Yesterday, 29 October 2009, for the very first time in my life I walked into a jail, Penor Jail. No, not as an inmate, but as a legally appointed member of the Board of Visiting Justices.
I felt uneasy, indescribable sense of uneasiness plus creepiness, as I stepped out of the car and walked through the guard house and into the prison compound. It was a sort of claustrophobic feel, if you can see what I mean.
It was the first meeting of the Board of Visiting Justices of the jail. There were fifteen of us, duly appointed in person by the Minister of Home Affairs.
The Prison Director bried us on the prison, its history, organization, the number of inmates etc. We were also briefed on our responsibilities and what were expected of us.
After the briefing we were then brought into the prison world itself. But before that we had to leave our handphone and our body searched for concealed weapons.
First the vocational centres - the weaving (tenun Pahang) section. I was particularly impressed with their skills in turning up songket Pahang, very much equivalent, if not better, than the commercial pieces. More impressive was the fact that the wardeds were the instructors. Even DYTM Tengku Puan Pahang was impressed with them.
Second the motor workshop. There they were trained hands-on on the repair, welding and knocking and even car spraying!
Third destination - the kitchen. Cooking was done by the inmates, with very close supervision by the warders. The food quality was determined by the Health Department in term of the calory, the protein and even the menu.
Each inmate is given five meals a day and for that day's lunch it was made up of rice, chicken soup, fried scads and fried long beans - what more could they ask?
We were all very impressed with the way they cook their rice. The rice were first cooked to 1/3 cooked and then transferred into a large steamer where they were steamed to perfection without forming crust at the base.
Then came the section that we all wanted to see - the cells. First the remand cells. Sad and forlorn faces greeted us as we passed the cells. Were they really sad or just to get our sympathy? In each cell there were a wooden bed (pangkin) which was too small for the inmates to sleep comfortably. The toilet (?) was an open one with only a concrete divider 3 feet high.
In the sick bay we met an old man paralysed after a stroke. He was a rapist of his own daughter. His fate?