The Chiang Mai Womens Correctional Facility (read: Prison) is in the heart of Old Town Chiang Mai. And here, the ladies are offered a chance to learn a trade. Some women learn how to make clothes or other handicrafts, some learn Thai massage.
The program generates revenue from the sales of massages or handcrafts. A portion of this money is set aside for the women to use upon their release from jail so that they have a head-start on building a new life. Whoever set up this program definitely had their heart in the right place. I shall try to refrain from ‘dropping the soap’ or other inappropriate touching-in-prison jokes.
Housing at the prison is behind the massage parlor, cafe, and courtyard. It looks like a run down apartment building, in fact it probably was at one point. The fences are about four feet high, so securing the place to prevent escapes was clearly not a priority. I got the sense that this was more of an ‘honor’ jail than a place for hardened or dangerous criminals.
Entering the facility, there is a cafe, a very nice cafe. People were dining or having coffee, enjoying the place as if it were any old coffee shop anywhere else but at a prison. The courtyard is beautiful with tables and chairs, water features, and big trees that provide protection from the sun. They sell their handicrafts in the courtyard as well. I could easily see myself stopping in at some point in the future just for a tea and pastry.
The Massage ‘parlor’ itself was serene with the expected low lighting, soothing music, and calming aromas. The place was clean, clean, clean (probably doe to the fact that there is a lot of free labor there to do the work). There are changing rooms, a foot washing station, and very comfortable chairs in which to wait for a masseur or to sip on complimentary hot tea following a treatment.
The beds are all arranged in one room and there are ten in total. Again, the facility is clean and comfortable and the girls were all hard at work. I am a vocal massagee, as my friend Sean knows from our massage last week, so all of the masseurs in the room had a good laugh at me every time I let out a groan or an “oooohhhhhh yeah, right there”.
My masseur is in her mid-twenties, is pretty, shy, and giggles easily. She treats me with deference, but not any more so than in any other massage house in Thailand. We can’t communicate, so I let her lead me around, scrub my feet and rub away the stresses of the last few days. She was great and the massage felt awesome, but she really wasn’t big or strong enough for my taste. Thai massage relies heavily on body leverage so her ability to really ‘dig deep’ was limited. This is an experience not to be missed if you find yourself in Chiang Mai. I mean, where else in the world can you go to a prison and get a massage that doesn’t give you the heebie jeebies.
Women are incarcerated for a variety of offenses but are all short to mid-term residents. None of them spoke any english and I only have restaurant/bar Thai, so I couldn’t discern their exact crimes. So I spent the time on the bed imagining their offenses.
One poor girl on my left was busted for unwittingly carrying drugs for her boyfriend who has since fled into the Laos hills. She thought it was a sack of rice.
Another girl stabbed her neighbor with a rusty ballpoint pen in a dispute over a dog peeing on the tire of a scooter.
The girl that was the size of a linebacker killed her abusive and adopted father from the UK. She ground him up, and has been selling ‘special’ sausages to tourists from England for the last year.
The quiet, small girl in the corner with the shifty eyes is the head of a local, powerful crime syndicate that operates in extrusion, drugs, and the smuggling of Western breakfast cereals.
Another is a whistleblower…she tried to tell the authorities that the $5 Tiffany’s necklace and $10 Rolex watches sold on the streets aren’t legitimate. Flabbergasted, they locked her up for being insane.
I recommend this experience. They are open from 8-4:30 daily, but it is a first-come, first-served system. If you show up mid-day, many times they are already full for the day. Try to get there in the morning to ensure you get your massage. To find the Womens’ Correctional Facility, locate the Three Kings Monument in the north central part of the Old Town Chiang Mai. The massage parlor is one block in the rear of the building behind the Three Kings statues.