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Friday, 02 June 2017 00:00

Sending Love through Prison Bars

Written by  Ong Seng Yeow, Kluang / Translated by Ong Mooi Lin

Volunteers from Kuala Lumpur were invited to participate in the counselling service to the inmates of Simpang Renggam Prison. The Prison-Officer-in-charge, Saravanan (middle), complimented their selfless service and inspiring sharing. [Photograph provided by Simpang Renggam prison authority]

In order for the inmates to benefit from Tzu Chi volunteers’ personal stories of transformation, and for volunteers to have a chance to serve the inmates, volunteer Ong Seng Yeow from Kluang arranged for a sharing by volunteers from Tzu Chi Entrepreneurs’ Group in the prison. After more than a month of planning and seeking approval from the prison authority, the day had arrived.


It was a warm afternoon with two old fans spinning squeakily, barely able to make the room feel any cooler. However, the 20 inmates seated on the floor of the counselling room of Simpang Renggam Prison looked refreshed as they listened attentively to the fascinating sharing by volunteers from Tzu Chi Entrepreneurs’ Group, who travelled to Kluang all the way from Kuala Lumpur.

It has been nine years since Tzu Chi Kluang first initiated “Sending Love through Prison Bars” care plan in July 2008. By now, volunteers have provided almost 200 counselling and caring sessions in the prison. Each visit would take about 90 minutes, with programmes including screening of video footages from Da Ai TV, and sharing by volunteers on their life’s experiences and personal stories of transformation.

All these years, volunteers in Kluang have been running this care plan all by themselves. In order to give the inmates the opportunities to hear more inspiring stories from Tzu Chi volunteers, and to give the outstation volunteers a chance to care for the inmates, a sharing session was arranged in the afternoon of June 2, 2017, after more than a month of planning and seeking for approval.

Volunteers Lim Haw Sek, Lin Yong Fa and Tan Soon Hock from Kuala Lumpur, accompanied by fellow volunteers in Kluang, passed through several security gates and two body searches, before they finally reached the heavily guarded prison interior.

Simpang Renggam Prison was built in the 1970s. The building with high walls, a long and deep corridor, and heavy iron doors and grills, resembles the prisons seen in movies. The inmates stood up to welcome the speakers with loud applause upon their arrival. The ritual of reciting the Buddha’s name and walking meditation was performed before the much anticipated sharing session. Due to time constraint, only two volunteers were arranged for the sharing that day, each with a 40-minute slot.

Filial piety towards parents

The sharing session began with Soon Hock sharing his personal experience, which served as a reminder for everyone to not procrastinate in doing kind deeds and carrying out filial duties. Living in poverty during his younger days, Soon Hock aspired to study hard so that he could provide a better life for his family members. However, to his regret, he too was disrespectful and unfilial towards his father at times. He could only fall to his knees and beg for his father’s forgiveness before his father drew his last breath, so that the latter could rest in peace.

Soon Hock was remorseful for never once holding his father’s hand. Now, he will naturally hold his mother’s hand whenever they take a walk. It moved everyone’s heart when he mentioned that each time he held his mother’s hand, he felt as though he was holding his father’s hand too.

A marvellous action by Soon Hock was the introduction of the virtue of filial piety in his company. At the company’s year-end celebration, invitations were extended to the employees’ parents to join the company dinner, and arrangements were made for the employees to offer their parents a foot bath. Many inmates were moved to tears when a video clip showing the employees and their parents crying and hugging each other during the foot-bathing session was screened.

Turning over a new leaf

Haw Sek’s sharing on how he turned over a new leaf inspired everyone present. With his good observation and large circle of friends, a smart Haw Sek started a pool game business in the 1980s. He soon earned a good fortune and invested in many other entertainment businesses, from snooker centres, game centres, night-clubs, to KTV. With his prosperous business ventures, he became a well-known tycoon in the entertainment industry.

He humorously talked about his hobby of collecting stacks of RM500 and RM1,000 notes, and flattening them with an iron before keeping them in books. He enjoyed taking the money out to admire and count them in his free time. But, was he truly happy? He revealed that the topsy-turvy lifestyle, over-indulgence in food and drinking, and complex human affairs and business conflicts, had affected his health and his relationship with his family. He felt extremely empty within, and had to take sleeping pills at the worst period.

In 2004, he encountered Tzu Chi. With good affinity, he participated in a few Tzu Chi events in Taiwan and had the chance to meet Master Cheng Yen. He not only heeded the Master’s words, but also donated his shop lots for Tzu Chi to set up Jing-Si Books & Cafe and Tzu Chi Continuing Education Centre. He also donated a piece of land to build the KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall.

Haw Sek has stopped leading a topsy-turvy and confused lifestyle. Instead, he became a Tzu Chi volunteer, who learns the Dharma, observes precepts, upholds vegetarianism, and lives a disciplined life. For the past three years, he has been listening to the Master’s Dharma talk on the “Lotus Sutra”. Through that, he realized the benefits of learning the Dharma, which helps one to purify one’s mind and grasp the karmic law of cause and effect, thereby growing in wisdom.

Citing his personal experience as an example, he encouraged the inmates to make positive changes and get on the right path. He also presented to each inmate a book on the “Sutra of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva”, compiled from the Master’s preaching, hoping that it will enhance their understanding in Buddhism, and lead them to repent their past mistakes and turn over a new leaf. The inmates responded enthusiastically, expressing their anticipation in reading the book. Impressed by Haw Sek’s act of kindness, volunteers in Kluang agreed to increase the number of their visits to the prison to share on the book contents so that the inmates could gain a better understanding of the Dharma.

Sarawanan, Prison-Officer-in-charge of counselling services by religious bodies, welcomed the entrepreneur volunteers, who travelled the distance to share their personal experiences with the inmates. The prison authority has always been supportive and open to various religious groups and charitable organizations’ offers to provide counselling services to the inmates. The officers will screen through the speakers’ backgrounds for security reasons, and will usually grant approval if it is safe and that the application complies with the protocols.

When he noticed that the inmates listened attentively to the sharing, Sarawanan expressed his support for the plan to invite outstation volunteers with experience in counselling to go to the prison for sharing.

Many years ago, the prison authority had requested for a weekly counselling service from Tzu Chi. However, due to a lack of male volunteers’ participation, only a bi-weekly service could be rendered. It is hoped that in near future, volunteers will be able to increase their visits to help the inmates turn over a new leaf and lead a new life upon their release from prison.

 

 

Volunteer Lim Haw Sek cited his life story as an example to encourage and boost the spirit of the inmates to get on the right path and lead a new life with determination. [Photograph provided by Simpang Renggam prison authority]   Volunteer Tan Soon Hock shared that one should not procrastinate in doing kind deeds and carrying out filial duties. His personal experience moved many inmates to tears. [Photograph provided by Simpang Renggam prison authority]

Volunteer Lim Haw Sek cited his life story as an example to encourage and boost the spirit of the inmates to get on the right path and lead a new life with determination. [Photograph provided by Simpang Renggam prison authority]
 
Volunteer Tan Soon Hock shared that one should not procrastinate in doing kind deeds and carrying out filial duties. His personal experience moved many inmates to tears. [Photograph provided by Simpang Renggam prison authority]