Pursuing an education behind bars

Pursuing an education behind bars
Young prisoners studying in their classroom within the walls of Kajang Prison.

KAJANG - In the quiet classroom, Stephen* and Hussein* are hunched over their computers, working on an assignment for the final year of their degree programme in business administration.

Occasionally, they take their eyes off the screen to speak to classmates or ask their lecturer a question.

Nothing seems out of place, except for their cobalt blue jumpsuits, the steel-barred windows of the room and the presence of uniformed offi­cers. It is indeed a classroom but this is no university.

Stephen and Hussein, who face a bleak, uncertain future, are pursuing their academic ambitions from within the walls of Kajang Prison.

The 28-year-olds are among the young prisoners detained at the pleasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong under Section 97(2) of the Child Act. The average jail term served by such prisoners in Malaysia is 10 years.

Stephen, from Shah Alam, was jailed after he was involved in a dispute between a friend and her boyfriend, which ended in the latter's death.

He was about to sit for his SPM examinations when it happened.

Being the eldest child of two working professionals, he had high hopes of living a successful, comfor­table life.

"Everybody makes mistakes. I made mine by mingling with the wrong people. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

Hussein's family background and the circumstances that led him to jail are poles apart. The school dropout was 14 when he left Sabah to come to Kuala Selangor to become a kitchen assistant.

Angry over not being paid for five months, he caused the death of his employer during a confrontation.

"My family only found out that I was jailed a few months later. Apart from my younger brother who came in 2007, no one has visited me," he said.

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