Imagine your life is perfect in every respect; what would it look like?– Brian Tracy, American-Canadian motivational speaker
Recently, I read a touching story about a Malaysian convict who was granted early pardon by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah in conjunction with the nation’s 63rd National Day.
Ahmad, now 49, (not his real name) was among 13 convicts who were granted early pardon by the king. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2000 for waging a war against the king and had spent the past 20 years behind bars.
He had appealed against his sentence four times previously and each time, the appeal was rejected. He only succeeded in getting a royal pardon on his fifth appeal He knew nothing about the pardon until he was asked to read a letter.
Ahmad confessed he could not continue reading the letter after he saw the word “granted” for his fifth appeal.
He said he was then asked to perform the sujud syukur (prostration of gratitude).
He added he was so happy he could not get up and prison officers had to help him walk. His prison mates came to congratulate him when they learnt of the good news.
When he returned home, his family members and close relatives were waiting for him. A thanksgiving feast for his release was held at a surau near his house.
Ahmad’s story reminded me of a story I read in the YouTube not so long about the famous Bali Nine story.
Unlike Ahmad’s story, there was no happy ending to the Bali Nine story.
On April 17, 2005, nine Australians tried to smuggle 8.3 kg of heroin from Bali to Australia.
According to an online news report, they were a bunch of misfits caught up in a world fed by greed and apparently little understanding of the consequence of doing so.
The nine Australians, who became known as the Bali Nine, were a 27-year-old woman from Newcastle, Renae Lawrence; Martin Stephens, 29, from Wollongong; Matthew Norman, 18, and Andrew Chan, 21, both from Sydney; Vietnamese-Australian citizen from Brisbane, Tan Duc Thanh Nguyen, 21; Michael Czugaj, 18; Scott Rush, 19, Si Yi Chen, 20 and Myuruan Sukumaran, 24.
Chan and Sukumaran were the two ringleaders of the drug smuggling attempt while the rest were drug mules. A report said the drug mules were paid just A$5,000 for taking part in the smuggling operation while other reports said they were paid A$10,000 each.
According to reports, Chan and Sukumaran were not new to the business when they were caught in 2005.
To cut a long story short, all the drug mules were sentenced to life in prison in February 2006. Lawrence appealed and succeeded in getting her sentence reduced to 20 years.
Rush and Norman had their sentences lifted to the death penalty on appeal before being reduced later again to life sentences.
On February 14, 2006, an Indonesian court found Chan and Sukumaran guilty of providing money, airline tickets and hotels to the drug mules. They were sentenced to death by firing squad after it was pronounced that they were the key organisers in the plot to smuggle heroin into Australia and had recruited the drug mules.
Chan and Sukumaran spent a decade in prison before they were executed in the middle of the night in late April, 2015.
By then, Chan was 31 years old while Sukumaran was 34. In their final years, Chan had rehabilitated himself by studying to be a pastor while Sukumaran turned to art.
Despite their rehabilitation claims, clemency appeals by both convicts and international pleas for mercy from many people including Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott were rejected by Indonesian President, Joko Widodo.
Alongside Chan and Suumaran, seven other prisoners — four Nigerians, a Brazilian, a Filipino and an Indonesian — were scheduled to be executed by a firing squad that fateful night. The Filipino woman, Mary Jane Veloso, was spared at the last minute after a person who recruited her to a drug mule surrendered to police.
Commenting on the deaths of these nine prisoners by firing squad in Indonesia, an online news report said their deaths would be “a symbol of the disturbing consequence of poor decisions in life and a government intent on sending a message to the world”.
I caught up with the story of the Bali Nine on YouTube just recently, years after the executions had been carried out. It is a heart-breaking story. I found scenes of family members making their final visits to Chan and Sukumaran heartrending and distressing.
Ahmad, who was granted early pardon by the king, is one lucky guy. Not many people in jail get pardoned or have their death sentences reduced to life imprisonment.
Ahmad, who learnt furniture-making while in jail, has received a job offer but is still considering it.
“If possible, I would like to be with my family, especially my sister, and to help them because of what they had done for me over the years, in never giving up on me, always going to prison to visit me,” he said.
My friends, I hope the stories I share this week will touch your heart and that you will learn something from them. Remember, we have only one life but if we live it well, once is enough.