EXCLUSIVE: Ramadan behind bars

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Ramadan The inmates of Kajang Prison in Selangor during the 39th day of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia. PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The inmates of Kajang Prison in Selangor during the 39th day of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

By Syahril A. Kadir

WE arrived at the Kajang Prison at noon. Its Director, Abdul Halim Ma Hasan has been waiting for us along with the senior officers of the biggest prison in Malaysia.

“Welcome to the Kajang Prison,” Abdul Halim, the Kelantanese who graduated from the University of Malaya said.

Interview session with the Director of Kajang Prison, TKP Abdul Halim Ma Hasan on the 39th day of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
Interview session with the Director of Kajang Prison, TKP Abdul Halim Ma Hasan on the 39th day of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

There are almost 5,000 inmates in this prison. Based on the record, it used to house over 6,000 inmates.

It was once known as the Selangor Central Prison. It was officially gazetted as the Kajang Prison on 8 May 1997.

Located at Sungai Jelok, approximately three kilometres from the Kajang town, it was built in 1975 on a 161.3 hectare land and it came into full operation in 1985.

It only housed 30 inmates at the beginning. They were brought in from the Pudu Jail. They were placed in the Pre Release Department and were tasked to do cleaning duties and the maintenance of the area and the newly completed prison buildings.

The inmate of Kajang Prison in Selangor during the 39th day of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The inmate of Kajang Prison in Selangor during the 39th day of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

It took RM65 million to build the prison. The building is divided into four segments; the Main Segment, Treatment Department, Drug and Rehabilitation Department, Pre Release Department and the Women’s Prison.

To smoothen the administration at the Women’s Prison, in 1993, the jail was separated from the Kajang Prison and they were given the responsibility to manage their own administration.

Then, I heard the exhaust from a vehicle which arrived at the main entrance of the building. Approximately 30 men arrived in handcuffs.

The Prison Officers board the bus before going to the tower during an exclusive interview at the Kajang Prison in conjunction with Ramadan.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The Prison Officers board the bus before going to the tower during an exclusive interview at the Kajang Prison in conjunction with Ramadan.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

“They violated the Movement Control Order (MCO). They have been sentenced and they are brought here,” said Abdul Halim.

Meanwhile, the warden distributed plastic packages to the new inmates so that they can keep their personal belongings such as wallet and watches. We were then invited into the prison.

STRINGENT INSPECTION

I could see several officers from the Infection Control and Prevention Unit (UKP) prepping themselves with the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), awaiting for us right after the small entrance which could only allow a single person to pass through was opened.

The prison officers from the Kajang Prison and members from the Infection Control and Prevention Unit in conjunction with the Movement Control Order to curb the spread of Covid-19.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The prison officers from the Kajang Prison and members from the Infection Control and Prevention Unit in conjunction with the Movement Control Order to curb the spread of Covid-19.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

They took our body temperatures. We were then asked to surrender our personal belongings to be kept at a dedicated cabinet.

We were also asked to put on hand sanitiser. Since the Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia, the control at the main entrance of Kajang Prison was tightened further.

The prison officers from the Kajang Prison and members from the Infection Control and Prevention Unit escorted an inmate during the Movement Control Order to curb the spread of Covid-19.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The prison officers from the Kajang Prison and members from the Infection Control and Prevention Unit escorted an inmate during the Movement Control Order to curb the spread of Covid-19.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

Measures were taken to prevent those entering the prison (inmates, workers or visitors) from spreading the deadly virus to the residents of the cell. None of the workers or inmates in the prison have been infected by the virus yet.

If they had taken the matter lightly, with the presence of the virus in the prison, it would definitely give a terrifying effect as it housed thousands of people.

Prison Officers getting ready before going to the tower during the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.     PIX : FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
Prison Officers getting ready before going to the tower during the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.
PIX : FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

We saw several wardens queuing to get their weapons. We were told that they are positioned at the control tower.

After collecting their weapons, they were taken to their posts in the prison’s vehicle.

We were then brough into the prison under stringent control.

Little did we know that the security checks did not end at the entrance. We were asked to queue up to be scanned.

The Prison officers guarding the security of the Kajang Prison during the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The Prison officers guarding the security of the Kajang Prison during the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

The scanner traces the presence of forbidden items so that they cannot be brought into the prison. It can also trace foreign materials, including those ingested or inserted in anus.

CONTROL TOWER

Prison officers climbing the stairs to the control tower of the Kajang Prison in Selangor.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
Prison officers climbing the stairs to the control tower of the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

The control towers positioned around the prison attracted us. It didn’t take long for Abdul Halim to explain about the functions of those towers.

