"Beauty of Opportunity"
Enables Former Prisoners to Reintegrate into Society
To mark the 11th anniversary of the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders or the "Bangkok Rules", Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) organized an exhibition, "Beauty of Opportunities," to share stories about giving social-reintegration opportunities to people who previously made a mistake. The event was held between 22 and 26 December 2021 at the Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park.
Opportunities for a New Life
TIJ recognizes that "opportunities" are the most important things to prisoners and especially former prisoners who are trying to reintegrate into society. Only with opportunities can they start a new and quality life.
To date, Thailand has been encountering a high reoffending rate because the Thai public has often overlooked the need to adequately give occupational opportunities and places to ex-convicts. Lacking opportunities, many former prisoners are struggling to get back to their normal life and many of them are ending up reoffending.
It is important that all sectors recognize this problem and explore sustainable solutions together. Not only that reoffences cause prison overcrowding, but they also deprive Thailand of opportunities to receive contributions from ex-convicts who otherwise would have been able to serve the public and their nation.
Dr. Phiset Sa-ardyen, Executive Director of TIJ, said that throughout the past 11 years TIJ – as an agency under the Ministry of Justice – has collaborated with allies in driving tangible changes for former prisoners' sustainable social reintegration.
Such collaborations and efforts have contributed to the implementation of the Bangkok Rules, which set an international standard for countries across the world regarding the treatment of women prisoners. The United Nations General Assembly endorsed the Bangkok Rules on 21 December 2010.
The "Beauty of Opportunity" exhibition reflects the commitment of TIJ to communicate the issue to the public 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 so that they start their life anew.
"Opportunities" in the Eyes of Artists
Mr. Noppol Chuklin, Chief Executive Officer of Retail Business Solution Company Limited, was inspired to help prisoners after his enrolment into the TIJ Executive Program on the Rule of Law and Development (RoLD Programme) Class 1.
Under his initiative, many prisoners who are about to complete their jail term have been brought out of prison during the day to work as manufacturing operators at metal-welding factories. Several former prisoners have also been recruited to his company. In addition, he has set up Call Center where prisoners make phone calls and provide services to customers.
Mr. Noppol has found that prisons generally do not know about prisoners' backgrounds because of restrictions in the forms of regulations and limited budget. As a result, prisons are not able to develop inmates' potential efficiently. It can be said that prisoners' daily routine is largely influenced by their choice – "Will they kill time or get killed by time?"
As an experienced photographer, Mr. Noppol has joined the exhibition with photos that reveal time proves so different to prisoners and people living outside the prison wall.
"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," he explained.
Call Me by My Name
The first time Ms. Charinee Mateekul, or "LungPle," walked into jail, she was scared. All documentaries she had watched blurred the faces of prisoners to hide their identity. But once she was inside jail, she found that quite a few inmates preferred showing their faces because it was a way to feel their existence and value. This discovery led her to start the 'Call Me by My Name' project.
According to the project, Ms. Charinee has organized a drawing workshop for prisoners. Participants were selected from the Ratchaburi Prison. For them, the time has flown by so fast during the three-hour workshop as it was full of laughter. Participants got opportunities to contact inmates from other zones through the workshop's activity to draw their non-likeness portrait. The workshop provided the best drawing papers and colors, without any restriction on their imagination.
Each non-likeness portrait of a prisoner is unique. All of them also exude hopes and dreams. Inspired by inmates' dream to become a doctor, some portraits include a medical gown. Some others show the subject with different hair colors, revealing their wish to dye their hair. Prison rules prohibit hair coloring. Some participants were just happy holding a pencil for the first time in several years.
"We think it must be fun when workshop participants, after being released from jail, can stroll around an exhibition among other visitors and look at their non-likeness portraits without anyone knowing that the subjects are them. No one has to be afraid. Prisoners will one day come back to society and live a normal life just like others," Ms. Charinee quipped.
Mr. Norarat Thawin-anan, or "Ab," has been a street artist. Painting on walls and canvases alike under Abi pseudonym, he has keenly followed social issues and communicated them to the public. Among issues of his concerns are violence against children and human trafficking. This artist first stepped into art scenes by painting cartoons in public places. As his contemplations have gone deeper and his ideas have become sharper, he has recognized that he can help create a better society through the arts.
"I am not a popular-art type. My pieces are rooted in reality, with my characters telling of what justice on the injustice they have come across," Mr. Norarat explained.
This street artist has submitted his "Hourglass" painting as an exhibit at the "Beauty of Opportunity" exhibition. His spray painting draws inspiration from inmates' letters. Through handwritten letters, Mr. Norarat has seen hopes and more. Those ideas are then interpreted and presented in a fresh way.
"They are waiting for their freedom. That's my theme. I have got this idea from my observations during my time when I visited a prison many years ago and also from prisoners' letters. With those inspirations, my painting's mood is about remaining love and time," said the mask-wearing artist with a tinge of hope in his voice.
In addition to contributions from the three aforementioned artists, the "Beauty of Opportunity" exhibition also features various other interesting exhibits.
On display are artistic creations and designs across six fields. In total, the exhibits showcase works by seven artists/art groups as follows:
"Beautiful Opportunities" photo essay by Mr. Noppol Chuklin
"Call Me by My Name" acrylic painting by Ms. Charinee Mateekul
"Embracing Opportunities" illustrations by Mr. Anuchit Khamnoi, owner of Facebook Page: "Kiwtum"
"Hourglass" (street-art) painting by "Abi" or Mr. Norarat Thawin-anan
"Craft Opportunities" items by inmates from the Thon Buri Remand Prison's 10 Traditional Arts Project, which was conducted by Craft Master 2013 Mr. Piroon Sriiamsaard
"Lifetime Proofs of Former Convicts' Social Reintegration" photo essay by PPTV documentary photographer Mr. Somsak Netthong
"Places of opportunities" project by architecture students under the supervision of Asst. Prof. Dr. Rittirong Chutapruttikorn, Dean of the School of Architecture, Bangkok University.
The "Beauty of Opportunity" exhibition was held between 22 and 26 December 2021 at the Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park.