KUALA LUMPUR: Kath (not her real name) remembers walking her daughter to kindergarten every weekday morning.
They would hold hands as they strolled through their neighbourhood, engaging in conversation and banter. The 15-minute stroll often felt much too short for Kath.
Her daughter’s inquisitive nature and bizarre questions sometimes left her in stitches. She could not forget the time when her daughter asked her, “Mummy, why do cars move on roads instead of walls?”
These memories are what get the 42-year-old through her time at the Kajang Women’s Prison. She is currently doing time for an offence under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.
The former drug addict’s eyes lit up every time she spoke about Anne (not her real name), the daughter she had to leave behind at the age of seven.
In an interview with Bernama in conjunction with the upcoming Mother’s Day celebrations, Kath recalled Anne’s antics, often bursting into laughter which helped soften the otherwise grim prison atmosphere.
“The last time I saw her was three years ago, when I had to officially hand her over to my ex-husband’s sister. She was 10 years old then and a beauty. Long-haired.
“She is now 13, already a teen. I don’t know what she looks like now but I am certain she is more beautiful,” she said with a smile.
Parting: Bitter but better
Kath’s memories with Anne were not all roses, though. She also had deep-seated regrets about the things she did while raising her daughter.
Once, she left Anne hungry for a day because she did not have the money to buy food. In the end, she had to swallow her pride and borrow RM3 from her neighbour so that she could feed her daughter.
Poverty had also led Kath to become a petty drug dealer as a means of survival.
Anne became so used to accompanying her mother to meetings with customers that one day she asked Kath, “Mummy, is no one coming by to pick up their stuff (drugs) today?”
Her daughter’s innocent question filled Kath with shame and sadness. Determined to protect the daughter she loved so much from a life of filth, she made the difficult decision to officially hand over custody of her child to the sister of her ex-husband in Malacca.
For years, Anne’s aunt had taken care of her while Kath was high or unable to cater to her daughter’s basic needs.
“It was not that I did not want to take care of her, but I did not want her to see me like this. I didn’t want her to know that her mother was a drug addict and drug dealer.
“I signed over full parental custody to my ex-husband’s sister with tears in my eyes, but I knew what I was doing was better for Anne’s future.
“She was better fit to care for my child than I was,” said Kath, who once worked as a guest relations officer at a nightclub in the capital city.
Cleaning up her act
Kath is due for release in November but says she needs more time to clean up her act before she can meet with her daughter.
She said she wanted to look for a stable job and have her own place before going to see Anne.
Every day, Kath dreams of the day when she will be able to hold her daughter’s hand like she used to and take her out to eat.
However, she did not want Anne to know that she had been in prison as she was afraid her daughter would not be mature enough to accept what her mother had done.
“I want to keep this from her forever, if possible. I don’t want her to become embarrassed or for her friends to make fun of her because of who I am,” she said.
Mother’s Day behind bars
Another prisoner, Rose (not her real name), will also be celebrating this Mothers’ Day away from her children.
The 36-year-old said her four children made her a Mothers’ Day card every year without fail.
However, none of her children know that she will not be able to receive their card this year as both she and her husband are behind bars.
Rose told her children, now aged between six and 12 years, that their parents had to go to Kuala Lumpur for over a year for work.
“My children, especially the eldest, never forgets Mothers’ Day and would make me a card. It saddens me to think that my husband and I used to be so busy with work that we hardly spent time with the children,” said Rose, whose husband is serving time in the Sungai Udang Prison in Malacca.
The couple is serving a jail sentence under Section 380 of the Penal Code for theft.
Rose, who badly misses her children, said she would fly straight back to her hometown as soon as she was released. She wants to hug her children and cook their favourite foods.
She is also determined to pay back her “debts” to her children and start a new life with them.
As for their status as ex-convicts, Rose said she and her husband would eventually tell their children when they felt they were ready.
“My children are now living with my mother and sister. Two weeks ago, I spoke to my mother on the phone and she said my children told me to take care of my diet and health.
“I am sure that if we broached the subject in the right manner, they would be able to accept that their parents had served time in prison.”
Rose and her husband used to own a restaurant which they lost when it closed down. Amid economic difficulties, loan sharks came after them, making them desperate to find ways to pay off their debts and put food on the table.
Along with several friends, they decided to steal powdered milk for resale but were caught in the crime.
They were sentenced to a year and eight months in jail, a period of time that Rose described as a searing lesson for her soul.
She advised other parents to always do what was right as opposed to what was easy but wrong. Never resort to crime, no matter how difficult things are economically, she said.
“My husband and I had only intended to make things easier for our children, but the end does not justify the means. What is wrong is wrong, no matter how you spin it. We had to go to jail and leave our children behind.”