Thailand Sanctions Fights For Prison Parole Prize
Muay Thai is an ancient sport, and with anything ancient, there come legends that border on historical truth.
There is a popular story about a man named Naikhanomtom, who was kept as a prisoner by Burmese soldiers after the prosperous coastal capital Ayutthaya was captured. The Burmese king told Naikhanomtom that if he could defeat his best soldiers, his freedom would be granted.
Naikhanomtom defeated the ten best Burmese soldiers in a display of both violence and beauty. Through this, the birth of Muay Thai, Naikhanomtom won the respect of the king. As promised, he was granted his freedom, after which he returned to Siam, where a celebration for his victory was waiting for him.
In present-day Thailand, Naikhanomtom is honored every March 17 — a festival is held in Ayutthaya out of respect for what he did for the Thai people in creating and giving them the art of Muay Thai.
In a highly controversial decision, which has received attention on a global scale, the Thai government has carried out, indirectly or not, a contemporary tribute to the legendary Naikhanomtom, a man who was granted freedom through the use of the Art of Eight Limbs.
Thai prisoners fight foreigners, and they fight for their freedom.
Rehabilitation… or Wrong?
Capturing this historical event is the Showtime documentary Prison Fighters, which has proved to generate equal amounts of controversy and viewer interest from around the globe.
The Thai prisoners fight in hopes of getting a reduced prison sentence or released on a royal pardon. Prison Fight Thailand, a charity, was started in 2012 by the Thai government. It began as both a charity and rehabilitation program; participating inmates had the opportunity to make some money as well as attempt to assimilate back into society.
Almost all the Thais that are able to partake in Prison Fight program for a reduced sentence or royal pardon are former Muay Thai fighters. It was believed that if the inmates kept active, they would be less likely to partake in violent behavior or use drugs.
What was initially Thai versus Thai quickly shifted to Thai versus foreigner. This was after it was realized that the program could gain much more recognition and support that way.
To the average viewer with no stake in the fights, the concept is pure entertainment. To the prisoners fighting tooth-and-nail for freedom, the idea of making this more “marketable”… well, it’s certainly not on their mind.
The documentary focused initially on the journey of one inmatewith a big bout ahead. This fight would determine his possibility of getting a royal pardon. The man seemed like a good person who had madea mistake and was eager to spend time with his son. He wished to live a different life than he had been living prior to being convicted.
As it proceeded, some ethical questions were raised. The viewer is forced to assess their own morals and may have even struggled with who to cheer for during the fight.
One of those ethical questions:
“Is it fair that former Muay Thai fighters get the opportunity to fight for a royal pardon but other inmates don’t get the same opportunity?”
Being a Muay Thai fighter in Thailand is rarely a dream pursued. Usually it’s done totally out of necessity, to stave off poverty and provide for the family.
With the inception of this program, being a Muay Thai fighter is a privilege, one most other inmates don’t have. Another ethical question comes to mind:
“If two inmates committed the same crime and received the same sentence, is it right that one gets the opportunity to fight his way to freedom and the other has to serve out his time?”
The film shifted focus from the inmate to his victim’s family, victims themselves of his terrible actions. Their heartbreak and sadness could not be feigned by even the best actors, and the inmate’s innate goodness was on even rockier ground as details of the crime he committed surfaced.
Shouldn’t an inmate carry out their sentence without mercy? “Do the crime, do the time,” right? Why are inmates even allowed to fight for a reduced sentence? Shouldn’t they stay in prison and think about what they’ve done? What justice is there for their victims and surviving loved ones?
We are to understand that just as the inmate fights for freedom, the foreigner opponents fight, too, for a great cause — rightful justice for the victims’ families. There is certainly nothing more dangerous than a desperate man but for, just as equally, the righteous man.
As for the bottomline, is the program a majority winner or loser? Do people actually leave prison early and become better people in society? Or do they go back to doing what they were doing?
Prison Fighters shines an unbiased light on these incredible fights, allowing us to give people who are generally perceived as the bad guys in society a chance at hearing them out, but also to digest the complicated ethical controversies involved in this program.
Give this eye-opening documentary a watch and let us know where you stand.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.