- Title: THAILAND: Thai jail inmates fight to win freedom
- Date: 16th January 2009
- Summary: BANGKOK, THAILAND (RECENT) (REUTERS) PRISONERS SKIPPING PRISONERS SPARRING PRISONERS THROWING PUNCHES AT BAGS
- Embargoed: 31st January 2009 12:00
- Location: Thailand
- Country: Thailand
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Sports
- Reuters ID: LVAEFUHXXXFZR951OWFF3YNTK7M1
- Story Text: At Thailand's Thonburi prison, male inmates are training as boxers in the hopes of winning their freedom and competing at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
For most inmates crammed into Thailand's notoriously brutal jails, dreams of fame, fortune and early freedom are unattainable.
But for the drug dealers, robbers and murderers who take up boxing at Bangkok's Thonburi (pron: Ton-boo-ree) Prison, that dream could become a reality, if they have what it takes to be an Olympic athlete.
The inmates get special treatment and are allowed to train, while other prisoners work in kitchens or hot laundry rooms.
Nearly 200 prisoners are in training, but only a few will win a spot on Thailand's national boxing team and escape these concrete walls.
The best one might get a chance to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The training is a long and arduous process.
Fighters are picked to represent their prison through individual boxing tournaments.
The winners from other prisons are later sent to Thonburi prison for more intense training for national level competitions.
Training starts daily at 5.30 a.m. with a 90-minute jog followed by weight-lifting and sparring.
Stern prison guards armed with batons watch their every move.
"I want to go to the Olympics and be like Somjit,"
25-year-old Longsan Kamsiensuk (pron: Long-san Kam-sien-sook) said of his hero, Olympic gold medallist Somjit Jongjorhor (pron: Som-jit Jong-jor-hor).
Somjit won the flyweight Gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Many prisons across Thailand offer boxing to inmates who are serving time for drug dealing or petty crimes.
If they have the what it takes to be a champion, the fighters win a ticket to Thonburi for more training.
Many fighters want to follow in the footsteps of former pickpocket Amnat Ruenroeng (pron: Am-nart Ruen-roeng), who won a bronze medal as a junior flyweight at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in 2007 and was released from prison for good behaviour the following day.
He fought at the Beijing Olympics later that year.
"Most of inmates here want to be like Amnat. They try hard to become a boxer. Many of them put their names down to compete in the inmate boxing tournaments to become a representative for their jails," Thonburi Prison chief Preeda Nilsiri said.
Of the 200 in training at Thonburi, only 16 have qualified for international competitions.
They regularly train with professional boxers brought inside the prison.
The professionals say the inmates have talent.
Inmates say the three to six hours of training a day boosts their self-esteem and gives them the discipline to live life on the straight path.
Now, they want a chance to show their stuff to the outside world.
"I'm confident. This is a good chance for me. I will try as hard as I can," said Teerayuth Wanaprasit, whose body is covered in tattoos.
Prison officials say they may have a future Olympic gold medallist in their midst, but there is a lot more work to do.
"They need to practice harder. Their basic skills and tactics for fighting are not that good. We need to train them more," said corrections trainer Juan Posuwan (pron: Juan Po-su-wan).
To inspire them, a a banner carrying the picture of their hero Amnat hangs from the prison's grey walls.
It says "Superstars for the 2012 London Olympics."
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