Previously, CILISOS wrote an article on what it’s like inside a Malaysian prison. So when we got an invite to see a very different side of prison, from Wanita MCA to celebrate CNY with the inmates, we thought, hey, why not?
So, CILISOS sent this writer to kepoh at the Kajang Women’s Prison to find out what it’s like to celebrate CNY with the prisoners there and while we did feel a bit nervous to be dining with the inmates (for those of us who haven’t ever spent any time on the inside), we were surprised with the things that we found out during the event.
NOTE: Prison management took photos, but didn’t allow us to publish them, so we’ll try our best to describe the event.
Before going into the prison, everyone from the Wanita MCA, NGOs and even ourselves had to put our belongings into a locker at the entrance of the prison. This means no cameras, no money and… no phones inside, for obvious reasons la. However, it didn’t help to calm this writer’s nerves.
After going through a quick body check, we headed into the prison towards the lunch venue. But, CHUP! Out of all the media peeps who had arrived that morning, we were the only ones who opted to enter the prison compound for lunch while the rest went…
1. … to the Kajang Women’s Prison SPA!?
We actually didn’t realise this till the end of the tour, and were wondering where all the other media people went. As it turns out, they went to the prison’s spa and saloon which was located outside of the prison compound! The spa and saloon services are provided by the inmates and are opened to the public.
One of the media peeps shared that she had her hair washed and cut at only RM15! But the price of the services offered at the spa and saloon reportedly ranges from RM5 to RM200.
Okay la, some of ugaiz may be a bit skeptical at the idea of inmates giving you massage or cutting your hair but these inmates are fully trained. This is part of the prison’s workshop training to provide them with such skills that may help them when they leave the prison. Of course, the inmates stationed at the prison spa and saloon are under the supervision of the prison officers, and vetted first la.
“An inmate who can massage well can climb through the ranks very quickly. Their services are quite high in demand, even among the wardens and tuans.” – Anonymous Freelancer sharing his experience of being in the prison.
Even when the other group of us first entered the prison compound, we smelt burning candles – not quite like a spa though… Apparently it isn’t just massage workshops in here, but also a batik workshop which uses candles to heat wax.
There are actually a few types of workshops for the inmates based on the level of their skills.
The Business Workshop (Bengkel Perusahaan) would equip the inmates with vocational skills while the Trust Account Workshop (Bengkel Akaun Amanah) would allow the inmates to be involved in vocational activities that require a higher skill level.
And they don’t do this for free. They are considered as workers who are actually paid based on the skills they have. The public can also purchase the products produced by the inmates at a certain price. Oh, we’ve also written about prison products and you can read more about it here.
But as we headed to the lunch venue, we found out that…
2. Inside the prison is less like Shawshank Redemption and more like Bridesmaids
Some movies and TV shows portray how prisoners would give you the stare when you walk into the prison. While you may get that stare that may make you feel a bit uncomfortable when you first enter the prison, we can assure you that the inmates themselves won’t make you feel uncomfortable.
The prison officers escorted us to what it seemed like three kenduri tents (two for the inmates and guests and one for the stage) which was located outdoors and the venue was surrounded by three prison blocks. Oh, did we mention that the prison compound is super clean too?
So here it was… nerves and everything— we were gonna get to sit we the inmates. Then something weird happened. The inmates started calling out to someone by name in our visitor group to sit with them! This person was Padma, who was from an NGO called the Prison Fellowship, and us as if they already knew us for a long time! A representative from MCA later joined us and she, too, was warmly welcomed.
As the event began, we made small talk with the inmates at our table. We found out that the crimes these inmates had committed varied from the littlest things such as pick-pocketing to a more serious one like money laundering. One of the unexpected stories shared to us came from an inmate who was charged with money laundering. She claimed that she had been cheated by a number of lawyers who represented her in court(!). They are also serving different jail times ranging from less than 6 months to 32 years!
Despite whatever they did (or didn’t do), these inmates seemed repentant, but to be fair, these are probably the nicer ones la. We were later informed that these inmates sitting with us were picked because they were the Kajang Women’s Prison’s well-behaved inmates.
This could be seen when we makan-makan with them. Not only were they friendly, they seemed eager to celebrate CNY. In fact, they were a loud bunch! They seemed to be enjoying themselves as they clapped and sang along to almost all CNY songs throughout the event. They were also responsive towards speeches from Wanita MCA’s Chief, Datuk Heng Sea Kei and the prison Director, Lim Kim Mooi.
As we were eating, the inmates were also considerate of everyone at the table. They would pass the food around and when one inmate couldn’t finish her food, she would pass it to another inmate who would eventually finish it up for her (if only we did this more outside).
Around this time, we started noticing something else
3. There seem to be three colours of prisoner uniforms
Some of the colours of the
wind penjara uniforms. This was reportedly during raya. Img mStar
The inmates who were sitting with us mostly wore red prison uniforms, although quite a number of them wore blue and green uniforms. However, there was a huge number of inmates in their purple uniforms under the tent next to ours.
