Volunteer impression of prison visit July 2012
Siam-Care receives many volunteers during the year who help with all sorts of different jobs that need to be done. Recently 4 young British women came along to visit some of the prisoners we support and here is a short report from one of them:
“Having never visited a prison before, I did not know what to expect. Thai prisons are known as the worst in the world so I was quite nervous about what I was going to see.
When waiting for the inmate I was going to be talking too, I was amazed at the security they had for the visiting section and the segregation of foreign, Thai and monk prisoners. The monk prisoner had a lot more room and he had a lot of respect from the public as well as the prison guards. It seemed that he was treated very differently to the other prisoners despite his crime. A big group of people went to visit him and receive teaching from him- they dressed as they would for any other other temple visit.
The visiting area makes you feel very distant from the prisoner. There is a table to sit at with a phone, looking through a window with bars you can see a couple of meters away another table (with bars across) for the inmate to sit with their phone. Everyone is next to each other and people are talking all at the same time. There is no privacy, nothing. Guards patrol behind the prisoners when talking to their visitor and everyone is being watched all the time.
I was worried what to talk to the prisoner about because I was of no relation to him- I did not think he would be interested in having a conversation with someone he did not know. The language was a barrier as he spoke very little English but the fact that I was there and making the effort to come and see him he appreciated greatly and that really came across no matter what language he spoke. Because of being so far away from his family, he was wanting some one to talk to, someone that would listen to him.
All of the people that I talked to were very open about how they came to be in prison. They answered any questions I had about their living conditions and their sentencing. One man had already served 9 years and still had another 50 years until he would be set free. It is heartbreaking knowing how long they will be there for.
Even though they may have been in prison a long time, they are not totally cut off from the world. The prisoners were allowed to watch the Euro 2012. This made a good conversation topic as it is an activity we both had seen.
The mood of the prisoners surprised me; they were willing to talk and were laughing and smiling too. My initial thought was to talk to a depressed, unhopeful human being but it was not like that at all. Most of them were hopeful that they will be able to get out soon; that their sentence will be reduced and they will see their families again.
During the visit to the prison, some prisoners were walked through the grounds by a guard. At first it was good to see them out rather than behind bars but then I noticed the way they were walking and the looks on their faces. There wore chains not just on their wrists but round their feet too. The prisoners do not have one ounce of freedom. It came as such a shock because I had honestly thought that in this day and age, chains like those we not allowed to be used.
The reasons for most sentences were drug related- trying to earn money for their families by doing a dodgy deal and then being caught, many were first timers. The visit made me want to help prisoners as much as I could so that they could be reunited with their loved ones, it also made me appreciate my own freedom even more.”
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