By Alverdtekoster Anyap and Sarah Hafizah Candra
NOT many people know what goes on inside a prison and what the inmates do behind bars.
The Puncak Borneo Prison, which holds more than 1,287 criminals, is also a rehabilitation centre besides being a place where inmates get to serve out their sentences.
Officers of the Prisons Department here, not only guard them, but also rehabilitate and educate inmates as well as assist them to be re-integrate in the community once they are released.
New Sarawak Tribune had the opportunity to go to the prison, about 30 kilometres from Kuching City at Jalan Puncak Borneo.
We arrived at 10am and we were given a briefing by the escorting officers, and told that items such as smartphones, smartwatches, recorders and other audio and visual devices are strictly prohibited in the maximum security area.
As we walked to the entrance, a giant, thick steel door stood before us, and they told us that this is the only entry and exit point to the prison.
Once our body and items, like note books, pens, name tags and even our cameraman’s camera were searched with a metal detector, we were allowed to step into the facility.
Every time someone enters through this door, they need to be inspected and searched thoroughly. Strict inspection is required to ensure that the security level of the prison is always maintained.
As we were being escorted by prison officers, we found ourselves surrounded by around 10 metres of steel fences and saw many gated facilities with inmates in them.
We entered a facility where we interviewed three male inmates at the prison – “Sam”, “Roy” and “Neri”. As promised to the department, we are not revealing their real identities for safety and confidentiality reasons.
Sam who was jailed six years for robbery was remorseful as the crime he had committed had caused him his future.
“I regret what I did in the past, it has caused me to lose so much time being incarcerated here. However, the prison has given me time to think.
“I have learnt my lesson here and the officers have been really helpful.
“They have taught me a lot especially on how to control my emotions and being patient and to take up rehabilitation and skills programmes,” he said.
Roy also said that the officers were really helpful and was grateful for their help.
Sentenced to 19 years in prison for fraud, he said he did it to get easy money, which he later regretted. But he has come to terms with his fate behind bars.
“I left my child when I went to prison, and I have wasted my time, not being there to see my child grow. What I did in the past was wrong and I am regretful.
“I have to live with that. While in here, I have taken up cooking for other inmates at the same time turning it into skills,” said Roy.
Neri, on the other, is serving eight years for falsification of documents.
He said his time in prison gave him an opportunity to think about what he had done.
“Being in prison is hard, and I have a lot to think about myself and the future. I have learnt my lessons here but, of course, the officers here have helped a lot.
“As I am serving my sentence here, I took the opportunity to take up skills, like weaving songket, which I am glad about,” said Neri.
WEAVING SONGKET HELPED A LOT IN IMPROVING SKILLS AND CONTROLLING EMOTIONS
In addition, both Sam and Neri are grateful to be chosen as songket weavers for the prison. They are among 43 inmates who joined the Bengkel Songket MyPride Penjara Puncak Borneo.
They said it gave them an opportunity to learn new skills which in turn shaped them into skilled weavers, as well as how to be patient in what they are doing.
Sam said: “To learn to weave, we have to work hard and be patient because this craft takes time to make it look good to the eyes. It took six to eight months to get used to the weaving.”
“It is important that we stay patient and control our emotions, not to get frustrated quickly because the songket needs to done perfectly.
“The longer you work on the songket, the better you get at making it beautifully. The officers and instructors also helped guide us, so all is good,” said Neri.
Neri added that he was excited when the Raja Permaisuri Agong recently visited the songket weaving workshop to see for herself the work of the inmates.
They added that weaving also helped them to keep their emotions in check and patient when things don’t go as planned.
Sam said making mistakes in weaving is part of the challenge but hastened to add that it helps him not to get frustrated as it is still a learning process for him and Neri.
“Guidance from the instructors make us better at weaving. Weaving helps us stay patient when doing delicate works,” said Sam.
Both Sam and Neri hope that when they are released from prison, they can find work in songket weaving and become useful to the community.
