On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Struggling to prepare for exams in prison

Instead of  normal classrooms, they are kept in a room with iron bars, as in any prison cell. The only luxury they enjoy are two fans. The warders, like protective fathers, have put them together.

At a meeting last week, these juveniles, being the teenagers they are, spoke about their hopes, dreams, ambitions and frustrations. Some of these feelings are expressed in their drawings. It is clear they have accepted the fact that they must face the consequences of their action.

There is a painting of a mosque, which is on display on the class-cell wall, and the boy responsible spoke of his hope to pray at his village mosque once he has served his jail sentence.

His fellow prisoner, the boy who killed a  teacher's child, imagined an encounter with aliens. He loves science fiction and idolises Harry Potter. Despite being in jail, he harbours hopes of becoming a Federal Reserve Unit officer. He passed the PMR despite the odds against him. He scored A1 in English and B1 in Bahasa Malaysia and C4 in four other subjects.

The nine former schoolmates appeared jovial last week as they were still in celebratory mood after passing the SPM. They had  help from five teachers from their previous school who came to prison to teach them twice a week for two to three hours each time.

Then, there is a girl who is being remanded as she awaits her case to be heard for allegedly killing her stepfather. She wants to be an accountant when she walks out a free person.

Additional Mathematics is her favourite subject but she has missed the SPM because she was not confident of taking the exam. Luckily for her, a lecturer has volunteered to teach her. Sitting next to her was another girl who is facing drug trafficking charges; her adult boyfriend faces a similar charge.

A colleague of mine promised to get her a job if she passed the SPM or STPM with good results, promising to keep in touch with her. A radiant smile broke out as she heard that. Her sister, also under remand on a similar charge, is in the same prison and preparing for the PMR.

There are currently 56 juvenile convicts at the prison, but only 19 are pursuing academic courses. Their convictions range from drug possession, murder to rape. The rest are either not interested in studying or are just serving out their jail terms.

Kajang Prison director Alzafry Mohamed Alnassif Mohamed Adahan has appealed for books, stationery, chairs, tables and personal computers for these young prisoners.

The prison, originally built for 2,500 people, is overcrowded with over 5,000 inmates. With space a major problem, Alzafry can only spare limited space for these youngsters, who study in a dormitory with a few tables.

Their families bring in textbooks and workbooks but there is no allocation from the prison for young prisoners who have no access to such things. For science subjects, they have to use their imagination to understand what they read from their textbooks; there is no practical session in laboratories.

Alzafry used to spend his free time in Kajang as a student in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in Bangi but never imagined that he would end up running the town's prison.

The 44-year-old social science graduate from Kedah talked about his hopes to do more for these students, including having a juvenile learning centre that allows teachers and trainers easy access without feeling intimidated.

"I am touched by their courage and determination to study. They don't know if they will ever leave prison but they want to do well. They still talk about their ambitions," he said.

As the visit came to an end, the prison officials and journalists talked about how they had to push their children to study while these teenagers want to study badly but have been deprived of the facilities and support.

That is human nature as we often take for granted our daily little blessings in life.