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Changi Prison - The Inside Story
   
In recent months, we have seen the introduction of the new Home Team logo and Home Team launching Workshop. Our officers are also currently involved with the on-going MHA Roadshows. They all boil down to a singular purpose. The coming together of all MHA departments to steer towards one direction. Police Life Monthly marks this with a series titled "Home Front" which will highlight the work of the various Home Team Departments. To launch the series, writer Nisar Keshvani goes behind bars to bring you an inside story.

Click here to read accompanying story: "A quick guide to Changi Prison"
   
As a young boy I was fascinated by our local prison. I zoomed past it almost every week because my sister stayed close by, and I always wished I could see it up close.

In a lame effort to understand and perhaps imagine a life behind bars, I read books about risons overseas and watched movies. When the opportunity to visit Changi Prison presented itself, it was like a dream come true. However reality always seems to hit you when you least expect it.

Changi Prison was built to accommodate 1561 inmates. Excluding the staff quarters, it covered 13 acres. The prison is walled in by a 3,000-foot long, 24-foot high concrete wall. Walking through the narrow alleys cleverly architectured around the prison with ASP S Mahalingam and Rehabilitation Officer 1 (RO1) Jahir Anwar, one gets a feel of the prison’s high security.

Each section is fitted with high security doors and they can easily be cordoned off if necessary. The corridors are monitored all the time, giving prisoners little chance of even planning an escape. While walking, I expected to see prisoners running around and hear their tortured screams just like on the silver screen. And wardens trying to control them. But I was surprised at the serenity and peaceful surroundings.

The inmates were well-disciplined, calm and organised. When I asked RO1 Jahir, he said with a laugh, “That is all only in films, exaggerated for impact, we believe the inmates are here as punishment and not for punishment. We have to help them as best as we can.” We had a peek of a typical cell. Each fitted with the bare necessities, a toilet with reading materials, toothbrush, a mug, a blanket and a mat. Most cells could accommodate two or three persons.

Rehabilitation and physical recreation
We discovered that a convicts day is well planned from sunrise to sunset. There roll call early in the morning ensure all prisoners are safe. Hard-core criminals young and first-time offenders segregated for obvious reasons. ASP Mahalingam then briefed us on Changi Prison rehabilitation programme. Physical recreation high list of priorities. activities keep inmates healthy fitwhile recreational games help relieve pressures incarceration promote interaction between inmates. Inter-block organised time encourage sportsmanship.



"Wardens not only inculcate and maintain discipline but double up as counsellors and try to help inmates where possible. We must understand they are within confined surroundings and we are their link to their families."

"Instead of medals or trophies, the men prefer snacks or food items such as chocolates," said ASP Mahalingam.

Vocational Skills
There is ample opportunity for inmates to get adjusted to working life. Changi Prison boasts the largest laundry in Southeast Asia and is responsible for cleaning bedsheets for the SAF and most local hospitals. Various work areas are set up to inculcate strong work ethics and discipline in the offender. His ability to hold on to a job will serve as a stable foundation for the reintegration of the offender into society.

Through SCORE’s work programme; inmates are involved in the following industries: tailoring, silkscreen printing, bookbinding, laundering, copper tooling, carpentry and breadmaking. While touring the laundry, we discovered the close but firm relationship of inmates with their warders when one of them quietly approached ASP Mahalingam for a quiet conversation.

"Wardens not only inculcate and maintain discipline but double up as counsellors and try to help inmates where possible. We must understand they are within confined surroundings and we are their link to their families," he adds. EDUCATION Academic or vocational education is available to all offenders to upgrade their educational level and skills. Academic classes are conducted by teachers seconded from the Ministry of Education as well as part-time teachers.

BEST courses, GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ level classes enable inmates to acquire degrees and diplomas during their stint in prison. "One inmate is even pursuing a degree. We always support and encourage them to continue studying," said ASP Mahalingam. Inmates’ earnings from their various job vocations are automatically channelled to their POSBank accounts. They can use this money to support their families or pay for examination fees.

Religious and Social Counselling
Religion can help inmates change their errant ways by giving them a sense of direction and meaning to life. Inmates are encouraged to pursue their religious beliefs " religious services are held regularly and counselling is provided by various religious organisations.

Many prisoners have personal, social or family problems, if not addressed, could retard the rehabilitation process. Social counselling is provided by trained officers and individual volunteer counsellors.

Family Visits
Families can visit their relatives in prison. Literature and certain food items are allowed but they have to be screened before being given the inmates. Occasionally inmates ask speak non-relatives with whom special attachments. one such instancean inmate even proposed his long-time girlfriend.

"There must be room for compassion in such cases," ASP Mahalingam observes. Our last stop was the Prison Chapel, built during the 2nd World War. Brushing through the short notes left there by former prisoners of war, one can only imagine the memories Changi Prison holds for the many that have passed through its huge iron doors.

The husband is inside the iron bars,
the wife is outside the iron bars, looking in,
So near they are only separated by inches,
And yet so distant, like sky and depths of the sea.
What no words utter, their desperate eyes relate,
Before every word their eyes brim with tears.
Who could stand here and watch their meeting unmoved?

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