In the women's prison: empathy, conscientiousness and help to transform the lives of detainees

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.

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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. "

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A prisoner who speaks with her family via teleconference, which is handy for those who live far away.

And the prisoners have usually gone through a lot to end up in jail, the officers note.


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.

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recreational area, which is like a sports hall.

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.

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Deputy Superintendent of Prisons 1 Ottilia Hoo speaks to a prisoner with a request

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."

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A walkie-talkie, a bat and a pepper spray, together with a listening ear, are among the standard equipment that every prison officer has. [19659016] WHAT DO AGAINST

While the officers believe the prison is about second chances, the prisoners must adapt to the rigors of detention before they can be rehabilitated.

In the first phase of their prison term, known as the deterrence phase – which varies in duration, depending on the sentence and needs of each prisoner – they are limited to their cells 23 hours a day. This means minimum rehab program.

They may be one book at a time, and no visits are permitted, except for lawyers, embassy staff or counselors. The experience allows them to "think about their actions from the past", according to the Singapore Prison Service (SPS).

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In one of the cells, prisoner's belongings and rolled-up straw mats

Their cells are spartan. In one of them four transparent boxes with belongings of the occupants were spotted, neatly placed against a wall. At arm's length, white washcloths hung on four of the five hooks on the wall.

All prisoners receive standard toiletries, a wristband that they have to wear everywhere, and they have a straw mat in front of their beds. A low wall separates the sleeping area from the toilet.

No mirrors can be found, only a polished stainless steel plate hung in a sports hall, their Recreatie Werf. It is the only way that prisoners can capture their mirror image and queues often occur in the one-hour free time that they are allowed to stay outside their cells every day.

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A prisoner controls himself in the stainless steel steel mirror hanging in the Recreation Yard.

It gets better for prisoners if they go to the "treatment phase" of their sentence. They can have up to six books – three from their family and three from the library – in their cell.

Unlimited letters from their family are allowed, while they are allowed to send two letters per month. Important is that they can receive two visits per month, either a combination of a 20-minute personal meeting and a 30-minute teleconference, or two 30-minute teleconferencing.

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Prisoners can have a maximum of six books in their cell.

In the day room, the area just outside their cells, there is a television and newspapers in the four official languages ​​of Singapore.

Without internet access, these are the contact moments of the prisoners for the outside world, together with the family visits, although certain articles such as crime reports are screened from the newspapers.

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CNA Insider's visit was a rare sight for the prisoners. But it also made DSP 1 Hoo's reassurance to them that neither their faces nor their identities would be revealed.


As the officer in charge of the Housing Unit 1 of the institution, she is responsible for its overall management. Nevertheless, despite the weight of daily operations, she went around with a smile, even with the prisoners about food in prison.

The use of technology has released officers such as her for their higher order work of rehabilitation involvement. 19659064] READ: Changi Prison raises tech-bar with automated controls, surveillance system that detects fights

The Recreation Yard showed an example of the automation of routines. At a blue kiosk, two prisoners stared at the screen to check the status of their requests, such as for dental treatments and religious reading material.

They called the prisoner self-service kiosk, allowing prisoners to make administrative requests, obtaining information about co-incidents and even exchanging privileges, such as the purchase of snacks, stamps and greeting cards.

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The Inmate Self-Service Kiosk (iKiosk) was rolled out to all prison institutions in October 2015 to allow detainees to perform administrative tasks.

But it is not only technology that changes the nature of the officer's work. Pilot workshops have been set up for them in recent months so that they can work more closely with specialist rehabilitation specialists.

This helps the officers to relate better to the prisoners. "The rehabilitation effort is a joint effort by everyone," DSP 1 Hoo said.

But dealing with the problems from day to day is largely done by officers. We involve more, we see them more.

She leads a team of housing units and personal supervisors, and the latter supervises the welfare of detainees and their daily activities.

There are about 20 detainees under each personal supervisor, and through their interactions in their respective housing units, the officers learn the profiles of their prisoners.

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Now that the officers are taught by the correctional rehabilitation specialists, they are better able to strengthen and stimulate the psychological skills that the prisoners receive.

Reading: At the Institution A4 of the Changi Prison, women get help in handling emotions

Charlotte Stephen, SPS Assistant Director of Correctional Rehabilitation Services (Women), explained: "So when (a prisoner) The officer reminds her: "Do you know what you have learned? Instead of shouting, you practice breathing deeply, capture your thoughts … and then do it in a way that is more acceptable. . & # 39; "

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Ms. Charlotte Stephen.

Correction rehabilitation specialists such as her do group interventions, each consisting of about 10 detainees in the treatment phase. The psychological program usually lasts six to nine months, with two-hour sessions that are held three times a week.

