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The Samui Prison Project (SPP) was set up by local legal firm, PKN Legal & Business Consultancy, to work with groups raising money to help prisoners in the Women’s Unit at the Ko Samui District Prison. The aim is to assist the prison in its own efforts to provide rehabilitation for female offenders through education, training and community support.
The women’s unit of the prison houses only short-term prisoners; those with long sentences are sent to prisons on the mainland. But some 30 to 40 percent of the inmates here are only on remand and are awaiting trial -- they've yet to be found guilty of anything. As many are poor, they cannot always afford a lawyer; among the women are some who are pregnant or have young babies. The unit at any given time houses around 150 to 170 female prisoners, with cells around five by five metres holding 25 women each. A single toilet in each cell is partially hidden by a low wall, offering the only privacy. The prison, although cramped, is kept exceptionally clean by the women under the command of the prison guards.
The project's latest accomplishment, working with the Sisters of Samui, has been creating a mother and baby unit to provide a safe and clean environment for prisoners who are mothers, to be with their children while in prison. The unit is a dedicated area where new mothers can sleep with and feed their infants separate to the other inmates. There was a clear need for this separate cell as it was difficult to get babies to sleep or feed in peace. (Once a child reaches their first birthday, they must be relocated to live with other family members outside the jail.)
Recently, two new pregnant women arrived at the prison, and so SPP purchased a roll-away bed and screen so that when the nurse arrives to do prenatal checks, they don't need to do so on floor mats and within view of others.
Former prison commander Arcom Meeryhan has helped give direction to SPP, and he has pushed to see prisoners taught skills that will help them earn an income on their release, such as in massage and baking; at the end of 2012, a new director of the prison, Somphop Rujjanavet, was appointed and he's keen to continue improving opportunities for the prisoners.
The island's Rotary Club meanwhile is raising funds to build a classroom to be used by volunteers who will offer their time to teach the women prisoners English – they’re always looking for volunteers to teach English, so if you've got the time, this is a big way you could help while visiting the island. SPP hopes that the space will also be used to teach other classes, such as in computer skills and women’s health.
One of the groups working in conjunction with the project is Sisters from Another Mother, a group of mothers from Australia, Emma Stroud, Stacey Townsend, Sonjja O’Brien Finigan and Stephanie Stone. Through organising garage sales they've raised significant funds used to buy items for the previous commander’s bakery programme, including a commercial-sized refrigerator, oven and food mixer.
If you are able to donate your time while on a holiday in Ko Samui or give some money you can contact SPP via Michelle Elliot, who manages the project’s funds from PKN Legal & Business Consultancy.
Donations can either be made via PayPal, or directly into the project’s bank account as follows:
PayPal address: firstname.lastname@example.org
T: (089) 591 2631
Bank of Ayudhya PCL - Bophut Sub-Branch, Ko Samui
Bank Account: PKN Legal and Business Consultancy Co. Ltd (Samui Prison Project Account)
A/C No: 535-1-05626-9
Swift Code: AYUDTHBK
* All photos provided courtesy PKN Legal & Business Consultancy
Each month a Travelfish.org writer selects a charity or non-government organisation that they believe does excellent work on their patch in Southeast Asia. They write about them and we donate $100, a small way for us to give something back to the region. If you're looking to give back too, please consider giving a little cash as well.
By Rosanne Turner
Last updated on 31st May, 2015.