Prisoners sculpt Buddha to find new path
The art of sculpting Buddha sculptures has been adopted at Bang Kwang Prison to help reform the character of inmates, some of whom have produced outstanding religious works, according to the Corrections Department.
A group of inmates at the high-security prison were trained for 185 days to do something they had never done before -- mould clay paster into Buddha sculptures.
The programme has been running for five years. This year, 36 inmates were selected to be trained by a handful of volunteers and professional sculptors who were given permission to run a training programme titled "From hands of sin to sculpting hands of merit" directed by Orasom Suthisakhorn.
The team found that sculpting helps to calm the inmates and that working clay into Buddha statues provided them with a sense of purpose.
The statues are not easy to make, especially for novices. To succeed in this line of work, great concentration and a will to overcome inner anxiety is required, according to the programme's organisers.
The statues were made in various postures and the inspiration came from the Indian Buddhist style. The inmates were taught to create separate parts of the statue first and assemble them later.
The hard clay was slowly mixed with water and kneaded until it was soft, which made it easier to work with.
At the end of the training recently, the Buddha statues made by the inmates -- which came in a range of postures and sizes -- were unveiled.
Thanathorn Jiakul, a lecturer at Silpakorn University who helped with the programme, said he was impressed with the works. "I couldn't believe that these statues were made by the inmates."
He said he was confident the inmates' inner-selves had been redeemed during the sculpting.
The statues were berk net or sanctified by Phra Sakayawong Wisut, assistant abbot of Wat Bowon Niwet in Bangkok.
The senior monk said the programme was not so much about teaching professional skills as reshaping a person's character by making them more tolerant and level-headed. Phusit Rattanaphanu, a programme trainer, said the sculptures generated positive energy fuelled by faith in Buddhism.