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Prison uses maternal love to reform inmates

By Zhou Wenting | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-17 10:13

A warder at Shanghai Women's Prison wears a tiara as she acts with inmates in a play to celebrate International Women's Day. The play, an adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, tells the story of seven prisoners who reform and change their lives.Photos Provided To China Daily

Female prisoners are being rehabilitated via classes that emphasize mother-daughter relationships. Zhou Wenting reports from Shanghai.

"Mary", who has been a prisoner at Shanghai Women's Prison for 10 years, is looking forward to the big event of her year - a visit from her mother, who will travel from the Philippines within the next few weeks to spend 40 precious minutes with her.

The 36-year-old, who preferred not to disclose her real name, was given a suspended death sentence in 2008 after being stopped with a consignment of heroin by the customs in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.

Her defense was that she had been offered a lucrative assignment, but insisted that she didn't know what was in the bag she was asked to carry.

She said her feelings are very different from when she and her mother last met at the prison, just after she was jailed.

"I misunderstood my mother's love for me, and I blamed my failings on her absence during my childhood and adolescence when she was working away from home," said Mary, who is due to be released in 2031 after several reductions of her sentence.

Change of attitude

Her change of attitude is largely due to classes about maternal love offered by the prison, she said. The classes focus on helping the prisoners express gratitude to their mothers, and become responsible mothers themselves.

"I was deeply touched when the mothers of 30 inmates were invited to the prison to hug their daughters last year. I couldn't help missing my mom then, and I became determined to mend our relationship,"recalled Mary, who began calling her mother regularly and then proposed a visit.

According to Chen Jianhua, governor of Shanghai Women's Prison, almost every women's prison in the country uses the concept of maternal love as a way to educate and reform inmates, but in the past five years it has been employed in many different forms at her prison, which houses women from 18 countries in addition to Chinese nationals.

"Although they speak different languages and have diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, maternal love is a shared thing," she said.

"Even if someone is not a mother, she has a mother. Even if she has never felt a mother's affection, she must be thirsty for it. We hope motherhood will work as a force to encourage the prisoners to always be upstanding and responsible, and, for some, to break the cycle of family tragedy."

The prison, which opened in 1996, provides inmates with pamphlets in Chinese and English that contain poems depicting maternal love. The prisoners read the books in class and are asked to recite some of the poems. They also read novels and watch movies with the theme of mother-daughter bonding.

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