Siam-Care often welcomes volunteers. Last year, Lisanne van Hasselaar helped us for a few months. She would like to share her experience of visiting a prison in Bangkok. This is her story.
On a regular basis, Siam-Care visits the hospital-section of the highly secured Klong Prem prison in Bangkok. I was privileged to join the team this day, so I can tell you what I have seen and what Siam-Care is doing here. Most inmates we visit in this prison, are infected with and tb. Unfortunately, if you have HIV in Thailand, you are worth nothing in the eyes of many. In our eyes though, this is a big fat lie.
Passport control, going through a heavy door, through a body scan portal, a human body scan and yet another highly secured door. We were inside, and I felt it immediately. Groups of prisoners were watching us, maybe they do this all the time or maybe it is because I am a foreigner. Some of them were trying to make eye-contact, and smiled at me. Others were just looking without showing any emotion. Some were looking sick, some looked healthy, some were wearing cuffs and some did not. Did it feel safe? Not at all, to be honest. Thankfully I know Siam-Care comes here every two weeks, to coach, consult, teach and listen to the inmates, so I knew I didn't have to be afraid. Once we got in, we soon started talking with some inmates.
Touched my heart
Of course I don’t speak Thai, so I had the chance to observe the inmates and the staff of Siam-Care. The first man we talked to was kind, he looked at both of us and told us freely about his situation. Despite the fact that his situation was not good at all. Although I did not understand him, this man touched my heart. That was because of what I read in his eyes. I saw a glimpse of hope; a hope for a better life; a hope for a good future. We explained to him some things about his disease(s) and listened to what he wanted to tell us. We could see from his attitude that he liked that we were listening. It felt like he even appreciated that I was listening, someone who couldn't understand a word. So the conversation with this man was successful. Especially because at the end of the conversation, in his eyes, I did see hope and even a spark of joy. That was very precious, both for me and him.
Lost all hope
The contrast with the second prisoner was very big. He was almost going to be released, so I expected to see some joy there. But when this man looked straight into my eyes, I got a lump in my throat. There was no hope in his eyes, no joy. His eyes were cold and dark. This man had lost all hope for a better life, perhaps that is because he feels he is not worth it. Afterwards P' Wan (staff of Siam-Care) told me that he intends to continue his life the way he did before. I am afraid that the chance that he will die soon or will return to Klong Prem is high.
I think that this man gave up. And P' Wan did what she could, she tried to convince him, give good advice. But I wonder whether he will listen. So now you might perhaps wonder: Is the work of Siam-Care for nothing? Well, I can only give one answer to that: absolutely not! We may not get through to every prisoner, but every person we can help is worth it. Like the first man, who walked away from our table full of hope and a spark of joy. That man knows that we think it is worth it. And in the end that's what they all have to learn. They need to know that they are worth it even if they have HIV. This is what Siam-Care does in this prison. They explain about HIV, what it does to your body and how you can stop it from spreading to others. But they mainly offer a listening ear, they support the prisoners and bring hope. That is something invaluable.