SINGAPORE: The prison officer waited outside the room while the prisoner spoke with her family. These chances, which come to prisoners twice a month, can be joyful or disturbing – this time it was the last.
When she came out, she was hysterical. "Her brother had died in his sleep the night before," said Rehabilitation Officer 2 (RO 2) Nurul Hazirah Abdul Halim, 25, who knew that the two brothers and sisters were very close.
What was to the grief of the fellow prisoner was that her family did not ask her to go to the funeral. And RO 2 Nurul Hazirah, her personal supervisor, was there to comfort her.
Being a source of consolation may seem like a task for counselors, rather than prison officers. But the latter are now spending more time involving prisoners, as CNA Insider discovered after gaining an unprecedented level of access to Singapore's only women's prison.
Institution A4, formerly known as the Changi Women & # 39; s Prison, houses about 1200 detainees, one tenth of the prisoners.
And the heart of everything – from the programs & # 39; s and workshops for detainees to counseling and family visits – are the team of all women of about 90 officers who run the prison.
They are not only guards, but also a listening ear, both for inmates who develop their fear of personal problems and for more mundane requests that vary from changing cells to changing the food boxes.
The role of the guard evolves more towards the rehabilitation of detainees, and for the officers this means adding more tools to their repertoire – beyond the bats and pepper foam that are part of their standard supportive empathy.
Said Assistant Superintendent or Prisons 1 Evelyn Tan, 25: "Although we empathize, it's not because we feel sorry for them, I think, it's more because we want to understand what they've been through so we can help to become better. "
And the prisoners have usually gone through a lot to end up in jail, the officers note.
WHY ARE THERE
Relationships, alcohol and traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse were some of the starting points for many female prisoners. RO 2 Nurul Hazirah said:
Sometimes when you talk to the prisoners, and you discover that they are here because their husbands forced them to take drugs and all that, as a woman you become very angry.
Among young people prisoners, especially those of broken families, it often began with peer pressure and the need for attention and love.
"When they found a group of friends willing to lust," let's do this and so, "they felt accepted," said Sergeant 3 Alysa Naqeera Mohd Isa, 23, a business diploma- holder who joined the prison service to learn why people commit crimes and to teach them alternatives.
Many prisoners also told the officers that a lack of control was their downfall.
Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons 1 (DSP 1) Ottilia Hoo, 35, said: "So in a moment of foolishness, they took drugs, they went with their friends to do errands, stuff like that."
Sometimes drug use happened due to problems with the body image. Whatever the reason, about 75 percent of female prisoners are drug offenders – not that their officers see them through the prism of their crime.
"They can be murderers or drug addicts, it does not matter," said RO 2 Nurul Hazirah. "Our job is to simply provide assistance when needed." WATCH: An unprecedented view of the life behind the bars (8:39)
And to help, these officers must follow a professional approach. DSP 1 Hoo, an 11-year-old veteran, said: "I think it's very easy to judge when you read the papers and read about crimes that you think are horrendous.
" But at the same time it's Know that when we put on the uniform every day, we have the duty to resign, and it must be done impartially, no matter how we feel. "
She has also seen enough to know that there are misconceptions about the prison and her occupants." People think we are dealing with hardened criminals because of what they see in popular fiction, "she said.
But at the end of the day you realize that a prisoner is still a person who could be your neighbor or someone you were sitting next to in the bus.
The officers themselves come from different backgrounds – from people with a degree in history and Southeast Asian studies, to those who worked at other Home Team desks and wanted to do more than catch the bad guys
And just like the prisoners do not easily fit the stereotypes of them, the officers are not quite what some expect.
For example, when DSP 1 Hoo just a job candidate t was that "thought that the chance to get in touch with people and hear their stories sounded like a meaningful career", someone asked her suitability for the role of prison officer.
"He looked at me and said I reminded him of an office lady," said the diminutive woman. "I think it's the way I look."