To some ex-convicts and ex-drug addicts, life is easier in the sterile environment provided by prisons and rehabilitation facilities. To them, freedom means being forced to navigate a transformed world, wrought with challenges. One of these challenges is rebuilding their lives such as securing a job and being part of a larger society.
Seen as the black sheep of society, the label of ex-convict and ex-drug addict is difficult to shed on the job front. Dishearteningly only 6% of Malaysians are ready to accept people with drug addiction issues. They struggle to run away from the ghost of their misdeeds on the job front leading to an increasing recidivism rate for drug users in Malaysia, from 9% in 2015 to 11% in 2019.
Despite these setbacks, there are some silver linings. At the height of the pandemic, the shortage of migrant workers led to the government taking the initiative to allow ex-convicts under parole to fill in gaps in critical sectors such as oil palm plantations. In 2022, 80% of 10,000 inmates were expected to fill up vacancies left by foreign workers through the Parole System Programme, Licensed Release of Prisoners Programme and Resident Reintegration Programme.
The recent Budget 2023 proposed incentives of up to RM600 for three months for employers in hiring vulnerable groups such as ex-prisoners.
Currently, there are 7 organisations and companies that believe those that have paid the price and served the time deserve a second chance:
BeliGas, a social enterprise that started out in 2020, is the brainchild of Suthan Mookiah. Since then, it has rebranded itself to EDAR, and now is a digital wholesaler for F&Bs and SMEs. The name may have changed however, what sets it apart is that the organisation intentionally hires ex-convicts, offering them a much-needed opportunity to start anew. The company also enforces a strict no-relapse policy amongst hired ex-convicts between the ages of 20 and 45.
If you’re willing to change and you are changing, you’ve got all of us supporting you. – Suthan Mookiah, EDAR’s founder
Muhamad Noor Abdullah, 37 is among the 100 staff members EDAR hired straight from prison. The ex-convict had his fair share of brushes with legislation, and has been sentenced at least 13 times since 2005 – his last return to prison was in 2021.
In 2021, I was sentenced to 10 months in prison for the offence of theft. However, I only served eight months after good behaviour and was released in May 2021.– Muhamad Noor Abdullah, 37, EDAR staff member
Muhammad, who was born in Banting, Selangor, has been assigned as a truck driver in EDAR since his release. The team not only took care of his needs such as food and clothing but also provided his wife and children with accommodation at the company’s hostel. The kindness he received only pushed him to do better, and he continues to sing the praises of EDAR team.
In order to support my family, I strive to find halal sustenance. I hope the community does not look down on ex-prisoners because we also want and can change for the better. – Muhamad Noor Abdullah, 37, EDAR staff member
Currently, EDAR employs ex-convicts from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor with Suthan planning to hire interested ex-convicts from Pulau Pinang and Negeri Sembilan.
#2: Malaysian Care
In 1987, Daniel Lew was imprisoned for three years at the now-demolished Pudu Prison for syphoning the company’s funds to fuel his gambling addiction. It was a painful experience that remains etched in the mind of the now 70-year-old.
Once he completed his sentence, he tried to find an employment job and was repeatedly turned down. Following months of rejection, Lew knocked on the doors of Malaysian Care, a non-profit organisation serving the marginalised community that had visited him in prison.
Upon seeing [my] predicament, they offered me a job as a helper to visit families of convicts during Christmas as well as other occasions. I also visited prisoners, as being an ex-convict myself, I understand which words of encouragement they need. – Daniel Lew, founder of Second Chance Community Home (SCCH)
In years to come, Lew ran a halfway home serving “just released prisoners.” Starting with a small apartment, in 2017, the Second Chance Community Home (SCCH) evolved into a bungalow that is home to nearly 200 residents, about 20 of whom are parolees. Through his initiative, he managed to create job opportunities for more ex-convicts.
Lew is just one of the many transformative stories that Malaysian Care created. Another ex-convict, Pastor Ignatius Wong, runs the Grace Centre, a rehabilitation centre for released ex-addicts.
For more than 40 years, Malaysian Care has been changing lives, and in 2021, it launched the Youturn Project (TYP) to help reintegrate ex-convicts and ex-addicts into society.
Back then, there was very little civil society involvement with those who were incarcerated and released. The biggest challenge is the recidivism rate. Our experience is that three or four who come through us will fall back. But does this mean we should give up?
If this is a business, we would certainly give up because of the low success rate but when it comes to making a change in society, we need to reverse that mindset. Even if we can only help one person, we need to do it. – Dr Ignatius Wong, founder of Grace Centre
#3: LYC Auto Spa
A car wash in Kuantan has been hiring ex-convicts and ex-addicts since 2009, and 200 ex-prisoners have walked through its door. In 2022, only 9 will remain. This great initiative was taken by the local venture and taken under the wings of All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia On The Sustainable Development Goals (APPGM-SDG), a bipartisan initiative to push the SDG agenda in Malaysia.
