KAJANG: “Be quiet!” Kajang prison chief inspector Badri Sham Ahmad hollered at a group of schoolboys who were there on a visit recently.
“Line up in three rows. If you don’t, you won’t get any lunch today. I know all of you are hungry.”
Badri Sham not only sounded stern but looked formidable too. The nickname Pharoah, given to him by the prison inmates, seemed apt.
Fifty-three students from 22 schools in Kuala Lumpur had participated in the Kajang prison “study tour“, organised for the first time by the Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF KL) – the Kuala Lumpur chapter of the Tokyo-based Asia Crime Prevention Foundation – and the Education Ministry. Disciplinary teachers and school counsellors also took part in the tour last month.
Badri Sham only allowed the students to help themselves to the food after he was satisfied with their conduct.
There was no special treatment for the young visitors. Just like the jailbirds, each student was given a tray of food and a plastic mug filled with lukewarm black tea.
They sat cross-legged on the floor and ate their lunch quietly. The food was simple – white rice, a piece of fried fish and a vegetable dish, as well as a banana for dessert.
“The same food you are having now is also being eaten by the prisoners in their cells. Now, if you don’t want to eat this food every day, make sure you don’t end up in jail,” Badri Sham said in a serious tone.
The students, mainly second-third-and fourth-formers, were deliberately picked by their schools to go on the prison tour as they have disciplinary problems.
Some of them have played truant and even taken drugs while others have been caught stealing, smoking, fighting or bullying others.
The purpose of the jail visit was to show the delinquents what was in store for them if they did not repent.
“No one wants to spend their life in a jail,” Badri Sham told his visitors. “This is a correctional institution for people who have committed crimes, in the hope that they will reform by the time they are released and return to their families to lead a useful life.”
Badri Sham, who has served almost 20 years with the Malaysian Prisons Department, said the prison wardens and officers put on a stern persona as soon as they enter the jail premises.
Once work is over, they would revert to their normal selves.
“We’re trained to be like a chameleon. This is why I’m advising you not to ever be jailed,” he said.
To give the students a “taste” of what types of punishment criminals were subjected to, Badri Sham and prison officer Inspector Mohd Aazem Mazlam “treated” them to an audio-visual presentation.
It was definitely not a very pretty sight watching prisoners being whipped. Many of the students shut their eyes as they could not bear to watch. It was even more chilling when a prisoner screamed in pain each time he felt the sharp lash of the rotan on his buttocks.
Equally gory were the deep gashes caused by the whipping, which would take months to heal.
“Now you understand why I keep telling you not to ever come to prison,” Badri Sham said. “If you are imprisoned and given the whipping penalty, we will carry out the punishment earnestly. We’re the only government servants who are paid to whip people!
“You can wail or scream for your mother and father but we will not show any sympathy,” he said, adding that the whipping penalty carried a minimum of one and maximum of 24 strokes of the rotan.
As if images of prisoners being whipped were not grim enough, there were also visuals of the room where capital punishment or hanging is carried out.
Head disciplinary teacher at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Bukit Bandaraya, Ong Be Be, said the Kajang prison visit gave the students a taste of what it was like to be behind bars.
“It was a good preventive measure. Our main aim is for them to realise what awaited them (in jail) if they continue committing offences,” said Ong, who teaches English and has been a disciplinary teacher for 12 years.
She said her school had sent four students with disciplinary problems
on the “tour.”
“I hope after this visit and especially after seeing what the prisoners are going through, they will start behaving well,” she added.
Head disciplinary teacher at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Desa Tun Hussein Onn, Noorhayati Khairudin, said the briefing on the whipping and death penalty was rather eye-opening.
She hoped that the visit would serve as a deterrent to criminal behaviour and compel the students to become more disciplined.
“More of such programmes should be held for students so that they know what the situation is like behind the prison walls. This way, they will think many times before committing an offence,” she said.
Wan Faris Ikmal Wan Ikram, 16, a Form Four student at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Hartamas, said he has repented fully after seeing for himself what prison inmates went through.
What he found most terrifying was the whipping.
“So scary. The sound of the rotan lashing against the prisoner’s body was truly terrifying. I will never forget it,” he said.
Mohd Haikal Hakimi Abdullah, 16, from Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Seri Pantai, said the visit taught him some valuable lessons.
“After seeing all those punishments meted out to prisoners, I certainly hope I don’t commit any crimes,” he said.
MCPF KL executive committee member Saiful Hamiruzzaman Mohd Hazir said the organisation planned to continue with its jail visit programme for students.
Future visits would include more activities, he said, adding that MCPF KL would leave it to the prisons authorities to propose suitable activities for students to participate in.
“Our maiden jail visit was only a half-day programme. In future, we will try to extend the visit to a full day by having more activities. The students will be exposed to more things if they are given more time to spend in the prison premises,” he said.
To ascertain whether or not the programme is a success, the students who participated in the recent Kajang jail visit will be adopted by MCPF KL and their conduct will be monitored with the help of their respective disciplinary teachers and school counsellors.
Crime prevention initiatives such as the jail visit have to be carried out continuously so that students become completely aware of the government’s commitment to producing high-quality human capital that is free of social ills.