those who are sick and in need of continuous treatment and finally those who deserve mitigation or other means of custody. However, even though the law has taken effect a feasibility study still has to be carried out. Also there is fear that the general public may not look favorable at it, being worried about living with convicted criminal in their midst which could lead to stigmatization of the offenders and their families.
For Loong Chai and his family the release date is not dependent on the implementation of the new law and they are eagerly awaiting his release, on parole. Siam-Care will be there to support him in the process of settling back into society, and for his children to continue their schooling. We thank you for supporting our work and continuing with us to help Loong Chai and many other families who have for longer or shorter periods been separated by prison walls and depend on outside support for many every day basic supplies, school costs etc.
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