We have all made mistakes. But some of us have made mistakes so serious and irreversible that they have deprived us of future opportunities.
Chon Buri native Sansanee Tanakarnkowit made one such mistake when, 12 years ago, she got involved with drugs. At the tender age of 20, she started working at nightclubs. Due to the nature of her profession, she spent lots of time with friends and partied wildly every night. One night, a friend invited her to do “something fun”. She agreed and tried narcotics for the first time.
Within four years, Ms. Sansanee became heavily addicted and began selling drugs to her friends. Eventually she was arrested and sentenced to two years in jail.
Losing Freedom Twice
As a person who thrived on city living and the company of friends, Ms. Sansanee became desperately lonely in prison.
“Life behind bars was very difficult for me especially during the first few weeks. I had to adjust a lot. The prison was crowded. The bathroom was an open-plan with no privacy. I was stressed out and experiencing withdrawal symptoms. I even collapsed at one point,” she recalls. “But after a few months, I finally settled into a routine. I woke up early, had my meals, and worked.”
After completing her sentence, Ms. Sansanee reentered the outside world. Through the connections of family and friends, she managed to land a job at a department store. But she soon felt lost and restless with the 8-to-5 job. Without guidance from like-minded mentors and lacking opportunities for more meaningful work, she started using drugs again. She landed back in prison, this time for six years.
“This time I had no fear but was full of worries about my future,” Ms. Sansanee says. She knew well that by the time she completed her jail term, she would be in her 30s and still without any security in life. This bleak prospect inspired Ms. Sansanee to transform herself for the better.
Faith Empowers Ex-Offenders
Ms. Sansanee was determined to make the most of her time in prison by picking up vocational skills that would help her earn a living in the future. Noticing her resolve, prison staff placed her in the institution’s bakery section. They also supported her further with advanced training, and invited hotel chefs to conduct baking classes for her and other interested inmates.
“In the beginning, we baked items to sell to other inmates. But later on, the Chon Buri Correctional Institution for Women Offenders set up a café where members of the public could buy products baked by prisoners,” Ms. Sansanee recounts. “The café also offered prisoners opportunities to develop our skills further. We could apply these skills when we reintegrated to society.”
Fortunately, her prison term was reduced due to good behavior. After leaving the prison this time, Ms. Sansanee told herself and people around her that she would “definitely not go back to prison again”. Disappointed by the past, however, even her own family members doubted her words.
But the House of Blessing Foundation showed faith in her. Established to provide vocational training to ex-offenders and to take care of the children of inmates, this charity organization became her new family and the support system she needed. The community of staff members and fellow ex-offenders lent her the support and guidance to reinvent herself and stay on the right track.
At the House of Blessing Foundation, Ms. Sansanee is in charge of bakery operations and conducts bakery training for other residents. Her aim? To develop and make Ban Chan Bakery (My Home Bakery) well-known to the mass market. She even aims to enroll in Dusit Thani College’s courses to acquire more knowledge to share with others.
E-Commerce Provides Opportunities for Ex-Prisoners
During the years that Ms. Sansanee was in prison, the digital world changed a great deal. When she was released for the second time, she had a lot of catching up to do. As a key person at the foundation’s bakery training center, Ms. Sansanee recognized the growing importance of e-commerce in promoting her brand and selling her products. She also understood how e-commerce enables producers to forecast demand with greater accuracy. But e-commerce wasn’t easy for her to learn.
“Right after my release, I was quite at a loss. The offline and online worlds I knew had already changed a lot. So, I needed to readjust and tried to learn things on my own. But thankfully, coaches from dtac Net for Living have now stepped in to guide me on the basics and teach me some useful techniques to build social media presence on platforms like TikTok. That’s how I have been able to adapt to the e-commerce scene,” Ms. Sansanee explains.
dtac Net for Living has joined hands with Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) to conduct social-media and e-commerce training for former prisoners. Knowledge from dtac Net for Living has paved the way for many businesses run by former prisoners to grow and thrive. Ban Chan Bakery, for example, now receives many orders for baked goods and snack boxes.
Today, Ms. Sansanee is working to develop a Ban Chan Bakery franchise as a way to offer meaningful opportunities for first-time businesspeople like herself. Aspiring entrepreneurs would need to put forward just 12,900 bath to get a booth with an awning, a signboard, and products worth 5,000 baht. Included in the package are Chinese buns with lava stuffing, one of the brand’s highlight product.
“Today, former prisoners remain stigmatized as most people don’t believe that they will be able to change. And it’s difficult for them to find a job elsewhere,” she explains. “In fact, ex-offenders re-offend mostly because they have been deprived of opportunities. They don’t know where or who to turn to. To effectively prevent reoffending on a sustainable basis, we need to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society.”
Ms. Sansanee now works tirelessly to change the public’s perception of ex-offenders by offering knowledge, guidance and a means of livelihood to them. Ban Chan Bakery also supports ex-offenders who lack financial means to start their business by letting them take the products on consignment, without needing to pay upfront.
People who are interested in supporting ex-offenders can buy their products directly from Ban Chan Bakery on Lineman, Robinhood, or Food Panda. For more information, call 094-6023436.