Prison Officer Shares Her Experience Celebrating Eid In Prison Among Death-Row Inmates

According to the prison officer, her work was often laced with sadness.

Cover image via Mohd Rafi Mamat/Harian Metro & Sunway Echo Media

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52-year-old Norizan Hamid, a prison officer, has witnessed the spectrum of human experience within the walls of correctional facilities

Her duties often took her far from the typical celebrations associated with holidays. One memory, in particular, stands out: spending Aidilfitri with death-row inmates at Kajang Women's Prison.

Among them was Mona Fandey, a convicted murderer who awaited her hanging on death row. The pop singer was found guilty in the brutal killing of a UMNO politician Datuk Mazlan Idris in July 1993.

Despite the weight of Mona's past, Norizan formed a connection with the late singer.

Norizan said that while it was an unorthodox celebration, they found a way to mark the joyous occasion.

They spent their free time chatting about various things and singing songs together, Norizan recalled.

"To stave off boredom, Mona would sing some of her favourite songs and read the Quran day and night; her voice was truly entertaining," Norizan was quoted as saying by Harian Metro over the weekend.

According to her, celebrating Aidilfitri in the death row cell at Kajang Women's Prison is a memory that remains the most vivid from her 30 years of service as a Malaysian Prison Department warden.

Mona Fandey being escorted by police officers in Kuala Lumpur.

Image via New Straits Times

She explained that Eid duty was a regular part of her job

Throughout her service, Norizan celebrated Eid with detainees in various facilities. But her nine years at Kajang Women's Prison were particularly impactful, where she cared for final detainees like Mona.

"Guarding the death row detainees is different," Norizan said, adding, "They need the most compassion. Even the food is specially prepared, boneless chicken and fish for safety reasons."

Norizan's work was often laced with sadness, especially when talking to those facing execution.

"Working on Eid requires strength," she admitted.

Especially when they would hear the 'takbir' echoing in the prison. After the 'takbir', the atmosphere in the prison would return to normal as the wardens carried out their daily tasks as usual.

Yet, her years at Kajang Women's Prison were a valuable learning experience.

According to Norizan, it made her more mature and competent in carrying out her duties.

Prison officer Norizan Hamid (third from left)

Image via Mohd Rafi Mamat/New Straits Times

Norizan philosophised that the prison is a university for wardens

"You deal with all sorts of detainees involved in various crimes — murder, robbery, drugs. It shapes you; the experience of working in the prison can produce skilled and capable staff members," she said.

The sacrifices are plenty, too, as festivities with family are not always possible, and in such cases, the detainees became companions on Aidilfitri morning, the seasoned prison officer noted.

"I don't mind working on the first of Syawal, but all preparations for Hari Raya feast need to be prepared earlier. My husband, who is also a prison staff member, and my child accept the fact that I cannot celebrate Aidilfitri with them. This Hari Raya, I also had to work, and the feeling of sadness remains," she rued.

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