by Nur Farzana Mohd Zulkifli
When Ben Franklin said, ”It is better to know than to wonder”, he probably didn’t know how powerful those words are, or many people they would touch. before law school or the Community Outreach programme and Clinical Legal Education course in University of Malaya I never would have envisioned a prison (at least not much) , let alone be able to talk about one from an INSIDE perspective.
Movies or books often dictate a pre-conceived set of emotions to feel ‘if and when’ you’re entering one, like fear and sympathy. Some say we should feel appalled after such an experience. What I felt after my first visit and those after that were different. There was empathy and humility, but most of all, gratitude and empowerment.
To clarify things a bit, what I saw in all my visits include physical infrastructures, like buildings that looked like hostel dorms, huge impenetrable-looking gates and barbwire, but also the human side of the prisons – among other things, fierce-looking wardens, extremely disciplined detainees. Note that I use the term detainees here instead of prisoners or convicts because I had only visited the juvenile-detention-center part of Kajang Prison, known as Sekolah Integrity Kajang or Kajang Integrity School. How is this different from a real prison? Well, for one the detainees there were found guilty for crimes while they were juveniles in age, while others were juveniles remanded or awaiting trial, mostly too poor to afford bail to be set free in the process; and their living quarters are separated from adult convicts in the prison, as the law demands so.
I was involved (and still am) in the Community Outreach Programme ( and later the Clinical Legal Education course) and our access into the Kajang Integrity School was allowed as we were there to teach these detainees about the laws, unorthodoxly using interactive teaching methods and laymen terms. Among the things I remember very clearly was what or CLE Advisor Assoc. Prof Hjh Norbani Mohamed Nazeri said to us the first time we arrived to teach,”…it’s not about you, its about them”. She was right. We were there to teach and we taught them law, but in the end, the teachers became the students.