When prison turns into a hope den
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When prison turns into a hope den

The thought of being in prison can be bleak, but women inmates in a jail in China have found a new meaning to their life behind bars.

india Updated: Jan 11, 2006 14:51 IST

The thought of being in prison can be bleak and forbidding, women inmates in a jail in China have found hope and new meaning to their life behind bars.

Established in 1999, the Beijing Women's Prison in Daxing county near here is the sole jail in the city for adult females. More than 900 women, sentenced to various imprisonment terms, are jailed there.

For the women, life in prison is simple and calm.

"When I was brought here, my mother came to meet me. She asked me nervously if I had enough food and if the jailers and other inmates beat me," said Zhu Baocao, who was sentenced to a six-year term for embezzlement four years ago.

"Actually, prison life was not that terrible. I have been here for more than four years. Every morning, we eat deep-fried dough sticks or steamed stuffed buns. Lunch consists of one meat dish and one vegetable dish, as well as a bowl of steamed rice. And dinner includes vegetable dishes and steamed bread," said Zhu.

She also claimed that she had never been beaten by other prisoners and the jailers took care of her when she was unwell.

"I was in deep depression when I first came here. I graduated from a prestigious university and then got an accountant's post in a state-owned grain processing enterprise. I had a decent life. When I heard the court ruling, I thought my life was ruined," Zhu said.

"The jail staff often talked to me and they called psychologists to treat me. I became a little optimistic and devoted myself to writing. My articles were frequently carried in 'New Voyage', the prison's newspaper.

"I also learned tailoring, electrical engineering and hair cutting in prison and got four certificates," Zhu said.

Of the inmates, 41 percent were imprisoned for committing economic crimes, 25 percent for crimes such as homicide and robbery, and 7.9 percent for crimes related to drug trafficking. About 25 percent have graduated from university or college.

Warden Li Ruihua said the prison had advanced medical facilities and qualified medical staff and every inmate received regular physical examinations.

In her opinion, giving inmates technical training was very important so that they would be financially independent and lead a normal life after they were released.

The prison offers classes in computer technology, flower arrangement, hair cutting, electrical engineering and wood sculpture.

Zhao Xiaojie, an inmate and originally a staff at the Palace Museum, teaches wood sculpture to around 20 students. "Teaching others wood sculpture has enriched my prison life," she said.

Zhao, who wears light make up, said: "We are allowed to wear make up on weekends or on days when we meet family members. And in every prison cell there is a mirror."

Another prisoner, called Nie, said they were allowed to talk to family members once a month.

"Every month the prison gives us six yuan to eight yuan ($0.7-$0.9) as pocket money. If that is not enough, I ask my family members to deposit some money on a bank card which can be used in the supermarket at the prison, so life here is okay," she said.

The prisoners live in different sections of the prison according to the term of their imprisonment. Each section has a library, a meeting room, a psychological treatment room and an entertainment room.

Inmates can go to the entertainment rooms on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays to play cards or chess or interact with fellow prisoners.

Psychological treatment is provided for those suffering from depression.

"Psychological treatment is very necessary for us. Most inmates suffer from depression when they are new in prison. And some experience family tragedies during imprisonment," said Liu Yan, who worked for the Beijing Agricultural Bank and has been sentenced to life imprisonment for embezzlement.

"My mother died of cerebral haemorrhage, mostly because she could not bear the fact that her daughter was a prisoner. I was in depression after I heard about her death. It was psychotherapy that help me to deal with the tragedy."

First Published: Jan 11, 2006 13:55 IST