Making prison life
Jiaojiao & Wen Chihua
Kang Yuefei, serving three years for embezzlement, did not
expect that one day she would be a beautician to fellow inmates at the
Nanjing Women's Prison in eastern China.
28-year-old even has a certificate, which qualifies her for the beauty
job. She is among the 12 inmates who were chosen, after they scored
above average for their good behaviour, for a two-month beautician's
training within the jail. "I feel appreciated and respected when
my clients say `thank you' to me," says Yuefei. "Although
I have done wrong, I feel I have not been deprived of my dignity."
In this jail, which houses 1,300 women prisoners, those who behave well
are entitled to a facial or body massage once a week. Consistent high
scorers are provided with vocational training. The jail started this
scheme in 2003 as part of a jail reform programme attempting to re-educate
and rehabilitate women prisoners.
key role in the reform programme has to be played by jail wardens, who
in the past have often been accused of violating the human rights of
inmates. About 27 per cent of the women in this jail have been sentenced
for prostitution, while 19 per cent have been convicted of felony, including
murder, according to head warden Mao Jun. There are also a number of
economic criminals involved in cases ranging from fraud, embezzlement
to bribery, she says.
to the Beijing-based Legal Daily, 29,000 women in China have been convicted
with crimes related to drug trafficking, robbery and murder in the past
five years. Female prisoners are very sensitive, says Jun. The most
trivial thing, like the hue and style of the jail uniform, can set them
off. Therefore, "They should be treated differently. This prison
gives us female wardens a stage to work out special methods to redeem
2003, the jail authorities decided to change the uniform after hearing
how uncomfortable the women felt inside it in Nanjing's hot and humid
summer. The women are now happy with their new uniform - a white polo
shirt and cream-coloured, knee-high baggy pants. The women are also
allowed to put on light make-up when they meet family members. "This
enables them to see the hope in themselves and come to terms with their
situation better," says Wu Xiaofeng, deputy head warden at the
two-year-old Di Huiyu, imprisoned for committing fraud, says, "When
I try the skin care products in the salon and wear make-up to see my
parents, I feel I am a real woman, and still have a tomorrow."
She says her aged parents feel relieved each time. "They see me
in high spirits. All of this urges me to better abide by the law and
discipline myself so as to re-enter society soon."
avoid cutting off the women completely from society, the prison has
also involves some of them as community workers. During weekends, the
inmates go to a local nursing home to help old people needing care.
The prisoners need not wear their uniforms for such visits. "We
don't want them to feel inferior to other people. They could return
to a normal life once they are `reshaped' and released," says Jun.
The prison also mobilises social groups and members from the local community
to participate in the correction process. Psychologists are also invited
to talk to the inmates. A series of lectures on women's body and spiritual
growth have also been regularised in the prison.
social contacts help in awakening their conscience and human nature,"
says Jun. "It's important to give the prisoners a proper social
training so that they could become useful again to society." One
major contribution of the recent reforms has been the legal education
each prisoner gets. The first thing they are required to do when they
enter the jail is to spend two months studying various laws. This exercise
not only helps them realise why they were put in jail but also makes
them conscious of their rights as individuals.
Jing, a 29-year-old serving a life sentence, had until very recently,
no idea that a prisoner has the right to refuse being photographed.
"I rejected a foreign journalist's request for photographs because
I don't want my image to appear in the foreign press." For Jun,
the biggest reward is a comment from a boy who said to his father after
visiting his mother in the jail: "Mum's school is really good."