The prison of Siem Reap
I thought that the visit was going to be to a gloomy place. A prison is not properly the place you dream to be. However, countries must work to make it not a lovely place, but rather a real educational place. This morning I went with three teachers to visit the Siem Reap prison. Lichado promotes the idea that Don Bosco creates a technical program inside it as we have in the Sihanoukville’s prison. We got an appointment with the prison director at 8 AM. Going to the prison when most people are visiting the Angkorian temples is already very original in us. But we came to this country to open the way of hope for young people without hope.
In the history of Saint John Bosco it is said that he visited the prisons of Turin in the earlies 1840s. He was impressed by what he saw, especially too young people behind bars. It was one of his main motivations to develop the Salesian Preventive System. The idea was simple: to prevent the young man to fall into criminality and, therefore, in a prison… or worse, dead.
Here in Cambodia we began in 2008 with our first experience of a prison project in Sihanoukville. The Cambodian authorities have been very supportive with the initiative, but also human rights organizations like Lichado and Don Bosco benefactors in Europe. A group of young inmates learn mechanic, electricity, automotive and English inside the prison. We could build a modest workshop inside the place. The mission is that the inmates learn something useful. When they finish their conviction, they can get a honest job… I think the ideal must be successful in 80 percent of probabilities.
I was also impressed by the view of the Siem Reap prison this morning, but in a different way to Don Bosco. The 19th century prison of Turin was rather a dungeon, but the modern Siem Reap prison looks like what a prison should be: a school. Yes, a prison should be a school for re-education. It is of course the ideal of a place that is made for those who fall to follow the rules of the society.
In 2004 I visited also the prison of Tel Aviv to talk with Latin American inmates. You can imagine what is a prison in Israel. It is a real modern place with all the conditions and technologies. Well, this morning I felt we were coming into an Israeli prison. Maybe it can sound exaggerated, but I want to mean that the Cambodians have done something good here, at least in its first view.
The entrance is adorned with gardens and cultural and religious images, making the place full of light and life. The guards were too respectful when we cross in front to them, with almost the seriousness of the Swish guard if I can say it. There are 1,300 inmates and 30 of them are foreigners. There is a school to finish 9th to 12th grades, a carpenter, a craft shop, a barber for women, a kindergarten for the children of the inmates, a garden and many other activities. Every site we went there was activity and discipline. I did not see lazy inmates around and it is very important for education and even more for re-education.
We paid a check to the place where we could build the Don Bosco workshops. Now I have to proceed the project and we are going to need benefactors, who will like to give a hand to the young inmates to improve the Cambodian society for the best.