My Beacon of Hope
'O' Level student-inmate from Tanah Merah Prison
Life can get arduous at times and everyone could probably require assistance battling though an ordeal every now and then. There are instances however, where all seems lost. That is when a person must rediscover hope and a justification to carry on charging through adversity because there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel and sometimes, hope manifests in the most inconceivable places.
In September 2016, I found myself detained at the Rehabilitation Training Centre in Tanah Merah Prison. I was convinced that my admittance spelled the end to my future because I had seen scores of people chained to an endless spiral of incarcerations right after their stint in prison. My pessimism rapidly matured when a friend told me that I would only ‘graduate’ after probation and true enough. I did. From serving home probation, I advanced into two different hostels, a juvenile detention centre and finally prison. Hence, I spent the days marching in the yard and lazing in my cell, succumbed to the belief that I would journey back into prison the moment my current sentence was over. All hope seemed to fade away until I enrolled into prison school.
After sitting for a placement test to gauge where I stood in the academic benchmark, I got selected into ‘A’ level stream which was puzzling and was subsequently transferred into prison school two months later. Classes commenced on the first week of the following year and soon I grew accustomed to the school’s hectic schedule. Initially, I decided to enroll for the sake of killing time. I was told of the perks that prison school had to offer, like more yard sessions, daily television screenings and an access to the school library. In order to sustain my stay however, I needed to get good grades for my subjects which soon became a clear struggle and thus, I wrote a letter to the principal, hoping that I get shifted into the ‘O’ level stream.
Eventually, I was downgraded and it was the best decision I had to my entire life.
I did not have to put in much effort following through the classes because I already have an ‘O’ level certification though my grades were horrendous. Furthermore, I only needed to pass my subjects in order to continue my stay. My mindset however, changed entirely when I met an inmate named Z. He was a friendly Malay man in his late-twenties with a sturdy build. He was also the classroom’s in-charge but his inmate number, which ended with the year 2008, the year he was incarcerated, was the feature that gipped my attention. I would have given up in life and gone senile if I were to sit in prison for so long, let alone have the will to study.
I had always noticed the intense focus he exercised when he studied in class and without fail, he would hand me the notes I missed whenever I reported sick. I was perplexed as to why the man would study so industriously when already a decade of his life is spent behind bars. I wondered about what he wanted to achieve. Finally, when a month was left before the mid-year examinations, I mustered the courage to ask him about the reason behind his diligence and what for. I was afraid that he might get uncomfortable but instead, he gave me a wide smile and answered me gently.
“The most important lesson I have learnt in these ten years of imprisonment was to never lose hope. I thought that I would grow old and die in here but surprisingly, I had been given a twelve-year sentence, which was nearly impossible to believe as the crime I had committed was gravely severe. God had given me a second chance and so I kept believing that each day would be better. I applied for prison school and worked as a ‘cookie’ in the meanwhile. Time fluttered and it did not seem like my request could ever be approved but I kept hoping and then, it happened.
Three years ago, I got enrolled into prison school and I was sincerely lost for words at the opportunity given to me. Also just yesterday, I was interviewed for an early release program and if selected, I would be released two months from now. So never lose hope. You are still young and a bright future await you. Do not waste it like I did and do not believe in what people say because you are the captain of your life after all. So never stop believing.”
His words rekindled a fire in my heart that had been blown out years ago. I started to believe that I could still redeem myself. I began studying assiduously and revised when the circumstances permitted. The mid-year examinations followed suit and the day of results came. On my hand was a report slip filled with 4 A’s, 1 B and a heartwarming remark from my form teacher. I broke into joyful tears because I was certain I had become a total failure. The destination in my mind was not of a second visit to prison but to a polytechnic. I had found the strength to carry on with life.
It has been months now since Z was released and I was glad I got to thank him for his words of salvation. He will forever be etched into my memory for he is my beacon of hope.