Kirsten Han 韩俐颖
@kixes
Thu May 27 11:10:33 +0000 2021

Will be tweeting a bit about this online event organised by @tjc_singapore this evening.

There'll be sharing from two formerly incarcerated people and a short Q&A before the livestreaming ends for workshop discussions.

Watch the livestream: https://t.co/NS1KnJK6e9

A 🧵 https://t.co/3vbi5GzEeB

.@tjc_singapore is working on a report, due to be published in July this year, on prison conditions in Singapore—something that we haven't really looked at or talked about much.

First up: Joseph, who will be talking about his experience in the state-run Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC), which sits within Changi Prison. "It is very much more a prison experience than a rehabilitative experience itself."

Joseph went to DRC in 2016 and spent about 3 months there. Describes himself as "relatively lucky" compared to others, who spent longer periods of time in DRC. He says it's likely 'cos the system has its ideas of who is "low risk"/"high risk", but this is a "flawed concept".

While acknowledging that the arrest did break his cycle of drug use, Joseph says DRC is a "prison system with some rehabilitation elements": shared cells, 1-hour yard time, etc. In the 2.5 to 3-month period, he had about 10 days of rehabilitation activities.

Joseph says he was lucky that he had people outside [DRC] who were able to advocate for him, to get him timely visits, to get someone to visit and run some counselling sessions for him, etc. It was different for his other cellmates who weren't as privileged.

People who don't have families who can advocate for them might be left "drifting". It creates a problematic cycle: you need family to visit to demonstrate family support, but if your family can't figure out where you are, they can't visit and you might be considered "high risk".

DRC also monitors interactions like letters that you receive from family. But if the inmate comes from a family where relatives might not be as educated or literate, they might not write as many letters and that might end up counting against you.

Just because inmates might not use the language that people consider to be "civilised" or acceptable, they sometimes get in trouble with the guards. This might lead to them being considered "difficult to rehabilitate". Many just have the odds stacked against them.

If you don't meet the set indicators and get considered "high risk", you end up staying in DRC for longer, rather than being released for community programmes.

Joseph says the staff who were teaching programmes in DRC were well-intentioned but might not have been very well trained. You could see that they had roots in religious groups but often you feel that they have "very little knowledge of what addiction means".

He talks about an experience in which they sat down and the facilitator went around asking "so why you take drugs?" and didn't seem to really understand why people made these choices. Could come off as quite condescending, and had low rehabilitative quality.

The prison guards were far from using any language of rehabilitation, and often came from "if we let you out, will you punk the system?"

Joseph says there was a "constant fixation" over control rather than talking about reintegrating people back into the community.

Joseph describes the system as "rehabilitation predicated on fear"; he thinks this sort of framing kind of makes it a "lost cause". He says his experience taught him a "tremendous amount of humanity" and exposed him to part of Singapore society that need a lot of attention.

.@Kokilaparvathi, who is moderating this session, explains it's difficult for some people to publicly share their experiences with incarceration, which is why there'll be case studies used for the workshop later—these are experiences of people who can't share as publicly.

Now we have Ashley, who was incarcerated earlier this year for about one month. Because of #COVID19 she had to spend about 15 days in a cell, in isolation. "Being alone affected me more than I thought it would." It was just her and 4 walls.

For the first 25 days, there was no human contact or touch. She saw doctors but they were wearing latex gloves; same with the officers who handcuff you ('cos of Covid-19).

You can use a tablet to send 4 letters to people a month. You can receive as many letters as you want. There are some games and books on the tablet but they're quite lousy and not very updated.

Ashley was in the psych ward for 3 days; she says she was put in there wrongfully. During an interview (after the 15 days) with the prison officers, she was asked about her mental state. She mentioned that she was suicidal (although she also noted that she was coping).

She says the officers disregarded that she was coping. They asked if she wanted to see a psychiatrist and she said yes, since she wasn't sleeping well. They later said the psychiatrist had left, and offered that she see a medical doctor instead.

