All in family | The star
He was an excellent student.
At the end of his secondary studies, he was received by an institute of higher education to start a foundation in law. His parents, a fisherman and food stall vendor from a small Malaysian coastal village, were proud and had high hopes for their brilliant son. With the good grades he was consistently getting, his future seemed sealed.
Then things changed. Ashraf (not her real name), then 18, was arrested. Her parents were shocked. Even the judge he appeared before in court couldn’t believe that a student who had always excelled in school was now charged with rape.
Ashraf regrets this dark point in his life. Under the influence of bad company, he had met and bonded intimately with a girl. When their relationship turned sour, his family filed a police report against him.
In 2013, Ashraf was sentenced to three years in prison and three blows with a rotan (cane).
Today, Ashraf, 26, is a successful financial advisor with a degree in international financial economics and a master’s degree in monetary economics to his credit.
How could this ex-prisoner have changed his life?
âWhen I was in prison I had a lot of time to think,â says Ashraf. He realized that he had abused his parents’ trust in him and let them down.
He wanted to do something to make up for it and win back a better future. He asked the Department of Prisons to take the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) exam.
His family brought him exercise books from prison to help him study. He took the exam and passed with flying colors. Then he applied to continue his studies at a local university.
Ashraf will never forget the date of his release from prison, August 8, 2015. His family was there to welcome him and he had already received a letter accepting his request to continue his studies. He had four days with his family before he had to leave to enroll in the higher education institution.
âI think during those four days my parents could see that I had changed and wanted to improve my lot,â he said. His parents showed him a lot of love and acceptance and even accompanied him to enroll in college.
The third of five siblings said the support his family gave him during his detention and after his release made all the difference in inspiring him to become a good student again and succeed in life.
âFamilyâ¦ is the closest thing to us,â he explained. âIf they can accept us, it gives us confidence and hope that society will also accept us. It gives us hope to live our life normally after being a prisoner â.
His advice to all parents and to society is to leave the past in the past and help ex-prisoners focus on the future. After all, he says, the offender has already been tried and paid the price for his offenses. Instead, parents and family members should support ex-offenders on their reintegration journey into society: âAccept them and give them the opportunity and the space to change. “
Without the support of his family, an ex-prisoner will likely search for his old friends and old life, throwing him back into the cycle that got him to jail in the first place.
It’s a dark alternative, and Ashraf begs the families who rejected an ex-offender to rethink their approach.
âStop punishing them for the consequences they have already paid for,â he says, as ex-offenders will feel hopeless and see no point in changing their lives. “They will feel that if their own family cannot accept or love them, no one will.”
Frederick Foo, Director of Service Development in Malaysian Care, agrees that family support is a crucial and important factor in helping ex-prisoners reintegrate into the community. From his experience as a social worker with former prisoners, those without family support or rejected by their families will find it much more difficult to re-enter the community.
He has witnessed and traveled with some who have faced real mental torture with far-reaching implications in the face of family rejection.
Most ex-offenders, he says, leave prison feeling guilty for their past mistakes. They have to sort out and deal with this guilt.
In most cases, they start from scratch. In fact, sometimes the impact of being in prison robs them of their dignity, so they even start below zero. âIt will take a lot of determination, motivation and strength to start over,â he says.
Without family acceptance, it will be a further blow to them as they are denied the opportunity to be forgiven and make amends.
In her experience, young people under the age of 21 are more likely to be received by their families, but adults are more likely to be rejected by their spouse or family.
Malaysian Care social workers strive to help ex-offenders connect with their families. They typically travel great distances, even following a former inmate to visit family, learn about their family history, and understand underlying issues.
In Ashraf’s case, Malaysian Care staff learned that his parents could not afford the cost of his college education, although he was accepted. Care staff therefore pooled volunteer money to help fund their first semester costs. Care then put him in touch with the Discharged Prisoners Aid Society, which funds ex-prisoners. This company covered the remainder of its purse.
Foo recalls that Ashraf’s parents fully supported their son’s efforts to complete his education. Despite the financial assistance, there were times when Ashraf needed additional funds, and his mother would send him money from his meager income. She was very proud that he went to college.
âThere was no conviction or trial,â says Foo. In fact, his mother always shared her hopes for Ashraf with Foo.
âTheir support freed him to make his dream come true,â he adds.
Through Ashraf’s journey, Foo and his colleagues also inadvertently discovered during their visits to his parents, not only do ex-prisoners struggle with the scars of their past, but family members often feel haunted too. .
Foo says Ashraf’s mother took a while but finally spoke about her fear of her son falling again. She feared that those close to her or her community would find out. She often wondered if others were talking about what had happened. She would worry about how her past in prison might affect her future.
Foo says his parents were very alone in how they felt and had no one to confide in. They could not share their burdens for fear of being judged or gossiped.
âThis loneliness is a very real struggle,â he notes.
Foo felt that this was a necessary item that everyone should be aware of – the pain the families of ex-prisoners are going through. Society should not add to this weight by its conviction and refusal to give ex-offenders a second chance.
Ashraf echoes this sentiment: âSupport the ex-offenders. Give them a chance. Don’t discriminate.
If no one wants to give ex-prisoners the chance to earn an honest living, he wonders, how will they stay honest? They will have no choice but to return to their old way of life, just to continue to provide for themselves. They might turn to alcoholism or drug addiction to drown their grief.
âPleaseâ, he said, âMake it easier for them to reintegrate and don’t make them ashamed of their pastâ.
And where the family can’t bring themselves to play that role, Foo’s experience revealed another possibility: a friend or the community. make a friend travel with them, share their burden and empathize with them, âsays Foo.
In such situations, when one does not have family support, someone else, in the form of a friend, colleague, neighbor or community, can be this encouragement by when needed.
Freelance writer and former journalist Sarah Sabaratnam is part of the YouTurn project media team.