Life in jail, Cambodian style

Watchtower at Prey Sar

Watchtower at Prey Sar

On Khmer440, that gift that keeps on giving, we have a poster currently serving a term inside Prey Sar, Phnom Penh’s unlovely jail. An inside source. (I do love a good pun).

Some background: Prey Sar (“White Forest”) opened for business in 2000, replacing an older jail dating from colonial times called T3 (meaning prison number 3, T being the initial for the Vietnamese word for jail – T1 in Vientiane, T2 in Saigon, T3 in Phnom Penh). If you folks out at Prey Sar think that’s bad, be grateful, be very grateful, that T3 has closed.

So anyway, our man in the forest came online and was promptly disbelieved – nobody is supposed to have access to the Internet at Prey Sar, said the scoffers. True, they’re not. Signals are jammed.

[T]he whole area is heavily jammed. First test they did was a joke. Their first generation of jammers where sending waves that were bouncing on the walls and we could still easily get a signal by moving patiently a modem around until finding a good spot. They installed new jammers a while ago and it got much worst. Close to impossible to get a 3G signal. But still, some days the signal goes through : strength of jamming seems to be highly irregular like anything in Cambodia.


No connection to the poster, just a random photo from the Internet. The blue uniform is out of date – current ones are orange.

What really interests me is his description of life behind the walls. Prey Sar was built to accommodate a few hundred prisoners and now has four thousand. Problems with water, food, and money. And he mentions, without being asked, the Nigerians:

Loads of Nigerians here. Advice to the black population reading me : get out of the country or you’ll end up here. The basic cambodian have no more respect for the proles farmers than for the blacks. Basic dumb racism. They arrest one drug user or dealer and put all his friends and family in jail even if they did nothing wrong. The prison was built for a few hundred prisoners and we are close to 4k now. Living in 40×175 cm at best. Non stop noise, dirtiness like you can’t even imagine it. Insect the size of thumb dead in the “soup”. Dirty rice served in stinky buckets filled with a shovel, etc, etc. Paradise on earth I tell you.

But still, I’m here for 9 years and things got better. We have very little water, but clean. Electric power for 5 to 20 $ depending on the bloc chiefs (prison is a huge dirty business and after stealing your house, your land, your bank account, your freedom, etc. they suck you dry every month of everything your family or wife can send to help you, literally : survive. And believe me, it’s not easy.

The Nigerians are in for drugs. Westerners are in mostly for sex crimes I guess, though some are rather unexpected – one for bag-snatching. They say that in Western jails a quarter of the prisoners are sociopaths.
The poster says he’s a Khmer who travelled abroad – from a good family, apparently. For a given value of “good”, of course. I have no idea what he’s in for, and I suspect it’s the sort of question you don’t ask. I sort of hope he’ll find this blog and give us a comment…
Also read Save A Life: Foreign – but what about the Cambodians?