“We place our officers to guard the towers at all time. Each tower will control a certain location or position.

The Prison officers guarding the security of the Kajang Prison during the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.   PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The Prison officers guarding the security of the Kajang Prison during the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

“For instance, some control towers focus on the field and residential blocks. These towers would determine the security level of our prison.

Some of the inmates working out at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
Some of the inmates working out at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

We then passed through a huge field. Although they are locked in their cells, the inmates are also given time for recreational activities according to their schedule.

During the fasting month, the Muslim inmates are given the opportunity for light exercises to maintain their health.

Some of the inmates walking towards their prison cell after reciting the al-Quran at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

We were then brought to a block where the inmates were sewing the PPE voluntarily for the frontliners of Covid-19 at the hospitals.

TADARUS

We could hear the Asar Azan while we were at the workshop.

We were then escorted to a nearby surau. Dozens of inmates were praying there when we reached.

The inmates reading al-Quran during Ramadan at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The inmates reading al-Quran during Ramadan at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

After the prayer, they took the Al-Quran and recited it in group.

According to the religious officer at the prison, Ustaz Afendi Ishak, religious activities are heightened for the inmates during Ramadan.

As the religious officer at the Kajang Prison, he was touched by the efforts of the inmates who doubled their worship during the Holy Month.

The inmates getting their copy of al-Quran during Ramadan at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The inmates getting their copy of al-Quran during Ramadan at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

“I am inspired by their spirit for ibadah in the Holy Month. We should not discriminate them based on their background or mistakes, that is foremost,” he said.

BREAKING OF FAST

We left the prayer room after the Asar prayer.

We were then brought to the central kitchen where dozens of immates were preparing food for over 5,000 inmates there.

The Officers from the Infection Control and Prevention Unit are on guard when the inmates prepare food for sahur and breaking of fast during Ramadan at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The Officers from the Infection Control and Prevention Unit are on guard when the inmates prepare food for sahur and breaking of fast during Ramadan at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

Upon reaching, they were preparing food for the breaking of fast for the Muslim inmates.

According to the officer-on-duty, Zakaria Man, there were some adjustments in the work schedule as they needed to ration for the pre-dawn meals (sahur).

“What I can say is, it is lively in our main kitchen during Ramadan as the inmates need to cook the whole day,” he said.

The meals prepared for sahur pre-dawn meal (left) and the breaking of fast (right) during the Ramadan month at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The meals prepared for sahur pre-dawn meal (left) and the breaking of fast (right) during the Ramadan month at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

Although the food may not be as luxurious as the food out there, it followed the fixed diet template. Chicken and fish are served alternately.

We then followed the inmates assigned to distribute food to the detention cells. The meals were delivered through a small hole at the cells’ door.

The inmates distributing food for the break of fast during the Ramadan Month at the Kajang Prison.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The inmates distributing food for the break of fast during the Ramadan Month at the Kajang Prison.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

The inmates were locked up in a tiny room with a sheer of light penetrating through their windows.

Nothing much can be done in the cells with the exception of reading some old books.

An inmate spending his time reading at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
An inmate spending his time reading at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

Right when it was time to break the fast, they lifted their hands to pray before enjoying their meal.

It was an eye-opening experience spending a day in the jail. We felt bored staying at home throughout the Movement Control Order (MCO) period. It is worse for these inmates when majority of them had to be imprisoned for years.

The inmates reciting their prayer before breaking their fast at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The inmates reciting their prayer before breaking their fast at the Kajang Prison in Selangor.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

Although we were happy that the inmates were treated equally with humanity, they also needed to follow strict disciplinary rules imposed by the prison.

A prison is still a prison.

The inmates enjoying their meals during the breaking of fast at the Kajang Prison.     PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020
The inmates enjoying their meals during the breaking of fast at the Kajang Prison.
PIX: FAREEZ FADZIL / MalaysiaGazette / 25 APRIL 2020

We left right after the inmates break their fast. One day at the prison was enough for us to see the hardship of life behind bars right after the judge send them here.

Many lessons could be learn. We have the choice to ‘fly’ freely out there or to be part of them here.

While driving home, the song by Datuk M. Nasir, Empat Penjuru filled my ears.

“Empat penjuru, empat tembok bisu, memandang kejam padaku, di dalam penjara, di luar penjara, manakah tempatku mengadu. Wahai temanku dengar kataku, jangan kau ikut aku, jalan yang lurus aku tak lalu, ku ikut jalan berliku…”

May Allah forgive our sins. We leave our fates to him. – Malaysia Gazette

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