In Seam Reap’s prison: To each its own

By: Kema Hodge

Visiting the prison in Siem Reap was an eye-opening experience in many ways. This prison was unlike any I had ever seen or could imagine.

For one, the prison did not have any electricity. Andrea Ross informed me of that fact prior to our visit. Only those who run the prison have access to electricity by way of generator.

As we walked inside the gate, I noticed pleasing aesthetics. The prison grounds were covered in beautiful, well-maintained flowers, bright plastic decorations, and religious ornaments. All I could do was take pictures as I stood in awe while prisoners freely walked around tending the grounds. They were neither chained nor escorted by guards. They simply wore prison uniforms.

By that time, I was completely out of my element. I didn’t expect much coming into it, but the little that I did anticipate was off.

Once we were signed in, Andrea, Nary, the guard, and I headed to the sewing room. I wanted to talk to women who were learning how to sew while in jail. This surprised me as well. I don’t think that American prisons allow or offer an opportunity for their inmates to learn a skill that will give them a chance at a better life. Yet, all around us were rooms that were open to inmates for classes such as English, musical instruments, and crochet.

As I sat in the small room with no AC unit, no lights, and no form of electronic technology, I was reminded once more that I was not in America. These women were technically considered “dangerous,” yet they, too, did not have handcuffs. Despite that, I showed no fear as interviewed them.

After speaking to them all, I realized that I was sitting in room with two murderers, an accomplice to armed robbery, and a Madame – a woman who previously ran a brothel. Each took the class for the same reason: They hoped to be able to leave jail with an employable skill.

I left the prison with this sentiment: To each country its own. Because, as I also realized on day one, Siem Reap, Cambodia has its own, unique way of doing things.

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