GEORGE TOWN: Selected Muslim inmates were given a rare chance to celebrate Hari Raya, without the usual one-hour time limit, with their loved ones at the Penang Remand Prison today.
The group of 10 inmates, four of whom are on death row, were also allowed to meet their family members together, as opposed to one at a time as part of their reward for good behaviour.
At 9.30am, family members were waiting outside the 7m-high solid wooden door of the 170-year-old prison. As they entered through a smaller door, they left their mobile phones in lockers and were ushered into the canteen.
The sound of the handcuff chain links worn by inmates walking into the canteen brought families to their feet as they rushed to greet their loved ones.
The inmates wore clean and ironed prison garb with white prison-issue sneakers. They had special handcuffs with longer chain links to allow them to embrace their families and eat easily with their hands.
The inmates’ clothes were mostly green and blue, denoting their level of “good behaviour”. The colours also showed that they had done exemplary work in the workshops and had a good disciplinary record, putting them on track for early release.
Those wearing white shirts with red sleeves were death row inmates.
The inmates and their families were given a buffet brunch of rendang ayam, chicken satay, ketupat palas and more.
Two inmates took to an elaborately-decorated stage and entertained everyone with songs.
One inmate performed an excellent rendition of Mamat Exist’s Ku Pohon Restu Ayah Bonda, a Raya classic, while strumming an acoustic guitar.
A representative of the inmates, Asri Mohd Ibrahim, thanked the prison authorities for allowing them to meet their families for Hari Raya.
“It is a chance for us to see their faces, show them we have changed and will be out in no time for good behaviour.”
Bittersweet celebration for death row inmates
It was a bittersweet Raya for the four death row inmates who are awaiting an execution date.
Nasir, 36, said he was both happy and sad to have his family visit him in prison.
He said he was sad because a high-profile lawyer, who had taken RM300,000 from him and promised to fight for his release at the Federal Court, has failed to do so.
Nasir said he could only pray for clemency, which can be granted by the Penang governor or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
He said he was charged with trafficking drugs and reiterates that he is innocent, claiming someone had planted the drugs in his car.
“It feels weird not having my family around for Raya. But over the years, I have overcome this feeling. But having all my family members here together is rare. I feel happy,” he said.
Penang Remand Prison director Tey Hock Soon said today’s event would show other prisoners that if they behaved, they could be released early and would be able to meet their loved ones more often.
“We want to get rid of this stigma that prison is merely a detention centre. Here, we rehabilitate them, turn them into better people so that when they leave here, they never return,” he said.
Tey said the prison had 1,512 people, comprising remand and convicted inmates, as of this morning. A total of 12 inmates are on death row, with almost all facing drug trafficking sentences, he said.