So many of the formerly imprisoned writers and publishers I worked with have remarked on the impact the International Centre for the Red Cross made on their lives towards the beginning of the millennium. Those writers imprisoned in the 20th Century were denied the basic right of pen, paper and books, devising creative strategies such as mixing water with brick dust to create ink, and hiding scraps of paper in the cracks of the walls of their cells …
Prison guards were bribed to bring in newspapers; news, often months out of date, was passed around in codes.
As the ICRC were granted access to the prison system, they were able to bear pressure on the government to allow books and writing materials which often changed the lives of those incarcerated.
At first, book packages were allowed from families and visitors, though screened before being handed to the prisoner, then, as this this thoughtful Myanmar Times interview with former prisoner and poet Saw Wai shows, books became libraries.
One writer I know, like Saw Wai, used books to teach first himself, then others, English. Blogger, writer and now NLD parliament member Nay Phone Latt reminisced of the stories he was able to write; writer/comedian Zarganar spoke once of a literary magazine he started in Myitkyina prison which was shared around the inmates. These freedoms often provoke a wry sense of humour among earlier prisoners who refer to those imprisoned after the 2007 Saffron Revolution, as the ‘Golden Generation’, thanks to the improved standards of their incarceration in comparison to the past.
Image Credit at Wikipedia