I’ve been to plenty of places in Malaysia. And often, I took the less traveled road to broaden my horizon on life’s perspective. But if there’s one place in Malaysia that I thought that I will never step into is the prison. Prison is a place where criminals are locked up. It’s the place for sinners, full of convicts. Who would want to be there? At least, I wouldn’t and I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with anything related to prison at all. It’s indeed a scary place.
But by fate, or chance, I was invited to Penjara Bentong by Resorts World Genting for their CSR programme “Beauty Behind the Wall” and I thought, perhaps, it’s time to get a glimpse on how things are really like in prison.
I said yes to the invitation and I have to say, I was a little intimidated upon arrival in Penjara Bentong.
Everything seems to be scary with all the security checks, but in all honesty once I stepped inside and was surrounded by the high walls, I couldn’t help but marveled at the surroundings.
The place is clean and tranquil. The prison is nothing like what the Hollywood blockbuster movies and novels had me believes. It is not filled with angry and viscious prisoners who will jump on you and attack you. It’s nothing like that at all, but instead, it feels more like a school, or rather a place fo empowerment and rehab. The only difference that prison makes from other educational institution is that they practised maximum security and is heavily guarded. The interactions between the men and women in uniforms with the inmates were polite and civil and can be likened to interactions between teachers and students.
Now, back to the programme, “Beauty Behind the Wall”, saw Resorts World Genting culinary maestros joined hands with Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah to train the inmates in upgrading their culinary skills. For those who are not familar with Her Highness Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, you might want to know that Her Highess is well noted for her passion in culinary endeavour and is an excellent chef in her own rights. Also present during the programme was Prison Department Pahang State Director Datuk Ab Basir Mohamad and Vice President of Resorts Communication&Public Relations of Resorts World Genting, Ms. Katherine Chew.
Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah and Resorts World Genting Executive Chef Alex Vitalise at the prison facility, cooking up a storm and doing live demo for the female inmates. Focusing on educating female inmates and female staff of Bentong Prison, the programme covered issues such as food hygiene, kitchen management, culinary technology, dietary nutrition, recipe commercialisation and food industry opportunities, all in the name of ensuring that the inmates have opportunities to support themselves once released. The Bentong Prison prides itself on its Pastry Workshop that supplies the products produced by the inmates to external parties such as donuts, ‘muruku’ and cookies that channels the income back to them.
Female inmates at Bentong Prison are learning to cook special fusion dishes under the royal patronage of Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah. The main ingredients that are used as the base for all the dishes during the lesson are assam pedas and rendang paste. The pastes are specially made from Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah’s personal recipe that’s published in Her Highness’ cookbook, “Air Tangan Tengku Puan Pahang”.
The assam pedas paste was used as a base for dishes such as Assam Pedas Pasta, Cod Fish Asam Pedas, while the rendang paste was used as sauces and condiment for burgers and canapes. And here’s sharing with you some of the dishes that were featured during the demo.
Assorted appetizers topped with rendang and sambal hitam petai pastes.
Assam Pedas Shrimp Pasta
Assam Pedas Cod fish
Assam Pedas Nasi Briyani with Lamb Rendang
A special curry-type of dish cooked by Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah during the demo. The dish was made from the sambal hitam paste, coconut milk and paired with meat, petai, ladies fingers and white button mushrooms.
Her Highness had had also taught the female inmates how to make cookies earlier prior to the programme.
These cookies are being sold by the prison.
Addressing those who were present during the meaningful event, Her Highness said the inmates were taught to cook as cooking is a life skill that they can use to create immediate income and support themselves when they are released and Her Highness is happy that Resorts World Genting is taking the lead in helping to empower these women.
” Everyone can make mistakes. But what is important is that we learned from our mistakes, and that society gives us an opportunity to prove that. I do not believe that we should assign blame. My role is to help these women re-enter society with the right kind of attitude that will allow them to live a healthy, productive life beyond these walls. Food has always brought Malaysians together. It seems appropriate to have a channel for these women to learn to cook so that they can have a productive life when they leave. I want to help these women get a second chance,” she said.
Tengku Puan Pahang Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah and the Penjara Bentong inmates after the programme.
My visit to Penjara Bentong for the
“Beauty Behind the Wall” programme was not only inspiring and empowering, but humbling as well. I can now look at prisons and the convicts in a completely different light. I used to think that prisons merely functioned to execute punishments for convicts, but in most cases, prisons are not just a place to execute punishment but an educational institution that is emphasized on rehabilitiation; in which the prisons actually helped people to start anew after making mistakes. Indeed, who doesn’t make mistakes? To err is human. Nobody escapes from making mistakes every now and then, and just because some are caught making mistakes to the point they have to be punished by law, does not mean that they should be shunned by the society when they are making effort to change and start a new life, and I’m glad that I’m given a chance to change my mindset and perception on both prison and the prisoners.