Boxing for Freedom in Thailand

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Photo by Pablo Rebolledo

In Thai prisons, some prisoners are earning their freedom through boxing. Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma look at why the Thai government is encouraging this sport.

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1

There is an ancient story told in Thailand. It happened in the 1700s. The story is set in the kingdom of Burma, which is now the country of Myanmar. At that time, Burma had defeated Thailand in a war. There were many Thai prisoners in Burma. The king of Burma decided to have a celebration. One event was a boxing competition. The king and other people watched. Burmese fighters fought against the Thai prisoners. There was one Thai fighter who beat everyone else. He even beat the best boxing teacher in Burma. His name was Nai Khanomtom. The King of Burma had a high opinion of Nai Khanomtom. He gave Khanomtom a very good prize. The king released him from prison. Khanomtom was free to move back to Thailand.

Voice 2 

Today, a similar thing is happening in Thailand. Siriporn Thaveesuk went to prison when she was only 17. Soon, she joined a boxing program. Three years later Thaveesuk won an international competition. And, like Nai Khanomtom, she won her freedom from prison.

Voice 1 

Thaveesuk is one of many prisoners in Thailand who are training to be boxers. If they win, they will be closer to freedom. Today’s Spotlight is on Thai prisoners who improve their lives and gain their freedom through boxing.

Voice 2 

Thai boxing is also called Muay Thai. Two Muay Thai fighters stand together in a square shaped fighting area. They wear short trousers but no shirts. Each of their hands and wrists are tightly wrapped with white rope. When the fight begins the fighters use their hands, elbows, knees and feet to hit each other. People cheer for the fighters. Muay Thai is a popular form of entertainment in Thailand.

Photo by Justin Ng
Voice 1 

Prisons in Thailand are using this form of entertainment for a new purpose. The Thai government began a program for boxing in prisons. Prisoners all around the country compete in Muay Thai fights. This provides entertainment but it also gives the prisoners something to do.

Voice 2 

Muay Thai is a very difficult sport. Fighters must be very strong. They must live a very healthy life. They spend many hours training their bodies. They also train their minds. They spend hours meditating and breathing. This training is helpful for prisoners. It is healthier than other activities such as smoking cigarettes or taking illegal drugs. Aree Chaloisuk is the director of Klong Pai prison. He tells Hemispheres magazine about the advantages of the program for the prisoners:

Voice 3 

“Muay Thai is a strong part of Thai culture. I think the fighters are proud to take part in the program. From what I have seen, it can improve bad behaviour. It provides a chance for a job for prisoners after they leave prison. They can compete instead of becoming criminals again.”

Voice 1 

Prisoners also train and fight for another reason. If they win their fights, they can reduce the time they have to stay in prison. Like in the story of Nai Khanomtom, prisoners can win their freedom through Muay Thai. One man working to do this is Chalernpol Sawangsuk. He is 26 years old. He is in prison for selling illegal drugs. But since he started practicing Muay Thai in prison, his life is different. Sawangsuk told Hemispheres magazine:

Voice 4 

“It was a big change to my life. I think the program has helped me to concentrate. I have slowed down. I think about things more. I am more reasonable. I have seen myself grow up. The other life, I think it is really behind me.”

Voice 2 

Sawangsuk has won five fights. Through these, he has reduced his prison time by seven years. There are other prisoners who have been completely set free from prison. One of these is Amnat Ruenroeng. He is now on Thailand’s Olympic boxing team. Winning a place on the national boxing team is a dream for all of the fighters. It is a great chance to bring honor to their country.

Voice 1 

An organization called Prison Fight works with the Muay Thai prison program. Their aim was to help prisoners reduce prison time. Today, they help by providing equipment to the Thai prisoners. Prison Fight also organizes local and international events with the Thai government. They believe it is also a good way to share Thai culture. So prisoners in Thailand sometimes fight people from other countries. One international Prison Fight event took place in January 2013. Thai prisoners fought against fighters from France, Myanmar, and other countries. The event was a great success. Saichon Somnet is the head coach at Klong Prem prison. He talks in a video about the event:

Voice 5 

“Today makes me happy and gives me a chance to share Muay Thai with people outside our country. It is very difficult for prisoners to get this kind of chance. I am very happy it is happening today.”

Photo by Alex Harmuth
Voice 2 

There are good results for the rest of Thai society too. The Thai government says that none of the released boxers have ever been arrested for another crime. They hope that Muay Thai keeps people from doing illegal activities. It also gives prisoners new skills and chances for the future. Wanchai Roujanavong is the director general of Thailand’s Department of Corrections. He told TIME magazine:

Voice 6 

“People in prison have a lot of time. It is a good environment for dedicating yourself to boxing. The sport also provides new chances after prison. A lot of people have a difficult time finding jobs after they are released. But in boxing, no one cares about your history.”

Voice 1 

Some prisoners have even found that fighting gives them new hope. It even helps them fix past mistakes. A boxer named Black Lion has fought in many Muay Thai fights in prison. He tells TIME magazine that he hopes to improve himself and his relationships. Black Lion voices the hope of many prisoners:

Voice 7 

“I have made my mother sad for so long. I only finished first grade. I took drugs. Maybe with boxing and good concentration, I can fix myself and make my mother proud.”

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Boxing for Freedom in Thailand’.

Voice 1 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also find us on Facebook – just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

What skills does a person need after he or she has left prison? Can that person learn those skills in prison? Write your answer in the comments below.

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