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Tea Leaves

Happy beginnings in Thailand's prisons

Unique skills training program transforms lives of female inmates

Women prisoners attend a Thai massage class at Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institute in northern Thailand.   © Reuters

The prison inmate behind me clamped her thickly tattooed arms firmly around my neck. I could not move an inch. I started to wonder whether I had made a good choice for my afternoon recreational activity.

I was just around the corner from the women's jail in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, in an old wooden building into which I had been enticed by a sign promising "Prison Massage." Pimchan, the inmate who had hold of me, was enrolled in a program that teaches traditional Thai massage to serving convicts to give them career opportunities when their sentences end. Pimchan was out on day release to practice on paying customers like myself after completing some 500 hours of study in prison, as well as learning basic English and Chinese.

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