The capital, located just 1.5 meters above sea level, is regularly flooded due to heavy rains, and the sewage system is quickly overwhelmed.

After lifting the concrete slabs that cover the pipes, several dozen inmates wearing protective waders and thick gloves, climb down and scrape away the filth, filling large iron bins with stinking waste.

“It’s quite hard and exhausting work,” said a 33-year-old prisoner, who was not allowed to give his name, adding, unsurprisingly, that the work was “smelly”.

He is one of around 80 inmates who have been transferred from three prisons to an eastern suburb of Bangkok and put to work.

For the prisoners, this work that no one wants to do allows them to earn a little money and above all reductions in sentence, one day for each day of work done.

“I always volunteer to do this job, so I can get back to my family sooner,” the man said, wearing a bright blue baseball cap and a dark blue uniform that read “prisoner” on the back.

– Penalty reduction –

The convicts work all day, in the oppressive heat, fed thanks to donations from merchants happy to see the pipes in front of their stores finally cleaned.

‘This is the first time since the pandemic’ that the sewers have been cleaned by prisoners, said a guard at the Bangkok remand center, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Once dubbed the “Venice of the East”, the capital often suffers from flooding during the rainy season – around July to October – and the back-up of pipes contributes to this.

“Cleaning more at the start of the rainy season will help the drains drain faster and won’t cause problems once it rains,” a Bangkok Metropolitan Administration official said.

And for at least one of the prisoners, who had less than a year left to serve, cleaning the sewers helped him feel better about his past.

“We’ve made mistakes in life that end up in jail, so having a chance to come out and serve the public makes me happy.”