Writing Freedom, Moulding Redemption in Prisons: Thai National Artist Orasom Suthisakorn's Advocacy with Friends Behind the Wall

Renowned documentary writer Orasom Suthisakorn, Thailand's National Artist for Literature, advocates for prisoners' transformation through writing and Buddha statue moulding, sparking hope and societal transformation.

On this National Artist Day, Koktail had an exclusive interview with Orasom Suthisakorn, a non-fiction documentary writer known for her insightful exploration of tough social challenges who was appointed Thailand's National Artist for Literature in 2020. Orasom represents hope and change for those often forgotten by society - prisoners.

Her path to advocacy and societal transformation was sparked by a powerful realisation: prisoners' lives are overshadowed by their past crimes and not their potential for redemption and change.

When asked about the inspiration behind her advocacy, Orasom spoke passionately about the plight of prisoners, describing their lives as disadvantaged and complex.

“I view the life of a prisoner as one disadvantaged in many ways, fraught with complexities. As soon as they assume the status of a male or female prisoner, their life takes a detrimental turn—it's ruined, not just in terms of freedom, but their entire existence suffers.


Therefore, we believe that if we can help them recognize the value in their own lives, they will also appreciate the value of others' lives. By ensuring they do not repeat their mistakes upon release, society becomes safer. It's imperative to make their lives meaningful not just in preparation for their release, but starting from today, right now.”

Orasom's commitment to social change goes beyond her acclaimed writing; it extends into the depths of Thailand's prison system, where she has been teaching writing and moulding Buddha statues to inmates since 2010. Her belief in the inherent worth of every individual drives her mission to help prisoners recognise their value and rebuild their lives, ensuring they don't repeat their mistakes upon release.

Orasom shared insights into her work and the inception of "Friends Behind the Wall," an advocacy group dedicated to reshaping the lives of inmates through education, creativity, and self-reflection.

“Friends Behind the Wall engage in activities focused on personal development and self-reflection, recognising one's own worth as paramount. This is particularly crucial for groups like prisoners, who 

start from below zero. Hence, we initiate various activities such as teaching writing, volunteering, knitting hats for monks, crafting scarves for the elderly, creating books for the visually impaired, and composing picture stories for children—a profoundly human endeavour. Notably, one activity of immense pride involves instructing prisoners in moulding Buddha statues, with the aspiration that Buddhist art may provide solace to their minds.”

She believes that writing is a process that allows people to reflect on their inner psyche. It allows one to unravel what lies within. Writing about mistakes is akin to imparting lessons to inmates, serving as a teacher for the readers. As for moulding Buddha statues, the process of Buddhist art is soothing to the mind. Hands that were once stained with wrongdoing now mould Buddha statues. Once completed, she will distribute these statues to various hospitals across the country. To date, she has distributed over one thousand three hundred statues.

Her goal is to provide prisoners with opportunities. The motto of Friends Behind the Wall is 'Giving the opportunity to regain your humanity.' She believes that every human being possesses both dark and bright aspects.


In fact, engaging in activities within prison is a very challenging endeavour, and she has been waiting for more than 10 years to participate. However, she held onto hope. Then, one day, she was granted entry.

Her determination and belief in the transformative power of compassion have propelled her forward, leading to tangible success stories like that of Sathit who opened a Buddha statue foundry in his hometown, Sing Buri province.

Sathit, a former prisoner and participant in Orasom's program, found purpose through the art of moulding Buddha statues. His journey from incarceration to entrepreneurship is to prove the efficacy of Orasom's advocacy efforts and the potential for positive change within Thailand's prison system.

When he was little, Sathit dreamt of being a painter and a farmer. Later, he ended up working in a bank, but it just didn’t feel right. The thought of spending his entire life dealing with numbers felt oppressive. Eventually, he made the decision to resign. During this transition period, he found himself becoming more well-known among people. This led him to become involved in politics.

“I worked at a bank and served as a village headman. However, during my tenure as the village headman, I was arrested. 

After my first release, I found myself feeling somewhat adrift. There was a stark contrast between life inside and outside prison - the thought processes, ways of being, and the dynamics between people were all different. Initially, this dissonance left me feeling confused and disillusioned. Seeking clarity, I made the decision to ordain for eight months. However, after the ordination, I unexpectedly found myself creating a foundry for moulding Buddha images.”

He talked about how hard it was to get back into society after prison.

He shared his biggest challenges he faced when reintegrating into society after being released from prison.

“The toughest part is dealing with your own strength, both in your head and body, to face everything outside – the pressure, the looks, the talk, and all the challenges. I’m lucky I got to work on lots of projects and read a lot, which helped me get stronger.”

Looking back, Sathit said thinking things through carefully has been key.

Reflecting on his experiences, Sathit emphasised the importance of nuanced thinking.

“A very important skill that I acquired is a more detailed way of thinking. I don’t just take things at face value; I look closer. This way, I understand life better and see the full picture.”

With a little smile, he told Koktail,

“In the future, I aspire to find simplicity in my life. I seek to live with just enough, finding joy in the small things that bring a smile to my face each day. That, to me, would be enough.”

As the interview concluded, Orasom's message of hope and resilience resonated deeply.

“Currently, our main responsibilities include procuring 250 Buddha statues per year and donating them to hospitals. Additionally, we invite monks to receive alms and visit inmates in prison to provide comfort. Moreover, we teach inmates to mould small Buddha statues to be delivered to the terminally ill patients in the care unit. Considering these tasks, I believe this workload is suitable for someone who is already 67 years old.”

Orasom's advocacy work continues to make an impact, illuminating even the darkest corners of society with the power of humanity.