Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) has shone a rare light on rehabilitation of prisoners in Thai jails, telling their stories in "Beauty of Opportunities". The December 22-26 exhibition marked the 11th anniversary of the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders or the "Bangkok Rules".
Held at the Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park, it share stories of social-reintegration opportunities handed to people who made a mistake.
Opportunities for a new life
TIJ said opportunities" are the most important things to prisoners, especially those who are trying to reintegrate into society as they can only start a new and quality life if given chances to do so.
Thailand suffers a high reoffending rate because the public often overlooks the need to give occupational opportunities to former prisoners. Reoffending causes overcrowding in prisons and also deprives Thailand of human resources from ex-convicts.
TIJ has collaborated with allies to drive former prisoners' sustainable social reintegration for the past 11 years, said its executive director Phiset Sa-ardyen.
These efforts contributed to the endorsement of the Bangkok Rules by the UN in 2010, which set an international standard for the treatment of women prisoners.
The "Beauty of Opportunities" exhibition reflected TIJ’s commitment to communicating the problem through artists' and designers' perspectives, experiences, and stories about prisoners. The exhibition celebrates the value, potential, freedom, and equality of people who took a wrong move in the past and the importance of giving them opportunities.
‘Opportunities’ in the Eyes of Artists
, was inspired to help prisoners after his enrolment into the TIJ Executive Programme on the Rule of Law and Development (RoLD Programme) Class 1.
Under his initiative, prisoners nearing their release date are brought out of jail to work as operators at metal-welding factories. Several former prisoners have also been recruited to his company. He also has set up a call centre where prisoners make phone calls and provide services.
Noppol has found that prisons generally do not know about prisoners' backgrounds because of restrictions of regulations and budgets. Therefore, prisons are not able to develop prisoners’ potential efficiently. Instead most prisoners face a stark choice: "Will they kill time or get killed by time?"
Noppol has joined the exhibition as a photographer whose photos show how time is so different to prisoners and people living outside.
"I hope these photos will make people see where the beauty of opportunities lies. It's about time management. Be happy in the present. Be patient. And appreciate the more time one has for oneself," Noppol explained.
Call me by my name
The first time Charinee "LungPle" Mateekul walked into jail, she was scared. Documentaries she had watched blurred prisoners’ faces to hide their identity. Once she was inside jail, she found that some inmates preferred to focus on faces because it was a way of recognising their existence and value. It led her to launch the “Call Me by My Name” project – a drawing workshop for inmates at Ratchaburi Prison. The time flies by fast for them during the three-hour workshop. Participants get opportunities to contact inmates from other zones and draw their portraits. The workshop provides the best drawing paper and equipment, enabling them to free their imagination.
Each portrait is unique and all of them exude hopes and dreams. Some are inspired by inmates' dreams to become medics, and picture medical gowns. Others show the subject with different hair colours – prison rules prohibit hair dyeing. Some participants are just happy to hold a pencil for the first time in years.
"It must be fun for workshop participants, after being released from jail, to stroll around an exhibition with other visitors and look at their portraits without anyone knowing that the subjects are them. No one has to be afraid. Prisoners will one day return to society and live normal lives just like others," Charinee said.
Norarat "Ab" Thawin-anan is a street artist. He is interested in social issues such as violence against children and human trafficking. As his thoughts deepened and his ideas got sharper, he recognised he could help create a better society through the arts.
"I am not a pop-art type. My pieces are rooted in reality, with characters telling of the justice and injustice they have encountered," Norarat explained.
Norarat’s "Hourglass" painting in "Beauty of Opportunities" draws inspiration from the hopes and dreams expressed in inmates' letters.
"They are waiting for their freedom. That's my theme. I got this idea from my observations when visiting a prison many years ago and also from prisoners' letters. My painting's mood concerns remaining love and time," Noparat said with a yearning tone in his voice.
The exhibition showcased works:
• "Beautiful Opportunities" photo essay by Noppol Chuklin
• “Call Me by My Name" acrylic painting by Charinee Mateekul
• "Embracing Opportunities" illustrations by Anuchit Khamnoi, owner of Facebook Page: "Kiwtum"
• "Hourglass" (street-art) painting by "Abi" or Norarat Thawin-anan
• "Craft Opportunities" items by inmates from the Thon Buri Remand Prison's 10 Traditional Arts Project, which was conducted by Piroon Sriiamsaard
• "Lifetime Proofs of Former Convicts' Social Reintegration" photo essay by PPTV documentary photographer Somsak Netthong
• "Places of opportunities" project by architecture students under the supervision of Asst Prof Rittirong Chutapruttikorn, Dean of the School of Architecture, Bangkok University.
Published : January 24, 2022