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Prisons got talent
Published on: Sunday, April 15, 2018

Kota Kinabalu: Twenty-three inmates of the Kota Kinabalu Central Prison discovered they actually had musical talent – thanks to the nation's first Prison Orchestra Pioneer Programme, an initiative by Prisons and Malaysia Music Teachers Training College (MMTC).

MMTC Executive Director Peter Chua said the three-year programme which started last December, allows the inmates to build musical skills and prepare for reinstatement by the community once they are released.

He said the skills they are equipped with would become handy as various windows of opportunity would open up to the inmates including becoming buskers, music entrepreneurs or even well-known entertainers.

"Music has been proven capable of applying pure values and building noble character among individuals.

It is a very useful medium not just as an entertainment tool but also as a learning medium and a form of therapy.

"It is hoped that through this programme, the inmates will be able to learn discipline through music as well as inculcate a positive mind to become useful and productive citizens later in life. We are planning to expand the programme to other prisons in the State."

The second phase of the programme, he said, is to introduce a musical choir for inmates which involves dancing, singing and Broadway musicals.

"There are also plans to prepare funding for the inmates to further their studies in the musical field, in which they will be fully sponsored to take up diploma and degree in said field," he said, adding that they are also appealing the generosity of the public to come forward with the donation of instruments to assist them in the effort.

Chua said this during the Prison Commissioner-General Class 1 and 2 as well as "Jasa Penjara" medals award ceremony at the Kota Kinabalu Central Prison, Friday.

A total of 27 people compri prisons personnel and members of the public were conferred the Commissioner General Prisons Class 1 and 2 as well as the 'Jasa Penjara' medals to recognise their contributions.

Not only that, a batch of 30 violins and a piano dubbed as "Piano Ramlee" – a tribute to the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee – were also donated to the prison by MMTC during the ceremony.

In addition, the 23 inmates participating in the programme also performed a string ensemble during the ceremony – including a violin rendition of the "Sayang Kinabalu" song – which they had learned in under three months.

It was learned that the inmates were taught using the Suzuki Method, a world-renowned music curriculum and teaching philosophy founded by the late Shinichi Suzuki, which dates back to the 1930s.

The method, also known as the Mother-Tongue approach, is believed to be based on the assumption that a child can learn to play a musical instrument following the same principles as learning a first language.

Jacklyn Soong Tze Farn, one of the four trainers who had coached the inmates, said they had started out by teaching them basic musical theory such as reading musical notes.

The inmates had started out learning how to play the violin and will move on to learn other instruments such as cello, woodwind and piano.

She said they (the trainers) would come to the prison once a week on Tuesdays and tutor them for two hours, in addition to teaching them how to maintain the musical instruments.

"It is quite heart-warming to see the smiles on their faces every time we conduct the classes.

Some of them had told me that it is something that they look forward to every week and they had practiced really hard as they said that they did not want to let us down.

"I was surprised on their fast progress as even though we only come in once a week, we would return the following week just to find out that they had taken the initiative to learn the songs by themselves," she said.

Earlier in her speech, Sabah Board of Visiting Justices (BVJ) secretary Datuk Katherine Lee Mei Oi said that she and other parties including the Prisons Department are for a common goal of looking at inmates with a heart of compassion and understanding by implementing programmes that help the inmates to get a second chance in life after their release.

"With such programmes, we can discover the many hidden talents of the inmates or detainees such as music, cooking, baking, tailoring and carpentry, which will eventually help them to move on with a work and career.

"It is a sad reality that inmates carry a stigma and they will find it difficult to start afresh after their release.

We need to look at the bigger picture and beyond their past to give them hope as well as opportunity so they will have a job and a house to go to after they are released," she said.

Also present were Prisons Department director-general Datuk Seri Zulkifli Omar, Malaysia Prison Department Prison Policy Division director Datuk Abdul Aziz Abdul Razak, Sabah and Labuan Prisons director Suria Idris as well as Kota Kinabalu Sessions Court Judge Ainul Shahrin Mohamad. - Jegathisan Sivanesan


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