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Visiting Penor Prison
19 March 2022
In a busy hall filled with looms, more than 80 pairs of hands get to work on the season’s tenun masterpieces. Some, in Technicolor magentas and blues, others in royal shades of yellow and gold. The sound of weaving floats through the air, as warp yarns set upon beams meet heddles and wefts. But unlike any other ateliers, weavers are dressed in colour-coded jumpsuits, with only identity numbers in lieu of a nametag. It’s almost hard to believe that this is a common scene at Penor Prison, and yet here in the confines of this 200-acre enclosure in Kuantan, Pahang, is where second chances are made reality.
The brainchild of Dato Mustafa bin Osman, Director General of Malaysian Prisons, an initiative was conceived in 2006 to preserve the hand-looming tradition of Pahang. This idea was envisioned as a result of industrialisation and fast fashion, which caused less demand and even fewer artisans specialising in the art. It certainly didn’t take long for authorities to realise the potential prisoners had, and with good reason: according to research by AND Corporation in the United States, inmates who participate in correctional programs have 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not.
The rates are much higher in Malaysia. According to Prisons Department Director General, Datuk Ibrasam Abdul Rahman, “the parole system introduced since 2008 has seen 98 per cent of parolees joining the workforce,” he said in a recent interview with The Star. With this in mind, the state branch of Malavsian Handicraft Corporation and Weaving Centre in Pulau Keladi, Pekan, launched the Penor Prison Weaving Workshop.
At that time, only five inmates were selected to pilot the program, and it is only through their success did this endeavour flourish to include 200 detainees more.