Studying offers hope and redemption for killers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2012, 12:00am


Prison bars have proved to be no barrier to education for two murderers, who have put their years in jail to good use earning university degrees.

'I wanted to let my fellow inmates see that though we made mistakes, we can still be successful with hard work. I want to show society that prisoners are not a complete failure, and hope they'll give us a chance,' said Wilson, 39, who completed a master's degree in education through the Open University of Hong Kong in December.

After dropping out of school in Form Two, Wilson was sent to Stanley Prison in 1997 for killing his girlfriend's son. Two years later he began studying to numb the pain of prison life. He also found Christianity, which he said motivated him to improve himself. Then he found a target to aim for. 'I didn't have a good school life so I want to serve young people if I get released,' he said.

Speaking gently with a cheerful smile, Wilson's transformation is obvious. A few years ago there was a time he looked at his own photo on the prisoner's identity card and was startled by the face that stared back at him. 'That was what a murderer looks like,' he said. 'I was a selfcentred person at the time and didn't know how to get along with people. I had no friends out there.'

He started reading psychology books to understand more about himself. 'I didn't understand why a good person would break the law. Then I found out what went wrong with me.' He completed an undergraduate degree in social sciences with the Open University in 2008, majoring in psychology.

For inmates, schooling involves self-study most of the time. They can communicate with tutors from the university by post, and the tutors visit them twice a year before end-of-term exams. They can use the library and computer room but there is no internet access for security reasons.

A certificate presentation ceremony is held at the prison each year for inmates who have passed exams and behaved well. Wilson's mother and grandmother were at the ceremony in January to celebrate his graduation. Normally, he has a glass screen between him and visiting family members, but on this occasion he was allowed to hug his mum.

'I really regret not treasuring her when I was out there. I always scolded her. But my family haven't given up on me,' he said.

Also graduating was Elton, 39, who completed a degree in business and administration. He has been in prison for 17 years for shooting dead his partner in an export business, and started studying three years ago.

'The idea of life imprisonment was something very overwhelming. I went through a long process from having given up, to deciding not to give up on myself,' he said. He wants to make use of his knowledge to help his family's jewellery business.

Instead of study being a sacrifice, Elton said he found himself engaged in more activities after picking up school work again.

'I found myself becoming more energetic. I even did more exercise,' he said. As well as working in the prison's clothing factory, he uses his free time for hobbies. He is now studying for a master's degree in business. 'It's hard work, but worthwhile. One day my opportunity will come.'