'A mixture of hesitation and regret'

Updated: 2013-03-18 23:41

By Cao Yin (China Daily)

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My visit to Beijing Women's Prison was not my first to a correctional facility, but it was possibly the one that left the deepest impression.

Rather than the usual excitement I had at peeking behind the doors of China's justice system, this time I was overcome with a mixture of hesitation and regret.

The prison is a yellow six-floor building and several workshops. Unlike the austerity of the city's juvenile rehabilitation center, where iron doors separate every block, each section here has a library room with one or two computers.

During my visit, inmates who cannot work were quietly reading in their rooms, which have white walls and pink wardrobes, along with a toilet and wall mirror made of stainless steel ― a far cry from the barren cells of male convicts.

I talked with five inmates, four of whom did not want to be identified and did not like discussing their crimes. For them, their children and families was a sensitive topic that was off-limits.

Some tried not to cry as I asked them questions about their life, but I found it strange how most said they preferred to share their troubles with correctional officers and not fellow inmates of the same age, which was again different from the male prison, where the men were generally less communicative with the guards.

When I did ask about family and children, the women began to mutter and mumble. One said that she had told her daughter she is studying abroad rather than serving in prison, adding that she hoped to keep the secret until she is released in six years.

Another woman, who is serving a 10-year sentence, said she had revealed her secret to her son. She said she could not hide the crime forever and that "he had right to know his mother had made a big mistake".

Both convicts said their motivation is the day they will see their children again. It is why they try to earn more credits and reduce their sentence with good behavior, which includes accepting my interview. Judging by their caginess, I suspect few would have been willing to talk had there been no incentive.

All the convicts I talked with said they read books and devote themselves to prison work or activities to take their minds off missing their families or children.

They are killing time and burying the memories that bring them so much pain.

Contact the writer at caoyin@chinadaily.com.cn