PATTAYA, Thailand — It was a peaceful moment for Chalermpol Sawadsuk, who has had very few peaceful moments during his life of violence and crime. His girlfriend, Saranya Meesuk, leaned on his tattooed chest after his long day of training in Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, and Sawadsuk turned reflective.
“Could you ever imagine that such a bad person as me would have a chance to have a nice family one day,” Sawadsuk, 30, asked in his native Thai. “I think love is rehabilitation. I get up and find breakfast waiting for me each morning. But I wonder even more what kind of woman would fall in love with a man like me.”
In his previous life, he hurt people for a living.
When he was 18, Sawadsuk says he became an enforcer for an organized crime group in Bangkok, where he collected debts, ran drugs and even killed those he was ordered to kill.
At 23, Sawadsuk was arrested and sentenced to 10 years for drug trafficking. While in Wainoomklang Prison, Sawadsuk had time to think about his crimes and the trouble he caused others. After a year, he learned of a government program that rewarded inmates who trained and fought in organized Muay Thai bouts against other prisons.
“When I was 8 years old my uncle taught me Muay Thai,” Sawadsuk said. “I had some experience fighting inside the ring. I quit when I was about 15. I started to be unruly. I liked the feeling of being important to my friends, so I helped my friends to fight when they were in trouble.”
Focused once again, Sawadsuk thrived in the ring, winning 19 times with 14 knockouts. Under the government-sanctioned program, he had seven years cut from his sentence for winning, and was featured in a recent Showtime documentary about the success of the program.