So our newfound lunch buddies shared with us that the colours of the prison uniforms depends on the jail time they served. For instance, one of the inmates at our table who wore a white prison uniform was sentenced to LESS than 6 months jail term while the rest of them who were in their red uniforms were sentenced to MORE than 6 months jail term.
But what about those in their purple uniforms? Well, don’t purple uniforms ring a bell??
And that’s because those suspects remanded in police detention (aka Orang Kena Tuduh, OKT, which means these peeps HAVEN’T been convicted of a crime yet), much like our freelancer who wrote about his own experience in remand (more on this later). This uniform was pretty femes sometime in 2017 when there was a debate about whether the police should consider stopping the practice of having remanded detainees wearing this purple uniforms cos it may be detrimental to them. However, those prison uniforms are still being used up to this day.
4. And then there was a lion dance… by male inmates!
Wahlau… as if not enough surprises, suddenly got tungtungchiang then lo and behold, THIS….
But unlike your regular lion dance performance which may cost you over RM800, this lion dance was performed by the male inmates! The crowd cheered as they performed and shook hands with the ‘lion’ before it left (yea, they didn’t stay throughout the event). After the opening speech by Datuk Heng and Director Lim, we were then serenaded by a Malay prison officer who sang two songs in Mandarin and a group of women inmates who sang and danced to a CNY song as well! Unlike the other inmates, these women were dressed in their cheongsams.
Besides the performances, there were some other inmates who weren’t involved in the event but were busy preparing food. However, we can’t tell if they were the ones preparing our chicken rice and lohsang for the event. But regardless of who prepared the food for us, it was pretty decent la.
Aside from that, the prison officers were pretty much in charge of everything during the event like the PA system. They were also the ones who provided us with chopsticks for lohsang. Although the lohsang we had in the prison may not be as grand as the lohsangs you have in your fancy restaurant, the inmates told us they were grateful for it.
After the event ended, the inmates had worked together with several officers to clean up. They disassembled the tables, stacked the chairs and took off the decorations from the tents.
5. There’s also a childcare centre in the prison… run by inmates!
Earlier we mentioned how the lunch venue was surrounded by three prison blocks. The workshops are located in two of the blocks we saw while the other block is… a taska (childcare centre)?
As it turns out, some of the inmates’ children are taken care of at this taska while they go for workshops and work. And guess who takes care of these children? Other inmates (but under the supervision of the prison officers ofcos)! Well, that is unless the mothers requested to take care of them.
These children were either born in the prison or were brought along by their mothers into the prison. And it is actually legal to do so since it is in line with Regulation 13(1) of the Prison Regulation 2000 that states:
“A child under the age of 3 years old can be accepted in the prison with his/her mother with the permission of the Head of Director.”
Uih, then how do these mothers take care of their children?? Don’t worry, the prison institution has the responsibility of ensuring that these children receive sufficient food and basic needs besides educating their mothers on child healthcare.
However, once these children reach the age of 3, they will be sent out of prison. They will either be taken in by the inmates’ family or, if there’s no one to take care of these children, they will be sent to social welfare. But in certain, special cases, the Head of Director may allow these inmates to take care of their children in prison even after they turn 4 or 5 (basically more than 3 years old la).
There were also several foreigner inmates in the prison too. In fact, they were reportedly the cause of our local prisons to be overcrowded! And most of them were reportedly detained due to permit issues.
Hmmm… prison doesn’t seem too bad wor!
There were 55,413 inmates nationwide in 2017 la and female inmates made up 7.2% of that number. But it was reported that, at the time of writing, there are 1,292 inmates in the Kajang Women’s Prison. Throughout our short visitation to the Kajang Women’s Prison, we didn’t get to meet all 1,292 inmates there. Heck, we didn’t even get to visit all the blocks there such as the inmates’ cells and taska (yea, we saw that but we didn’t actually enter that block). So, what we’ve encountered that day may only portray one part of what it’s like inside the prison.
While life may seemed all good for the women inmates in the Kajang Women’s Prison, we may not be able to grasp a full picture of what their daily life may look like based on just one visit. For instance, 25.8% of those prisoners (like our freelancer) are actually in remand, which means that they are serving time without beingconvicted. There are also overcrowding issues at more than 50% of the prisons in Malaysia, and a pretty high death rate as well.
But on the bright side, Malaysia has the lowest occurrences of relapse into crime for ex-convicts in ASEAN, and that’s largely because of the work we saw here at Kajang prison.
“Prisons are not for punishment, but rather for rehabilitation of prisoners. When they are out of prison, they can be accepted by their family. Many convicts (after released from prison) become songket and batik entrepreneurs and selling bread,” – Former Home Minister Zaid Hamidi, to Borneo Post, March 2018
And perhaps that’s the most important thing of all, because forgiveness is a part of Malaysian culture, and what better way to show that than giving the wronged another shot at a productive life?