Bizarro Bangkok: Tour Through the Bangkok Corrections Museum
by Tracy Vanity
A quick history of Thai execution methods:
Until the 1930s, the Thais beheaded criminals, unless the victim was royal, in which case they were beaten to death with a piece of sweet-smelling wood.
In 1932, they switched to firing squad, a system that lasted until December 2003. The execution room is still splattered with the blood of those killed by a bullet.
In 2004 Thailand started using the more “humane” lethal injection and reform was put in place to improve the treatment of prisoners that weren’t already executed. Although Bangkok prison is still pretty fucked up, what with sleeping on concrete, getting dysentery from the gruel, constant threats of getting shanked by a methed-out Russian over a cigarette…Thai prison life used to be way more fucked up than it is now. The Bangkok Corrections Museum is proof of that, depicting what prison life was life not that long ago.
Located on a serene public park in the middle of a popular Bangkok tourist area, this old prison was transformed into a museum after a newer prison was built further away from central Bangkok. It showcases some old school torture and discipline that looks like something out of a medieval torture book instead of a way of life for prisoners as early as the mid-80’s.
The main section of the museum has a row of prison cells. Inside each cell is a typical method of prison torture modeled by mannequins. Even though the museum walls and cells are kept in immaculate condition, I have a feeling that the the walls weren’t that spotless when actual prisoners were kept in there. The sounds of tropical birds chirping in the trees and children playing in the playground a few yards away gave this museum experience an extra surreal feel.
This giant rattan ball has long, sharp nails driven into it. The prisoner would be forced to curl up inside the ball as an elephant kicked it around a field. Whoever came up with that was certainly not lacking in imagination.
Used to help prisoners who had trouble “confessing”, this jaw hook was useful in getting even the most stubborn prisoner to loosen their tongue.
Anyone knowledgeable in medieval torture methods will recognize the ole’ hold-your-finger-in-place-while-your-nails-get-pulled-off device.
I’m sure you’re familiar with solitary confinement when prisoners do something to piss off the guards… well this takes that to a whole ‘nother planet. An unruly prisoner get thrown in a wooden coffin with his hands tied together and kept under the Bangkok heat for hours. Even with breathing holes, I have no idea how anyone could manage to stay in that for more than 3 minutes without dying.
Used until 1908, this “temple pressing tool” was used to force prisoners to confess. Very Salem Witch Trial.
This concrete ball and chain was one of several restraining devices used for prisoners. Once it was on your ankle, you would need to saw your foot off to remove it. Out of all the restraining devices I saw there, it looked the most comfortable.
The whipping rattans sounded like a fun idea until I saw an after picture of someone’s ass getting hit by one of those things, it looked like they had been spanked with a machete. Not so fun.
The “ritual knives” were used to cut the sacred thread which marked the execution area. The “heel cutting knives” were used to cut the heels off the prisoner about to be executed so that his shackles could be removed.
To get to the other side of the prison cell exhibitions, you must pass through a corridor of creepy mannequins dressed up as prisoners and guards lined up facing each other and watching you pass by.
The row of cells on the other side show other artifacts from Thai prison life like this “Table of Decision” used to determine a prisoners fate when they break a prison rule. “Hmmm you shall be placed inside a giant ball with sharp nails and kicked around by an elephant.”
“Tinglish” is like Engrish but refers to how everything written in English in Thailand is misspelled, especially engraved signs.
Base of a machine gun used to kill a prisoner by firing squad. “Uniquely, Thailand used a single executioner with one stand mounted machine gun per prisoner, to put murderers and drug traffickers to death. Over 500 people were shot in Thailand between 1937, when shooting replaced beheading and October 2003, when Thailand moved to lethal injection as its sole method of execution.” source
A crucifix to hold a prisoner in place while getting shot to death. I think it looks less fucked up than the firing squad chair still used in Utah:
The last cell had a display showing prison reform in Thailand and a move towards rehabilitation.
The Correction Museum is free and located on Thanon Maha Chai in Bangkok.