Ashley said that she couldn't communicate with the medical doctor, who couldn't speak English properly. It was hard to understand each other, and the doctor said that she should be put in the psych ward.

Ashley says she was brought to the psych ward and was restrained by her wrists to the bed for about 20 hours. She was told she could see the doctor on Saturday, but had to wait until Monday to see the psychiatrist. She describes those 3 days as the "worst days of my life".

Ashley describes the psych ward as a huge open ward that was "so, so, so hot". Only 2 out of 5 wall-mounted fans were in operation at any one time. There was another woman who was there; she wasn't wearing pants 'cos she'd soiled herself and they decided to just remove her pants.

"In the psych ward you were treated the worst, just because you had this label that you were mentally unstable, you were not taken seriously at all." Ashley says they weren't allowed to bathe, brush teeth, had to relieved themselves using a bed pan.

Wrist restraints were kind of like nylon straps, strapped tight so you can't move. Ashley says it hurt, and they check the restraints every hour. So you don't get much sleep 'cos they check every hour and the lights are on. You're also cuffed by your leg.

"In the psych ward it was absolutely nothing at all." During quarantine at least you can have magazines, but in the psych ward you have nothing to do. "Psych ward's not cool, never go there."

Q&A now.

1st question: Why don't CNB officers inform immediate family members or help to facilitate visiting in DRC?

Joseph says he was lucky 'cos he was allowed one phone call and he managed to call his sister. Some other cellmates don't manage to reach anyone.

Joseph says some of his cellmates had to wait a week or two before their family actually figured out where they were. Sometimes it was only after the family had made a police report that the police would get back to tell them where the person was.

2nd question: If we decriminalise recreational drug use, how can we prevent normalising a drug culture?

Joseph says it's sometimes a red herring about whether we should criminalise or not. Instead, he asks "what do we believe to be state-mandated rehabilitation?"

Joseph: If we really want to prioritise rehabilitation, then make it really rehabilitative, rather than prison with some rehabilitative qualities.

He agrees that young and vulnerable should be protected [from drug use] but even so rehabilitation should be rehabilitative.

Joseph works w/ groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and emphasises that everyone has a story that needs to be recognised. He says the effort put into surveillance/tagging... if half tt energy was put into having better trained guards/counsellors, then it'd probably resonate better.

.@Kokilaparvathi emphasises that if we want to keep people safe from problematic drug use, then we have to look at what the evidence shows and what works. It's been shown that harm reduction and voluntary rehabilitation works better than criminalisation that punishes.

3rd question: How do they decide if you are "high risk" or "low risk"? What mechanisms are there to check the powers that be?

Joseph says you get asked you about whether you get letters. He had a friend who wasn't getting letters, and he was told it wouldn't be good for him.

Joseph says this constant reminder about things, like how not getting letters might be bad for you, can cause more stress and anxiety. In the case of his friend, Joseph and his cellmates even told their parents to write letters to him just so he would get letters.

Ashley says that her sense about the psych ward was that they didn't actually care about your well-being, but that they just want to preserve your life. She was told to "keep calm" and "be happy".

Ashley: It's not about whether receiving letters really makes you "high risk" or "low risk", but it's the fact that they put it that way that makes you anxious.

Ashley says she didn't want to tell people about her psych ward experience because she was afraid that it would dissuade them from seeking help if needed. Do you tell people and have this sort of experience, or do you suffer in silence? "You're fucked either way."

That's the end of the livestreamed part of the event! @tjc_singapore is now moving into the breakout workshop discussions, which I'm not part of because I am a champion who managed to simultaneously be part of TJC and still forget to register for our own events

Reading back and would like to clarify this: Joseph said that you could tell some of these well-meaning teachers were from religious groups, or wanted to be involved in counselling work, but weren't actually very knowledgeable about addiction issues. https://t.co/hLNryqNbd4

Thu May 27 12:13:15 +0000 2021