Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fighting for Freedom in Thailand -- Early Prison Release for Champion Boxers

Prison officials in Thailand have their sights set on the next Olympics. The talent pool of Thailand's prison population is just what the trainer ordered to fill out the ranks of country's next Olympic boxing team. Among the nation's pickpockets, purse snatchers and parasites, pugilists abound. Who knew?

And they believe that among their current crop of criminals there is a champion.

Hanging from the grey walls, which are decked with barbed wire, is a banner carrying pictures of former pickpocket Amnat Ruenroeng, a world championship bronze medalist and Beijing Olympic quarter-finalist, and convicted drug dealer Samson Sor Siriporn, a women's world light-flyweight champion, with the words: "Superstars for the 2012 London Olympics.

Among the prison population, there is no shortage of willing recruits for boxing training. While other prisoners toil away in the kitchen, the laundry, or the tool shop, the boxers train in the gym. However, as anyone who has ever seen a Rocky movie would imagine, this drill is anything but cushy.

They rise daily at 5.30 a.m. for 90 minutes of jogging. Afternoons are spent weight-lifting and sparring under the watchful gaze of mean-looking guards equipped with hefty batons and dark sunglasses.

All the more incentive to excel.

"I want to go free and box for my country and I'm 100 percent sure I have what it takes to go to the Olympics," said Parinya Nopchaya, a gap-toothed 26-year-old whose muscled body is almost entirely covered in crude jailhouse tattoos.

And the offer of freedom is genuine. Early release awaits those thieves and drug dealers and other assorted thugs who can prove their mettle and make the national boxing team.

No comments: