Legend has it that in 1767 when Thailand’s then-capital of Ayutaya was captured by the Burmese and thousands of Thai soldiers were incarcerated, the prisoners were made to fight against Burmese boxing champions for the entertainment of the king. One Thai soldier fought his way to the top and so impressed the Burmese king that he was granted his freedom.
Now the Prison Fight organization, working with Thailand’s Department of Corrections, is taking this fighting spirit and applying it in a modern context—allowing Thai inmates a chance to fight for their freedom. Literally. Through an ongoing series of planned events, the charity organization is giving Thai prisoners a go at redemption through this traditional martial art. There are cash prizes and a chance for reduced sentencing for even those convicted of violent crimes.
Of course, to be eligible for the program you need to meet several prior qualifications and be in good standing within the penitentiary. So really the reduced sentencing comes down to good old good behavior. But there are other benefits as well. The prisoners get a chance to train and stay healthy and alleviate the inevitable, crushing boredom of a life behind bars.
I had the opportunity to visit Klong Prem prison in Bangkok, Thailand for an afternoon last week. The prison is one of a handful participating in the program. I was shown around the cells and allowed to speak with some inmates about Prison Fight and Muay Thai in general. It’s a fascinating if convoluted story. And one that I’m only beginning to explore. Here are just a few photos from within the prison walls.
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