24-year-old Ashley Oosthuizen, who is originally from George in the Western Cape but is serving a 33-year prison sentence for drug trafficking in Thailand, wrote a letter from prison calling on women to stand up when they are abused.
This comes after a group of women in her prison stood up to the way they are treated behind bars, including those who stood up against the little sleeping space and overwhelmed heat in the jail cell where there are only two fans.
“We have to take turns lying down or sitting up, because there just isn’t enough room for all of us, and if you go to the bathroom, you lose your place,” Oosthuizen says of the disgusting state of Thailand’s prisons.
Picture: 60 Minutes reported on a Thai prison for women – Bangkok Hilton. In the photo is the bedroom where almost 200 women have to sleep in the evening.
“One day, after a long period of terrible conditions in the living space called ‘their room’, the predetermined group of women who decided to take a stand did so by simply refusing to go upstairs when it was time for the lockdown,” Oosthuizen writes.
“Female officers tried to subdue the rebels, but to no avail. Eventually, armed male officers were called in to take justice into their own hands and these angry men continued by beating many women with their batons, even though none of the prisoners were aggressive.
“These women were then forced to sit cross-legged with their bodies bent over so that their heads were bent to the ground for an indefinite period. Now not only is it uncomfortable, but it is a very humiliating position for Thais to have their head on the same level as their feet. And so they stayed, clearly showing the officers that they would not give in, and finally gave the obstinate women a chance to speak. The first needed no incentive and stood up to tell her her her say, after which others followed, who one by one, calmly but candidly, recounted their situation.
“There is only one toilet for all of us and should I get up to use the bathroom, I will have lost my place when I return.
“We have to take turns lying down or sitting up because there just isn’t enough room for all of us.
“If one person wants to turn on her side, the whole row has to turn together.
“With only two fans in the room, there is little ventilation and the used air, saturated with body odors and excessive heat, makes us breathe in a ‘gripping mixture’.
“Some of the younger ones or old ladies could be seen crying at night due to lack of sleep and discomfort.
“Do you see the woman walking there dragging her leg? She wasn’t like that when she first got here – now her whole left side is lame.
“I refuse to continue living in these circumstances.”
“Something has to change,” Oosthuizen writes.
“So the vapour rang until they all had their say, with the exception of a handful who did not speak out but quietly supported the cause. The officers promised they would investigate the issue the next day and eventually the prisoners were lured back to their room. Within a few hours, a rising sun announced the new day, and there the woman thought that a change on the horizon could also be seen.
“All the women who had stood up during the previous afternoon’s debacle were called to line up under the pretension that they were going to meet with the chief officers to find a solution.
“They held their heads high and stood to have their bodies searched (as is the custom when we moved from our premises to another part of the jail), but once those steel doors were opened, they were forced straight into a van and were summarily transferred to another jail, with nothing but the stabbing clothes on their backs. Those who did not speak but stood to defend the case were sent back to the woman’s side, and were punished with a three-month restriction.
“It seems that the Lord spared me from the worst.
“And although the instigators of change could never see what fruits their efforts bore, they certainly did a great service to those who came after them. May we therefore NEVER shrink back from standing up for ourselves when we are abused, no matter how ‘low’ we may be at that particular time. Then leave me to continue my story in next week’s epistle.
“Until then, Ashley.”