This project doesn't just pay lip service. 

Alongside running a textile business, guest writing for The Standard and maintaining the SisWalk SisTalk beauty and lifestyle blog, Watinee “Lily” Chaithirasakul, 46, is also the mastermind behind a project that donates recycled lipsticks to women’s prisons across Thailand. We caught up with her at TEA activist space in Ari, where she explained her work.
 

How did you come up with this project?

 

I met a woman who was in prison under section 112 [lese-majeste]. At first, I thought she was a bad person, but after I got to know her I realized she just had different opinions. She was asking me for makeup for some other inmates who were political prisoners—I felt that they shouldn’t be in prison just because they have different ideas, they are still good people. So I wanted to do something to help them, mentally.

 

How can lipsticks help or improve the inmates’ lives?

 

Everyday life in prison is very dull and depressing and small things like makeup can brighten up prisoners’ days and make them feel better inside—I once read a book that said inmates who are allowed makeup have better mental health.

 

Are there any laws or regulations that say women can’t wear makeup in prisons?

 

No, there aren’t—it all depends on the director of the prison.

 

Are the prisons cooperative?

 

When I called Pattaya prison, they were like, “why are you donating lipsticks?” I explained it to them and they listened, understood and accepted us. Some others who have accepted the project include Central Women’s Correctional Institution and Trat Provincial Prison. But Thanyaburi District Prison has said no to us two years in a row now and Phitsanulok Provincial Prison also said no.

 

When they tell you no, do they also tell you why?

 

They just say that they don’t allow the inmates to put any makeup on. I don’t want to stir up any drama; this project is about positivity, so I accept it.

 

What’s the situation like in Thai women’s prisons?

 

It’s very crowded from what I’ve been told; even towels get stolen and the food isn’t great either. There is a black market where a B69 lipstick would be sold for up to B300. Our project has successfully changed this situation.

 

What are the inmates usually like?

 

They are often really scared of the wardens. I don’t know how the prisons are run and they don’t want to speak about it. But the wardens aren’t exactly happy about their job either—it feels like they are locked up in there as well.

 

Do you have any personal stories on how this project has impacted women in the prisons?

 

I don’t know anyone personally in there and I don’t know who gets the products, but I do know people who come out and they keep encouraging me to do this, because life in there is just so sad. Doing this gives them something to occupy their time.

 

Is there anything else that we can do to help reform or improve prisons?

 

There are other similar projects including one by Eveandboy. Raising awareness about our legal system is also very necessary, as sometimes good people are imprisoned for their beliefs. We should also think about how we can improve inmates’ lives once they’re released.

 

Watinee “Lily” Chaithirasakul

 

Watinee “Lily” Chaithirasakul