APPGM-SDG’s involvement with LYC Auto Spa sought to encourage more vulnerable communities to participate in the Second Chance New Life Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
This program can also reduce the employer’s dependence on foreign workers to some extent through the support of the employer. The Parliament also distributes aid through IM Prihatin, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), to assist the program participants. – Datuk Seri Saifuddin Abdullah, Indera Mahkota MP
#4: Nasi Kandar Hameediyah
Mat was given a taste of renewed hope after being accepted as part of the prison and parole programme. The 38-year-old was serving time at Melaka prison for drug and theft offences. Under the parole programme, Mat worked at one of the oldest Nasi Kandar establishments in the nation, Nasi Kandar Hameediyah. There, he was provided with food, lodgings, uniforms and a minimum wage of RM1,500.
Thanks to the programme, Mat is now able to mix freely with people outside the prison and even eat Nasi Kandar for free.
The parole programme is good for us. Everyone deserves a second chance. – Mat, ex-convict
Mat looks forward to returning to his hometown in Sungai Buloh, Selangor where he plans to start a small business.
What else can a man want? This is good enough to help me stand on my own two feet again. – Mat, ex-convict
The establishment has hired at least 50 convicts since 2020.
#5: The Plantation Sectors
Following the migrant worker shortage, plantations in Malaysia were finding alternatives to fill in the gap. Sime Darby, for example, began hiring ex-prisoners and convicts that are under parole programmes. However, the corporation has been supportive of providing second chances to ex-prisoners in collaboration with the Malaysian Prison Department since 2018.
Through the Corporate Smart Internship Programme (CSI), Sime Darby trained a total of 40 ODPs (parolees) in Sarawak and provided technical and social skills training to ODS (prisoners under supervision).
During the early stages, it was a lot to take in. However, over time I began to enjoy it. – Awie, 34
Soon after, the inmates are required to work on oil palm plantations for a minimum of three months and above. The parolees are given minimum wages and rewarded with overtime pay.
Another similar programme is run by the Federal Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (FelCRA). In 2019, 900 ODPs and ODS were trained on general plantation tasks. The programme involves ODP and ODS serving on the plantations for a period of three to 12 months. They receive a monthly allowance based on the minimum wage in Malaysia.
This CSI programme is expected to reduce the shortage of 4,000 workers as we are in dire need of local workers for our 250,000ha of oil palm and rubber plantation throughout Malaysia. – Felcra Berhad
#6: Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB)
In 2019, the Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB) embarked on the PEKA or Peluang Kedua Anda (Your Second Chance)@MRCB programme, part of the Yellow Ribbon initiative spearheaded by the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
In its flagship year, 231 prisoners and offenders participated in the programme equipped with practical training such as welding, bricklaying and machine maintenance. In 2021, 54 prisoners/offenders were provided with upskilling and training opportunities. At the tail end of their sentence, participants were offered job opportunities.
Those selected are trained in the construction industry, with 14 being offered long-term positions. – Datuk Dell Akbar Khan, Malaysian Resources Corporation Bhd executive vice-president
#7: Pepper Labs
What started out as a food truck has only expanded into a restaurant and a cloud kitchen that enables budding or experienced cooks to step up in their careers. At the heart of Pepper Labs is to ensure marginalised communities such as youth that are involved in gang-related activities or drug abuse are given an improved pair of lenses.
At Masala Wheels, the restaurant helmed by Pepper Labs – ex-convicts, and ex-drug addicts are given training and the opportunity to venture into F&B.
Some of our employees are youths from juvenile detention centres or former drug addicts. It began when we found out one of the boys had gotten involved in a gang fight and we wanted to help him get back on the road of transformation. – Kuhan Pathy, Masala Wheels co-founder
To date, it has changed the lives of over 350 people from marginalised communities.
Explore our sources:
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- S.Sabrina. (2023). Proving that ex-convicts can rejoin society, this M’sian has been hiring them since 2020. Vulcan Post. Link
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- S.Abdul Razak. (2020). Sime Darby Plantation provides opportunities for prison inmates. The Star. Link
- The Sun Daily. (2019). Over 900 inmates benefit from Felcra Training Programme. Link
- MRCB. (2022). The time is now. Integrated Annual Report 2021. Link
- S.Ravindran. (2021). Societal help for former convicts to rebuild their lives. The Star. Link
- L.Nathan. (2020). Food truck turns saviour. The Malaysian Reserve. Link