There is a lot of stigma attached to going to jail in Singapore.
Life behind bars is fraught with preconceived notions, such as how the facility is filled with scourges of society that need to be tucked away in a corner of the island, or else.
But what people who have never been incarcerated don't know, is that prison is a microcosm of society -- there are indeed "bad people", but also people from all walks of life who end up there because of circumstances.
Society fears what it doesn't know
Over the years, Singapore has emphasised efforts of the Yellow Ribbon Project, which is an initiative to foster societal acceptance of those convicted so as to allow rehabilitated former inmates to re-enter society as gainfully employed and law-abiding citizens.
It is, essentially, a "second chance" initiative.
But as always, what the public doesn't know, the public fears and questions.
New documentary series can change public perception
Which is why a new documentary series on CNA Insider produced by Mediacorp is giving, for the first time, an eye-opening intimate peek into what life is like inside the fortress that is Changi Prison Complex.
The docuseries, "Inside Maximum Security", provides a never-before-seen look into one of Singapore's most tightly guarded facilities, owing to the unparalleled access that was given to the show's makers.
One fact of the series stood out though.
It stated that at least one in five inmates are back in jail within two years after their release.
Who are the criminals that go to Changi Prison?
And if this is part of the demystifying process of who goes to prison and what happens inside, it is doing its job.
Five inmates were interviewed to get a fuller profile of who they are and why they ended up in prison, all of whom agreed to show their faces and reveal their identities -- a set-up to remind everyone that convicts are also people who have their own troubles, but also hopes, aspirations, and regrets
The spotlight on the selected inmates humanises them.
In the first episode, four of the inmates were profiled and given significant airtime for the audience to get a sense of their personalities.
1. Boon Keng, 34
Not the place, but a person who apparently enjoys dining at restaurants. Will be best remembered for rating prison food, especially the noodles, a zero on a 0 to 10 rating. From certain angles, he looks like a pirated Asian version of the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.
2. Rusdi, 33
A personal trainer who ventured onto Istana's grounds illegally while under the influence of drugs and was caught with drug paraphernalia. Claims he likes to go to new places.
3. Graceson, 36
A secret society member who recounted carrying three different weapons on three separate occasions. On one occasion, he wanted to slash another man to teach him a lesson on not messing with another man's wife.
4. Khai, 31
An ex-skateboarder who "grabbed" and caused hurt to his then-girlfriend in the midst of an argument. Had gone semi-professional with his skateboarding stint overseas.
Based on their short bios, these four "hardened criminals" have been incarcerated at least four times for a bevy of crimes.
Here is a look at what unprecedented access into Singapore's prison wrought.
B1 and the cells within
These inmates are serving their sentences at the B1 facility at Changi Prison Complex.
Single-man holding cells
B1 is a "maximum security institution" that houses inmates with long prison sentences, and/ or are receiving violence intervention programmes in single-man holding cells.
Prison cells are spartan
A "modesty wall" separates the combined shower and toilet area from the sleeping and living quarters within the cell.
Three cell hooks
The cells are spartan and unfurnished, with the exception of a small square mirror, and three cell hooks for clothing.
Two of these cloth hooks are in the cell's living/ sleeping quarters, while the other hook is affixed onto the wall across the shower.
Inmates are provided two blankets and a woven straw mat.
There is no bed.
No modification to cell allowed
Any modification to the cell is strictly prohibited, as seen in Boon Keng's cell during a search, where he added a fourth cloth hook to the shower area.
He attached the illegal hook to the wall using glue, which is made by mashing rice and water to form a starchy adhesive that actually works.
Most of the items are transparent, to some degree
Transparent everyday items including toothpaste, described as tasteless, and a Toyogo box are provided. Items are transparent so that inmates cannot conceal objects in them. Guards don't like surprises and it makes searches easier to conduct.
Inmates' possessions are tightly regulated
From the number of fruits to origami and drawings, all of the inmates' items are tightly regulated.
Unauthorised items will be seized during cell searches, which are randomised and conducted daily.
Holding on to extra paper to write or draw is a no-no. Guards do not want inmates to transmit messages amongst themselves or across the institution.
It was revealed that contraband are still smuggled to inmates as they can be transported and hidden in the daily ration of food prepared by fellow inmates.
Daily cell layout
Besides the cell searches, there is a daily muster check before breakfast.
During the muster check, the cell has to be organised in an order specific to the one seen on the daily cell layout sheet.
Cell doors have two apertures and one viewing panel
The muster check is conducted through the viewing panel – sort of like a window at eye level – with round holes in the door to allow for two-way verbal communication.
Besides the viewing panel, the cell door has two apertures, or small doors.
Guards are wary of getting too close to the doors as inmates can grab their weapons.
One of the apertures is at the ground level and is the food ledge, or where the inmates receive their daily meals.
One inmate remarked that he feels like a "pet" being fed during meal times.
Cell monitored by 24-hour CCTV
The cells are watched round the clock.
All activities are monitored, including one's daily business.
One inmate said he still takes off all his clothes in the cell to rest as it can get unbearably hot at times.
Daily life of an inmate
Lights go on at 6am
Daily mindfulness session at 7am
Music will be played for 15 minutes each day in the morning, as research showed it has a calming effect on the inmates.
A prison warden will go from cell to cell to ensure the headcount is in order, and that the cell mates are well and able to respond.
Besides maintaining the cell layout, inmates have to stand by the viewing panel to greet the prison officers with their shirts tucked in during the muster check.
This is also to enforce discipline and for authority to be asserted.
10-minute grooming and shaving session
Grooming and shaving tools are dispensed to the inmates for them to groom themselves in their cells.
Breakfast at 7:45am
Breakfast consists of four slices of bread, along with a full cup of tea or coffee.
Meals at Changi Prison Complex
Changi Prison Complex serves food -- cooked by fellow inmates who are compensated with a stipend for working in prison -- that caters up to eight dietary requirements.
These meals include: Normal, no meat, soft diet, off chilli, low-purine, and low sugar.
These meals are prepared by inmates with the guidance of chefs from Singapore Airport Terminal Services.
Lunch at 11:30am
Lunch on Wednesdays typically consists of some sort of noodles. Meat will typically be reserved for dinners.
Clearly, someone is not a fan of prison noodles.
Yard time 3:30 pm
Yard time is two hours and held twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, where inmates are released from their cells.
They can play sports and exercise with other inmates, or read the newspaper or play games on the benches in the facility.
The inmates' exercise and activities are basic, and have to rely on their own body weight as resistance.
All of these activities are supervised by prison officers on the ground, who are situationally aware as multiple inmates can easily overpower one officer.
One of the inmates demonstrates the wrong behaviour, which gets noticed by a guard immediately.
However, the inmate said people in prison will do things they are told not to do, because how much worse can it get when they are already in prison?
Activities for inmates
Inmates can participate in work, such as preparing meals for other inmates, doing laundry, or becoming a peer facilitator.
This work gives them an allowance that can be used for snacks and canteen items, such as scented soap -- which is a treat and incentive to behave well behind bars.
Visual Arts Hub
Those with an artistic bent, can do art. One inmate was taught by a trainer and could draw his wife.
However, inmates have been known to turn to other illegal activities, such as tattooing themselves during their free time to overcome boredom.
Inmates remove staplers from magazines and sharpen the metal against the concrete floor to achieve a needle-like tool.
The colouring is derived from charcoal pills that inmates are given if they complain of diarrhoea.
The self-tattooing process can then be carried out using these simple devices.
This has resulted in infections.
Special shout-out to Jim Ang's impeccably styled hair
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top image screenshot from CNA's video