Life in Phnom Penh’s Prey Say prison (again)

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Prey Sar, from Google Earth. Main entrance is the small orange rectangle at the bottom-centre

I’ve previously blogged about Phnom Penh’s jail, Prey Sar, here (posts on Khmer440 from one of the prisoners) and here (a “prison diary” previously published in the magazine Bayon Pearnik some years ago).

I’ve now discovered a third first-hand account of life inside, and it’s the best of all – it’s illustrated. It appeared as a blog in July 2011 and ran for only a five posts, between July 27 and July 31. Posting was done by smartphone. I have no idea why it stopped appearing, but perhaps the blogger’s cellmates told him he was putting them all at risk – the guards can be very sensitive about these things.


First post: Arrives, forced to change to prison uniform (it was blue then, now it’s orange). Double walls topped with barbed wire – and he’s surprised by how pretty it is inside, with gardens and pathways. But this isn’t the actual prison, just the approach to cell block A, where those yet to be sentenced are held. As he walks down the path with its border of gardens and lawns the noise increases, all coming from a few dark barred windows. “[T]housands of voices shouting from within the dark holes of the beautiful facades of the buildings.”

He enters block A. The noise is horrendous. Guard opens a cell door and pushes him in. He glimpses a crowd of faces, like an overstuffed elevator, all looking. He says … well, what do you say? He says “Hello!”


At this point let me make an editorial comment. Prison populations are made up of the bad, the mad, and the sad. That’s not my phrase, it comes from a famous writer who is also a prison doctor. That man also said that the mad and the sad vastly outnumber the bad. Is it so in Cambodia? I don’t know. But our bloggist is lucky, he found a friend, someone he’d known on the outside. This friend is his protector, his patron. They even share the same T-shirt. Don’t laugh, you’d be surprised how important a T-shirt can be in Prey Sar. And so ends Day 1.

And these are some of the photos he took. I feel a little uneasy putting them up as I might be invading someone’s privacy, I don’t know, but privacy doesn’t seem to be a thing you get much of in Prey Sar.