Royal helping hand
Computer skills are aiding prisoners to discover their talents,
re-establish self-esteem and hope for a better life, thanks
to the Information Technology for Inmates Project initiated by
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn
Story by SANITSUDA EKACHAI
With the click of a mouse button, a woman’s face appears on the computer screen. Another click, and one part of the face suddenly zooms up large, ready to be edited.
With the ease of an expert, Supranee adroitly moves the mouse and clicks away to touch up the picture of her client.
Supranee is not only a Photoshop expert, she’s also a prisoner.
“I used to worry a lot about my future,” confided Supranee, a slim, 31-year-old woman who has three more years of her sentence to serve.
“But now I have hope. This computer skill will help get me a job and start a new life when I get out.”
Although the Bang Khen Women’s Prison offers a wide range of occupational training to its 5,744 inmates, computer literacy promises better work opportunities given the ever-rising market demand.
Know these words and phrases
skilfully and cleverly
having knowledge and skill in a certain area
lacking enough air
continuing for a long period of time
concerned with what is right and wrong
a feeling of being happy with your own character and abilities
watching and checking over a period of time in order to see how things develop, so that you can make any necessary changes
the process of forming an opinion of the quality of something after thinking about it carefully
the number of workers needed
keeping something in good working order
willingness to work hard and give energy and time to an activity
what must exist or happen before something else can be done
only available in small quantities
Six years ago, Supranee never thought she would have a chance. Computer equipment is expensive, and the Corrections Department, suffocated by perpetual over-crowdedness, lacks money.
Despite these two unchanging factors, change came to the Women’s Prison in 1997, thanks to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Since then, 343 female inmates have received computer training.
“Her Royal Highness believes in the inmates’ potential,” said Dr Taweesak Koanantakool, director of National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC) that co-ordinates the Information Technology for Inmates Project.
“The Princess believes that if they receive both moral education and the technical training, which can help them get jobs when they are released, they can live a new life.”
“People may not be equal in their abilities. But having an opportunity, especially as educational opportunity, is most important,” the Princess once said in a speech.
“People’s ability to benefit from those opportunities may not be the same. But the opportunities we give to them should be equal.”
The educator Princess also believes in starting small, said Dr Chadamas Thuvasethakul, secretary for the Princess’ IT projects committee.
The computer training project for female prisoners started with only three printers and 20 DOS-based, second-hand computers because beginners do not need fancy computers to master word processing skills.
“As their skills increase, and as old computers start to become unreliable, the Princess then helps find new, more modern models so the inmates can learn more advanced computer programmes,” she said.
As an incentive, the Princess also helps find outside typing assignments for the inmates so they can earn extra income regularly.
The royal project aims to provide the inmates with not just computer training but also work opportunities during their jail terms so they can sharpen their skills while saving up for their future.
To qualify for computer class, the inmates are required to have at least a Mathayom 3 education. In line with the Princess’s cost-saving policy, those who cannot type are asked to practise on manual typewriters before attending computer class to help the prison save electricity costs. They also should have a short time left to serve so that they can use their computer skills to start a new life when they are released.
With success at the Bang Khen Women’s Prison, the IT for Inmates Project later expanded to the Central Correctional Institution for Drug Addicts and Bangkok Remand Prisons.
Several former inmates have found that their computer skills did indeed help them find not only work, but also a new-found self-esteem.
Pat is one of them. In a letter to his teacher, Pat said that while he was in a military camp, both his superiors and friends often sought advice and assistance from him about computer problems. He was asked to give some training to trainers at another camp.
Pat now works for a small company and plans to finish his college degree. “With the computer skills, I can start a new life without too many difficulties,” he wrote. “Thanks so much for the opportunities.”
Prisons nationwide have sent appeals to HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to help them set up similar computer classes. Meanwhile, existing projects need new computers to replace the second-hand ones that can’t run the advanced software programmes that the current market demands.
Complicating matters is a declining number of computer donations due to economic recession.
But expanding speedily without paying attention to quality control is not what the Princess has in mind. During her visit to the Klong Prem prison complex to see the progress of the IT for Inmates Project last week, the Princess stressed the importance of project monitoring and evaluation.
“We must find out whether or not people are making the best use of what they receive or not,” she said. “Meanwhile, we have to make sure that the new places are indeed ready in terms of space, manpower, maintenance and commitment.”
These prerequisites are essential because they ensure that the project will go smoothly and the scarce resources will be well spent, she said. “That’s why I couldn’t help as many prisons as I want and as quickly,” the Princess said.
Echoing other inmates, Ladda, 29, a prisoner at Bang Khen Women’s Prison, said she was deeply grateful for the life opportunity the Princess gave to her and other prisoners.
“Society looks down on us, but the Princess still sees our value, that we still have abilities as people outside,” she said. “That makes me feel proud, so I try my best not to disappoint her.”
As for Supranee, she said she used to fear social stigma once she is free to face the outside world again.
“But I’m less fearful now,” she said. “If I can’t find a job, my computer skills will enable me to work on my own. I can now look towards the future with hope. And that’s possible because of the Princess.”