Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Amazing Story of Prisoner 00235 and His Escape from Burma continued ...

So, imprisoned for nothing, Htein Lin continues to be the artist he is. Word gets around. Another prisoner working in the office manages to get him some enamel paint. When that was gone, Lin used the color dyes used for staining the doormats made in the prison, or color powder left over from a Hindu festival.

Lacking tools, he would often just use his bare hands to apply any medium, though he also found toothpaste and medicine bottle lids, toothbrushes, and cigarette lighters helpful.He realized the long white cotton prison outfits would be useful, and he would buy them from prisoners being released for 10 cigarettes. His family brought him a tarpaulin to sleep on, and he used that to paint on, gradually tearing off strip after strip.

What survives of what he created from all this is amazing. Some paintings provide a striking account of life inside the prison: prisoners shackled, lining up for food, waiting on death row. Some are of mega-themes like the eclipse and the millenium.

Lin hid his paintings in his bedroll until he could smuggle them out with friends or family, often bribing the guards. Not everything survives, because, for example, one warder took the money, opened the paintings, assumed they were elaborate escape maps, and burnt them all.

Not to mention that, after a government purge led to a review of thousands of cases, when he finally got out of prison in November 2004 (for his escape is not from prison, but from danger later), his wife (whom he later divorced) turned out to have sold all the paintings he had done on paper to a scrap paper merchant for recycling!

Still, the work done on the prison uniforms survives, and was to be Lin's key to freedom. But how is still an amazing story ... check in tomorrow.

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