Learning behind bars

National 4 minutes, 49 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

PRISONS are designed as a place of confinement to keep lawbreakers away from the community. However, everything that takes place behind bars is intended to get people back out to join the mainstream of society as a better person armed with skills.

Prison life was a game-changer for Ajis Dollah, who served four years for misuse of drugs in 2009.

He was a reformed man after his discharge thanks to the skills he gained through the livelihood programmes being offered to inmates like him.

“Everyone always say there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and this is true in my situation as the darkest chapter of my life (in prison) actually brought good fortune to my life,” said Ajis, now a reformed man and an entrepreneur since his release from Jerudong Prison in 2012.

The 47-year-old said prisoners were guided and reformed through various programmes provided by the Prisons Department. “Most people would have the mindset that prison is not a good place, as it is where all the convicts or ‘bad people’ are locked up together. But this is where prison life tests your strength and mentality. If you take all the positive aspects of living in prison especially partaking in the rehabilitation programmes,_ Insya Allah _you’ll be in good hands and be a changed, better person when you get out,” said Ajis.

Learning skills behind bars

According to Ajis, his current business in making and selling wooden products and furniture are all owed to his four-year sentence in Jerudong Prison where he learned the skills to make wooden furniture through the prison’s vocational training programme.

“I started learning carpentry when I was in there (prison) and I continued to develop my woodwork skills while paying my due in prison until I eventually specialised in the field,” he said.

The vocational training and skills he gained from prison came in handy to earn a living for his family after his release, said Ajis.

Head instructor of Prisons Department Mohd Hilmi Wasli said that vocational programme provided for prisoners has been in place since the Prison Department was established in 1959 and separately implemented in all three prisons nationwide (Jerudong, Maraburong and Women’s Prison).

“It was only last year that the vocational programme in these prisons is absorbed into one section, rather than being run independently by each prison,” said Mohd Hilmi, currently heading the section.

Dubbed “Latihan Vokasional dan Kemahiran” (LVK), the section through its vocational programme, aims to equip inmates with marketable skills to increase their employability rate.

According to the prison officer, trainings in the field of carpentry, welding, agriculture, gardening, sewing, creative arts and cooking are among the vocational skills being taught to the selected inmates in prisons.

Inmates undergo training for LVK from 8am to 11.30am and 1.30pm to 3.30pm daily. Usually it only takes 30 minutes of learning theories while majority of the time they go straight to practical.

The programme also hopes to encourage inmates to set up their own business and to ease their re-integration process once their jail sentences have been completed.

“Currently more than 100 inmates nationwide are enrolled in the programme,” he said, adding that a number of former inmates have also managed to successfully reintegrate to society through the vocational skills learned in prisons.

Jerudong Prison is quite known for its wooden handicrafts and furniture products while Maraburong Prison tops other prison institutions in terms of its products from kimpalan (welding), he said.

Support is available

Ajis said that aside from the vocational skills, various agencies also visited the prison and briefed inmates on what roles they (the agencies) can give to support the inmates once they are released.

“Many of former inmates or those who are still paying their sentences are talented with useful skills provided inside the prison but it is up to them to utilise these knowledge and skills once they get out,” said Ajis.

In starting his business, he got assistance from the Community Development Department as well as a “microgrant” from Brunei Economic Development Board for his business proposal which he used to buy heavy equipment and machinery.

His company, AE JAYA Enterprise, named after him and his wife, was established a few months after his release.

“In the early days, I earned around $3,000 to $5,000 per month from the furniture that I made,” he said, adding that most of the products which range from bed frames, wardrobes, coffee and office tables among others, are customised according to his customers’ requests.

Due to growing demands, Ajis also offered jobs to the youth to help him produce his customers’ orders. “Providing youth with employment and guiding them to not make the same mistakes as I did is the least I can do to repent for the burdens and suffering I have caused to others previously,” said Ajis, adding he employed four to five helpers depending on the customers’ orders and deadlines he had to meet.

“Though they may not get hefty payments, but at least they are doing something useful, learning these skills that they themselves can use in the future rather than just loitering around and being influenced by social ill activities,” said Ajis.

“The past would always be there to haunt you, the regrets and what you have lost throughout all these mistakes but instead of letting them drag me down, I used them to pull me up,” he said.

“Being an ex-convict, you have to prove that you have changed and you can’t expect help and support to be there ready at your disposal. You don’t get others’ trust and respect, but you earn them back,” he added.

And the prison’s skills programme is the first step to take to be welcomed back to the society’s arms.

The Brunei Times