How does the nation move forward from this?

A hotel guest wearing prisoner uniform poses on the deck of Bangkok’s first prison-themed hostel. — Reuters photo

HOW about checking into a room behind iron bars for a night – be given a set of prison wear and assigned with an inmate number instead of hotel keys?

Sook Station, a new hostel in Thailand, is throwing its guests into prison with its quirky offerings.

At the check-in counter, guests will have their mugshots taken and are given black and white pyjamas and an inmate number for them to get in and out of their cells.

Rooms have metal doors, bunk beds, stripy curtains and bars over the windows. The 8-metre square room has a communal dimly-lit concrete bathroom, and it also enforces a strict ‘lights out’ rule during curfew time.

When checking out, the guest are given a criminal record as keepsake.

“People love it or hate it,” Sittichai Chaivoraprug, 55, told Reuters.

Could such a stay instill a sort of fear of solitary and a sense of claustrophobia in the occupants who are ‘locked’ behind black-out doors and windows and with showers located on a caged-in rooftop – or is it just a fun and trendy thing to do?

Incidentally, the week began with the Education Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid announcing that students with serious disciplinary problems will undergo rehabilitation programmes in prisons soon.

Mahdzir said the programme has been drafted and is in the process of completion before it could be officially introduced.

“To begin with, the programme will involve a group of students who have been suspended for six months due to serious disciplinary problems, including bullying. They will be sent to prison and Henry Gurney School for a certain period of time during the suspension, to see for themselves how the offenders are serving their sentence.

“Through the programme, we hope they will realise what they do is wrong and are, thus, determined to change to a better person,” Mahdzir reportedly said on August 19 after opening a delegation conference.

As I was writing this piece, I had to make a U-turn on my train of thoughts with the sad news of the latest case of a primary one boy who died after an alleged beating by a primary six  pupil at SK Nanga Ibun, Sg Pila, located around six hours by express boat and longboat from Kapit.

The recent tragic death of T Nhaveen who was attacked by school bullies with helmets and sticks and sodomised with foreign object, had shocked and angered Malaysians and brought to light the deeply-rooted culture of bullying in schools.

Sarawakians would have thought it is something more common in the peninsula, but the case in SK Nanga Ibun should be a wake-up call to educators, parents and society at large to think how we should move forward from here.

So, we paused and asked: “Do these forms of punitive six-month suspension, if found of guilty of bullying, and an eye-opening ‘serving’ a part of the suspension in a real prison address the bullying culture at hand?”

Should we not get to the root of it? What compels a primary six pupil to commit such atrocities against a mere seven-year-old school mate?

According to the reports in The Borneo Post, initial investigations showed the incident took place at the hostel when the suspect beat the victim with a broomstick and mosquito netting was stuffed into his mouth before he was thrown into a dumpster. The suspect claimed he hit the victim because the latter was constantly teasing him and had made fun of his (suspect) father’s name.

We cannot put the blame of this deeply-rooted culture of bullying in schools entirely on the teachers or even families of the bullies.

True, parents, teachers and schools have their roles in teaching our children not to treat others with hatred or to take the law into their own hands. They have the responsibility to stop bullying – and bullying should never be condoned.

But what about society? Do we send the wrong signals to our children that we are actually glorifying violence – either verbal or physical attacks on our diversities and differences in our communities?

Many Sarawakians had their say when a TV3 comedy show host insulted former national sprinter Watson Nyambek with the bleating of a goat when pronouncing the last syllable of the name of Watson’s late father – Nyambek.

While Watson was gracious and sensible enough to lodge a police report and let justice take its course, many on social media who actively persecuted the TV host, had shown that they had little space for understanding, empathy and compassion.

Could this primary six boy have picked up the signals that it is all right to be abusive to others who make fun of their father’s name?

We leave it to the police to investigate but while having faith in law enforcement, I could not help but to ask whether another wrong signal have been sent out with the following statement:

“We are investigating the case under Section 302 of the Penal Code as murder. The suspect has been released on police bail as he is scheduled to sit for his Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR) exams next months.”

Through the confusing signals our children are receiving, we should pause and remember that the 12-year-old suspect is also a victim of a poor learning environment. The nation has a long way to go to putting things in the right perspective and instil in our young minds that violence is not the way to go.

A day in prison, or serving the punishment in the cell, will not address the root causes.

“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up,” so instructed the Bible.

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