There are little prisons in the world whose conditions are as harsh as Bang Kwang Central Prison, located at the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand. Envisioned by King Rama V (1853-1910), and created between the years of 1927 and 1931. It was built not to be an ordinary prison, but a penitentiary for the worst offenders who are awaiting sentences of the Appeal Court and or Surpreme Court, inmates who were sentenced to remain in prison between 25 to life, and death sentence prisoners who waited for executions.
Over its long history Bang Kwang Central Prison became well known around Thailand and Asia as one of the harshest prisons in the world, with conditions that caused many prisoners to loose either their life or their sanity. For the first 3 months of each inmate stay there, they were chained with leg irons, which caused significant moral blow and reduced capability to move. Inmates sentenced to death sentence were chained in leg irons permanently, before they met their end either by firing squad or recently by lethal injection.
As one of the central prison of Thailand, Bang Kwang often housed foreign prisoners who carried the stories about terrible conditions outside to their homelands. The most fascinating aspect of the prison lifestyle was its internal class system, called chit system. In it, prisoners received food according to their standings with the cantina where only one bowl of rice and vegetable food was given freely. Everything else had to be purchased, which enabled wealthier prisoners to employ cohorts and servants out of prisoners, who worked for them in exchange for more food. In more recent years, this forced foreign prisoners to establish their own charity drives aimed just to provide them with enough money for better food.
In the May of 2013, officials at Bang Kwang Central Prison finally abolished the use of shackles, freeing more than 563 inmates with good behavior early from their leg irons. This widely popularized event was aimed to prove that times are changing in this famous prison, but a substantial amount of high profile, violent and death row inmates remained shackled, with the promises of the government that their status will be improved in the coming months.
Today, Bang Kwang Central Prison remains remembered in the popular culture of Asia as under the name of “Big Tiger” (because its tendencies to eat and stalk prisoners). IN the west, its best known under the name of “Bangkok Hilton”, name given to fictional prison in popular Australian TV show (starring Nicole Kidman, Denholm Elliot and Hugo Weaving) that was based on Bang Kwang Central Prison.