Such a rehabilitation remains a work in progress, as part of the efforts to keep the percentage of female returners within the limits of almost 25 percent. two years release.

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One of the group meetings of Mrs. Stephen.

However, Stephen can see inside the prison that there has been a gain with the prisoners, who were receptive and relaxed during such a session that CNA Insider has noticed.

As one of them said: "I am a rather moody person, but as time passed during my confinement here, I managed to reduce many of my thoughts and behaviors and overcome problems that I will encounter in the future. .

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prisoners in a session seemed relaxed and responsive.


Aside from the programs that are focused on tackling stress, drug addiction, anger control and violence, there are family programs & # 39; s customized made to meet the needs of inmates like mothers and daughters.

There is also a vocational training. The women's prison school includes an art room and a bakery, as well as a hair salon opening this year. The certified courses that are already available include hairdressers, bins and Microsoft Office, in addition to the academic ones.

Only in such times, when the prisoners have rehabilitation activities, do they get their meals in the dining room instead of their cells, if that is more convenient.

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There is also a work program – a tailor-made workshop for detainees to repair bed linen for hospitals – for which they qualify if they meet the admission requirements. These include good behavior and personal interest.

They can save the compensation they receive and use the balance to buy items from the self-service machines in prison. They are also encouraged to send the money to their family.

"By actually working, instead of just programs that provide them with basic skills, they get the chance to contribute to society", said DSP 1 Hoo

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The tailoring is part of the rehabilitation program for detainees with longer sentences.

The pursuit of happiness behind bars is no easy task. That is why even the small things count for the prisoners – such as Stephen's choice of "bean bag room" for one group session, which led a happy prisoner to "Whee!" To go

Or take for example the recorded TV program that they may view. They get "quite a big variety" of shows, including movies, but they have their favorites. "

" In general, prisoners prefer to keep track of different types of shows, such as America's Got Talent. Things with a feel-good factor help them feel happier, "said DSP 1 Hoo.

That explained the bright colors of their living unit and the murals of motivational messages around them." No one can go back and start a new beginning. start, but everyone can start today and make a new ending, "read one.

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For one woman spoke CNA Insider, satisfaction comes from her role as a detainee worker who said DSP 1 Hoo: "helps prisoners move from point to point", such as when they have programs in rooms on another floor.

The foreigner, who has been detained for about two years, was used to speaking poor English, but the officers urged her to slowly learn the language.

The other prisoners initially did not listen to her, but now when DSP 1 Hoo asked how she felt about that change, she replied: "Very happy lah. Sometimes I'm afraid the officers would scold us, but okay now. "

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When people think of prison, fear is perhaps a word that comes to mind – that prisoners are afraid of the guards , recognized sergeant 2 (SGT 2) Nazurah Mohamad Nassir, who started this year

"But I think we are approachable. We listen to them a lot, "said the 22-year-old, the youngest of the officers

The officers hope that the prisoners do not fall into hopelessness

" No matter how often (they are locked up) – it can be the first or the fourth – at some point (point), they would realize that there is someone who wants to help them, "said SGT 3 Alysa Naqeera.

  (dp) Women's Prison 12 [19659015] Sergeant 2 Nazurah Mohamad Nassir has sisters at the Civil Defense Force and the police in Singapore, so she also wanted to be an officer in uniform, because she chose the prison service because she thought it was something else. </figcaption></figure>
<p>  The journey to becoming an officer, however, is not easy. training at the Home Team Academy is the same for both sexes, including the physical aspect, tactical skills and classes in the classroom about legislation and prison rules. </p>
<p>  "At the end of every day you just lie flat on your bed and you're like , & # 39; Why did I do this? & # 39 ; But it was what I expected, "recalled DSP 1 Hoo. </p>
<p>  Her parents are supportive, although her mother initially had some concerns about her safety and" continues to be worried to this day, as mothers do. "</p>
<p>" But she knows that things are going well for me. I think they see that I am happy, even though I am tired, "said their daughter." I suspect that the fulfillment will appear on my face when I come home. "</p>
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The officers have Eight to twelve hours working days. But it is also the "emotional journey" of driving the prisoners and hearing their stories – from the pursuit of living to the slogan Captains of Life – who can be drained

"Sometimes you feel like a woman to them. You can get angry on their behalf. At the same time you have to bring them back and tell them to make the best of their time here, "said DSP 1 Hoo.

But it is a thank you for the help of the officers to make the work pay," Simple and cliché as it sounds like ", said SGT 3 Alysa Naqeera

" Just seeing that little bit of luck when we answer their questions makes me feel like I've done something good today. "

Her boss added to it: "And when they see that you are willing to really help them, they come to you. They respect you. "

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