A journey inside the Pik Uk Correctional Institution to see its prison rugby programme
- The prison has been playing and teaching touch rugby to try to help rehabilitate inmates in conjunction with the Hong Kong Rugby Union
- Speaking with a young offender who is serving eight years for drug trafficking, the programme’s benefits are outlined as multifaceted
Security is tight at the Pik Uk Correctional Institution in Sai Kung: razor wire, high concrete walls and chain-link fences fitted with heavy-duty locks.
The mood is tense, there is no small talk, silence is the prevailing sound and we are not allowed to take our mobile phones inside.
Guards watch our every moment, checking the photographer’s gear inside and out. We pass through two doors, a metal detector, and over a floor equipped with cameras to check underneath vehicles that come and go.
The prison, which was once home to Umbrella Movement leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung, houses around 200 young male offenders who have committed a variety of offences from minor transgressions to major crimes.
Each section of the prison requires lock and key entrance, and we make our way up a flight of stairs to the football field, a hard green concrete pitch where inmates are taking part in one of the prison’s latest programmes.
In conjunction with the Hong Kong Rugby Union, the Pik Uk Correctional Institution has initiated a touch rugby course, offered to a select few young offenders. Each Saturday the HKRU has been helping with the programme, which runs until Christmas.
The 10 kids involved take turns playing and also refereeing a touch rugby game, and their enjoyment is obvious. They’re laughing and joking around as they try to score, passing the ball, weaving in and out of tackles. They look no different than a regular group of kids would on any pitch anywhere in Hong Kong.
There’s also a skill session where they learn the proper way to pass and receive a ball, and the programme also has a classroom component where theory and game strategy are taught.
After the game I sit down inside the gymnasium with 21-year-old Ming*. He is a normal looking young man with a slightly boyish face, black-rimmed glasses and a quiet smile.
Ming is serving an eight-and-a-half-year sentence for drug trafficking, and today is his birthday. However, it is not much cause for celebration as he is in the process of being transferred to an adult facility, possibly Pik Uk Prison down the way on Clearwater Bay Road.
Hong Kong is notoriously harsh when it comes to drug trafficking. Low-level drug mules are convicted at a rate of more than one a day in Hong Kong’s High Court, according to a study that was first made available to Post Magazine.
With three more years left on his term, Ming has spent a substantial portion of his youth already behind bars. He has enjoyed the touch rugby programme, which he has been a part of for two months, and hopes to continue playing, or even coaching, upon release.
“I did not play before this, so it has been interesting to play,” he said with the help of a translator.
Ming noted five things he has learned via the rugby programme: integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect. Learning to follow rules has given him a new understanding of right and wrong outside the law, and the value of teamwork.
“You learn to follow the rules and obey the game,” he said. “I can (learn to) behave myself, to help me obey the law and be a part of society.”
The HKRU’s rugby programme, started by the HKRU Community Foundation, was launched in 2015 at the Cape Collinson Correctional Institution, another prison for young offenders in Chai Wan.
The programme was such a hit that it has now been expanded, with the HKRU offering an annual apprentice placement for an ex-offender.
Yip Hiu-ping, an assistant officer with Pik Uk, has been running the programme since October with the help of Tony Hui, a corporate social responsibility officer for the HKRU. Yip said it was funny the first time Hui came to view the inmates.
“He said they were more well behaved than some of the kids he coaches,” Yip said with a chuckle.
Yip said the programme’s success lies in its simplicity: that teaching prisoners rules and regulations of a sport can translate to other areas of life. “It helps them with the ability to differentiate between right and wrong and reintegrate into society.”
Yip added he has noticed a change in Ming’s emotional state since starting the programme, as obviously being in prison for a long time could weigh on anyone’s mental state.
“I noticed a difference right away. He is more positive and disciplined. He is happier, it’s helped a bit with anxiety.”
Hui said expanding on the idea of how multifaceted discipline can be was also a big help to the inmates.
“It kind of teaches them, regardless of the external environment: ‘you said you were going to do something, so you have to do it.’”
According to the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption, the city ranks 16th of 133 countries in adherence to the overall rule of law: one of the factors being the criminal justice system, which also ranks in the top 20 in the world.
Hui said the most important step is when the inmates are released from prison and have to navigate the sometimes tricky road to reintegrating into society and dealing with the stigma of being convicted criminals.
“We want to give them hope, and ultimately, opportunities. It’s a two way thing too, we can learn from them as well, we get to see how these youngsters respond when they are given another chance.”
Ming’s real name was changed in this article to protect his privacy.