'Get a job or stay in jail'
SCMP ; December 27, 2002
By Stella Lee
An armed robber granted early release from his 18-year sentence is still in Stanley Prison because he has failed to satisfy an unusual condition of his freedom - finding a job.
Friends said Andrew, 41, would only be granted parole if he had secured an indoor job, ruling out work in construction and door-to-door sales.
However, none of the potential employers he has approached in the past few months - through the help of a voluntary group - has been willing to hire him.
Andrew, a father of two, was sentenced to 18 years' jail in November 1991 for armed robbery. He was set for release next November after his sentence was cut by a third for good conduct.
But several months ago, the Long-Term Prison Sentences Review Board approved a further reduction in his prison term, provided he could find a job.
Deacon Peter Lo Woo-lui, spiritual director of the Catholic Church's Lay Prison Evangelical Organisation which is helping Andrew, has been appealing to employers to help the convict win his freedom.
In a letter to Deacon Lo, Andrew said his years behind bars had changed his beliefs and made him determined to rebuild his life.
'My family members have not blamed me for making such a big mistake. They never gave up on me,' he wrote. 'They care and support me. After years of imprisonment, I have learned to treasure their love. I've made up my mind to turn over a new leaf and wean myself off the bad habits.
'I hope I can be a good man, a good son and good father as I don't want to let my family and church friends down.'
Andrew said he worked hard in jail to learn English and Putonghua, and to secure qualifications in accountancy and commercial studies.
'I'm willing to start all over again from the bottom and to learn more by working hard,' he wrote. 'I understand I am a prisoner and may not necessarily be accepted by the community. As I have been separated from society for many years, I may have lost track of the latest developments. And I did not have any proper work experience before I was jailed.'
In another letter, Andrew told James Lung Wai-man, a volunteer with Deacon Lo's group, how he longed to enjoy Christmas outside jail. 'The Christmas this year will be the last one I'll spend in this place.
Next year, I'll be able to taste the festive atmosphere [outside] again,' he said.
Mr Lung said the release condition which required the job to be entirely indoors had - combined with the economic downturn - made it very hard for Andrew to find a job.
'Companies refuse to hire him after learning that he has an armed robbery conviction which they think is a serious offence,' Mr Lung said.
'I hope he will be given a chance to re-integrate into society. The lack of support could be a blow to them [ex-convicts], especially when the government is promoting community acceptance of rehabilitated people.
'I'm not worried that [Andrew] would commit crimes again - I think the chance is not high. I'm just worried that he will give up on himself if he does not have the necessary support.'
parole (n) conditional release of a prisoner whose term has not expired and is still subject to regular monitoring by an officer of the law
behind bars (phrase) being in jail
turn over a new leaf (idiom) to change for the better
wean off (phrasal v) to gradually stop using or doing something
lose track of (phrase) no longer know what is happening to something or somebody
? If you were an employer, would you hire Andrew? Give reasons. What would be your criteria in assessing a candidate?
? Do you think Hong Kong needs to do more to help ex-prison inmates? Give reasons.
? In your opinion, what is an effective way to fight discrimination against ex-inmates?