COOKING IS ALSO A SKILL THAT CAN BE HANDY IN THE FUTURE
Roy, meanwhile, is one of the prison cooks who prepares meals for all inmates in the prison. He said that he is glad to be able to cook various food and is looking forward to using this skill in the future.
“Every day, we wake up at 4.30am to prepare the ingredients and cook meals for all the inmates – breakfast, morning break, lunch, high tea and dinner.
“Me and other inmates are also the ones to distribute meals to other buildings and cells so that everyone gets to eat before they start their day,” said Roy.
Apart from that, he said the meals are prepared according to the scheduled menu given by prison officers and nutritionist from the Ministry of Health.
Before distributing, the meals are often inspected by officers to make sure it is safe to eat.
As to why he took up cooking, he said it is interesting and that he wanted to try something that he had never done before.
“I was not a skilled cook before this, so I took up the cooking programmes and tried it. Since then, I am stuck with this because I can explore new food, new menus and also cook something that I have never cooked before.
“It was the feeling of curiosity that got me here to become a cook for the prison. When I am released from here, I want to set up a catering business, for sure,” Roy said.
FAMILY IS THE ONE THING IN MIND
When we asked what they missed the most, they were tad emotional, saying they missed being with their families and spending quality time together.
Roy misses his child and regrets not being by his family when there is trouble.
“As a father, I really miss my family, especially my child who has turned seven years old. I missed out on everything like seeing my child growing up, which has been difficult.
“Family is everything but they have accepted what has happened to me. Family is the one thing that is always on my mind,” said the inmate.
“I miss being free,” said Sam, expressing that he would love to be out and spending time with his family.
He added that to be able to hold and hug his family would be a precious thing to be cherished.
Neri also shared the same feeling, that family is a precious thing in the world, and that it would be great if he could to turn back time and undo the wrong things he has done.
“I really, really miss everyone in my family, to spend time with them and helping them out with things. It hurts me for not being by their side, but it is what it is,” said Neri.
Although they are wearing face masks during the 30-minute interview, their eyes and their emotions are still visible on the face. For sure that family is always on their mind.
Being incarcerated in a cell, surrounded by walls and steel bars, can be a terrifying experience, especially for a first timer.
Nevertheless, for these three inmates, being part of programmes organised by the Prisons Department has made them realise that there can be a second chance in life.
“There are a lot of lessons to be learnt here. It changed my way of life, my attitude, my emotions and my spiritual-self as well.
“Being part of the programmes here, for me in the songket weaving workshop, has done me good.
“The officers take care of us, make sure we are good and everything and also treat us well as human beings,” said Sam.
Roy also said that the experience has changed him into a different person.
He said before this he was not a responsible person and was not independent in his life.
“I was lazy in the past, like after I finished my meal, I would just leave the plate be and did not bother to wash it.
“Here, I have to be independent and take care of myself. I see that I have changed a lot in terms of my attitude, my life and my moral values,” he said.
Neri agreed to what Roy said, that everything changed instantly after stepping into prison.
It has helped them turn over a new leaf, and they have come to terms to continue serving their sentences while freedom awaits them on the other side of the wall.
As a reminder to all, the inmates reminded the public, especially the youth, not to do anything stupid or get involved in any criminal act that can lead to them to prison.
They also expressed hope that the community will accept them as former inmates when the time comes and give them second chance in life so that they can move forward.
We often imagine bad things about what it’s like in prison, just like what we see on television series, they always behave badly such as harassing or beating each other up.
Here, inmates are given second chances to make amends of what they did in the past and had to re-learn everything to that can make them useful for society one day. At least it gives them a glimpse of hope once they are released.
Furthermore, the Malaysia Prison Department has created a competition to appreciate the inmates’ efforts for their participations in rehabilitation programmes in the field of fabric and crafting.
To acknowledge their hard work, the department will organised the Creative Award Ceremony (Majlis Anugerah Kreatif) on Sept 11 this year at Hotel Movenpick Sepang, where the Raja Permaisuri Agong is expected to be present.