CHINA - Li Chuan waited to see his girlfriend on Wednesday morning with a pounding heart, both excited and anxious. He had last seen her about four years earlier.
The 26-year-old was jailed two years ago for drug trafficking and is serving his 15-year sentence at Yongchuan Prison in Chongqing.
Prison visits are normally restricted to family members, and the couple have only been able to keep in touch through letters and limited phone calls. In continuing the relationship, Li's girlfriend also has to deal with the disapproval of her own family.
However, thanks to a programme called "Farewell, bachelors" that is run by the prison, the couple finally met their partners again, as did 19 other inmates.
Li assured his girlfriend that he has been doing all he can to get his sentence reduced. She, in turn, promised to wait for him to be released.
The activity in the lead-up to Singles' Day - a festival for single people celebrated on Monday - aims to provide relationship education to inmates and their partners.
"Inmates also need healthy and stable relationships," said Wen Mingdeng, the prison officer in charge of the activity who specializes in inmate psychological counseling.
"However, imprisonment keeps them away from their partners physically. We hold the activity not only to make inmates happy but also to give them hope, aiming to awaken their kindness and emotions deep in their hearts."
He added that keeping a relationship alive while serving prison time is difficult, requiring mutual understanding and tolerance.
According to the prison's rules, inmates can have visits from relatives and make a five-minute call once a month on average, with the frequency increasing as a reward for good behaviour.
There is no limit to the number of letters. Lu Yang, the ward officer, told China Daily that half the letters are love letters.
To help inmates and their partners maintain their relationships, a brochure titled Say Goodbye to Singlehood: Guidance on Love and Marriage for Inmates was distributed as part of the event.
The guidance book was written by ward officers and psychological counselors, and includes information on marriage law, stories of other inmates' experiences and pragmatic methods to deal with relationships in and out of prison.
"The guidance book is interesting, making me understand more about my husband's sense of loss and hesitation," said Xiao Hui, the wife of prisoner Wang Mingshu.
A lecture on inmate relationships was also given on Wednesday and attended by 36 inmates and their partners.
Convict Sun Lun said he was always worried his girlfriend would abandon him after he was locked up a year ago.
His girlfriend said she felt happy and also a little helpless. "I am happy because he still loves me but I am disappointed that he has no faith in me," she said.
Officer Wen believes the group meeting will not only give hope to those inmates who have partners but also help other convicts believe such love is possible.
Stable relationships will reduce the recidivism rate, said Cai Weihua, director of the Half-Way House of Xicheng District of Beijing. The institute seeks to build a bridge between inmates and society and help former convicts reintegrate and find jobs after being released.
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Tan Yingzi contributed to this story.