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Beauty behind bars: recycled lipstick for Thailand’s inmates

Prontip and her fellow Thai female inmates used to sneak food colouring from the kitchen and mix it with vaseline to create homemade lip gloss. Now, after serving two years in jail, she makes recycled cosmetics for former inmates stuck in Thailand’s jails, which have the highest female incarceration rate in the world.

Prontip and her fellow Thai female inmates used to sneak food colouring from the kitchen and mix it with vaseline to create homemade lip gloss. Now, after serving two years in jail, she makes recycled cosmetics for former inmates stuck in Thailand’s jails, which have the highest female incarceration rate in the world.

BANGKOK, Thailand | AFP – Desperate to brighten up the gloom of Thai prison life, Prontip Mankong and her fellow female inmates used to sneak food colouring from the kitchen and mix it with Vaseline to create a homemade lip gloss.
After serving two years for violating Thailand’s royal defamation law, the former political prisoner is now on the other side of the prison gate.
But she is drawing on the same spirit of ingenuity to make recycled cosmetics for those still stuck in Thailand’s notoriously bleak jails, which are bursting at the seams in a country with the highest female incarceration rate in the world.
“The lip gloss boosted our confidence and gave us a sense of self-expression in a place where freedom is limited,” said Prontip Mankong, who was jailed for her role in a satirical play that authorities said mocked the royal family.
On a recent Sunday, the 29-year-old and other female ex-cons spent the afternoon slicing off the tops of thousands of donated lipsticks and grouping them into baskets by colour.
The waxy chunks were boiled down over a stove into shimmering pink and magenta liquids, and then poured into small containers which will be donated to a women’s prison after they cool.
Of all the deprivations of prison life make-up may seem a minor one.
Yet Prontip sees the donated cosmetics as a simple way to boost morale and free up cash for inmates, whose lives are just as governed by money as those on the outside.
Inmates earn small incomes from jobs like cooking and making crafts, which they use to buy sanitary pads and other basic necessities from small convenience stores, where purchases are limited to around $10 a day.
“Getting cosmetics was very difficult and expensive,” she told AFP, explaining that some inmates would buy out all the beauty products from a small prison store and then jack up the price for other buyers.
This type of black market economy permeates the prison yard, with cash via prison jobs and relatives the only way to secure other comforts like longer showers or pain medicine.
“This money doesn’t go to the prisons but goes to the pockets of the influential inmates,” said Prontip, whose chipper attitude cracks when she starts recalling her own time behind bars. (-Photo credit: AFP)


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