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.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

2 responses to “The prison of Siem Reap”

  1. Albeiro Rodas says :

    I share this comment I got in my email about this 2010’s article. It was my impression of what I saw and it was not my intention to praise nobody, but if it is what the article produces, it is valid to share it as it was written:

    date: Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 10:33 AM
    subject: Visit to Siem Reap Prison

    In 2010, the Phnom Penh Post, a paper that is not the gospel but not completely unreliable either, reported that the daily food ration for inmates of Siem Reap Prison had gone up from the equivalent of 37 US cents to 70 cents, and that access to drinking water had improved due to rainwater harvesting – not too effective in the rainy season: the first few drops since the dry season began in November came a few days ago and didn’t actually swell the Siem Reap River – certainly not for those people down the river who depend on absolutely dirty trickles of the river, and they are not prisoners.
    I am not quite sure what you saw or what is or was wrong with your eyesight but I know for sure that at most Cambodian schools there are very few paradise-like conditions like the dream that you describe as prison reality. And how many vocational schools does Cambodia have – outside the Siem Reap Prison? But as other entries on your website confirm, you are not interested in any general picture, you are not a journalist but a befuddled preacher who probably thinks that his propaganda for the Don Bosco system will get him brownie point with Our Lord. But you are, in fact, a disgrace for Don Bosco. Maybe the Cambodian government is giving you brownie points – or something else.
    Horst Dresing (observing life in Cambodia and seeing more of the reality here)

    from: Don Bosco Khmer
    date: Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 4:10 PM
    subject: Re: Visit to Siem Reap Prison

    Dear Horst Dresing,

    Thank you for your observation. It seems that you have super-powers that make you available to see inside my brain or it is what you think about yourself.

    Read me more to get a bigger picture and it is not a preaching.

    Have a Happy Chinese New Year,

  2. chiloy says :

    hi! I am Cheryl Baldicantos. I am photojournalist from the Philippines. I have been doing some photo documentary work on the rehabilitation of inmates in my country. I am going to Siem Reap this November 2011 to attend a workshop. I am interested in doing a story on rehabilitation of prisoners in Siem Reap. I am wondering if you can advice me who to contact?

    thank you!

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