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Young inmates learn how to care for elderly prisoners

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-18 08:59

An inmate helps an elderly prisoner get dressed at Shanghai Nanhui Prison. [Photo/China Daily]

Shanghai prison inmate Yin Jian, four years into a jail sentence for burglary, never had a serious job before and neglected his parents, but he now cares for six fellow inmates in their 70s and 80s.

Yin describes his daily life as "bustling about", as two of the elderly need to be supported when they move around and the others need help washing or moving heavy objects.

The 35-year-old also needs to keep alert during the night as he must let the warden know if an elderly inmate reports discomfort. It usually happens once or twice a week, he said.

Yin is one of dozens of young and middle-aged inmates who provide care to elderly prisoners in Shanghai Nanhui Prison, which has been receiving elderly, sick and handicapped inmates from around the city since it opened in 2007.

The prison, in the south of Pudong New Area, requests the consent of a young inmate and examines their background and personality before recommending them for the job of caring for elderly prisoners. They receive professional training, including theory and practice, in providing daily care and first-aid to the elderly, and obtain a State-approved certificate before they begin the work, the prison said.

"Some of the elderly inmates that I share the room with are unfriendly and not easy to satisfy, which requires quite a lot of patience and a caring heart from me," Yin, a native of Suining, Sichuan province, told China Daily ahead of Wednesday's Double Ninth Festival, a traditional Chinese festival that honors the elderly. "I believe the work will give my personality a good remolding and it's my way to repent."

Yin said he once took care of a totally paralyzed elderly inmate around the clock. Two young inmates had to cooperate when they helped him bathe or scrubbed his body.

"I also needed to change his diaper once during the night," said Yin, adding that the work and certificate may help him find a job as a care worker in a hospital after he is discharged.

Li Ming, another inmate providing care to elderly prisoners, has taken care of Zhang Qiang, 87, for eight years. Li, a native of Chengdu, Sichuan province, said he can easily understand the latter's Shanghai dialect.

"Zhang and my father are of almost the same age," Li, 45, said. "Throughout these years I have repented much of my guilt about my father."

Zhang, who has early stage Alzheimer's disease, is scheduled to be discharged from prison at the end of this year and Li has started to worry about his daily life after his release.

"His parents and sister have passed away and he doesn't have other relatives," Li said. "I believe he is better taken care of here."

Apart from the special care system for elderly inmates, the prison is also equipped with wheelchair accessible facilities, lifts, support bars around the rooms, emergency call buttons and air conditioners.

"We also arrange for all the elderly inmates to sleep on the lower bunk of the bunk beds, and each of their rooms is equipped with a restroom," said Chen Lisong, vice-governor of the prison.

Silver-haired Xiao Hua, 68, has lost more than half his teeth. In jail for fraud since 2008, he said elderly inmates are provided with meals suitable for their health conditions.

"I mainly eat noodles with soup because they are softer," Xiao, from Shanghai, said. "Some of the others are also offered special meals, such as low-salt and sugar-free, as they suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes."

Luo Mei, a 64-year-old inmate jailed for life for contract fraud and illegal business operations in 2008, said she is often moved by the respectful way guards treat inmates.

"Very often I feel that they regard us as elderly people instead of prisoners," said Luo, a native of Beijing.

She said she was once scalded by hot water but didn't use any medicine because she has allergies. The next day, a guard brought medicine from her home and told Luo that her father had used the medicine before and it had worked fairly well.

"I never imagined the guards would associate us criminals with their parents," Luo said. "I was choked up with sobs at that moment and couldn't even say 'thank you'."

The incident changed her previously negative views on repentance, jail and life, Luo said.

The names of the inmates in this story have been altered to protect their identities.

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