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March 19, 2019

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Jobs fair for inmates is a success, bar none

Shanghai Women’s Prison held a jobs fair yesterday for inmates due to be released soon.

A total of 15 firms took part including catering companies, clothing factories, electronic component manufacturers and aged-care facilities. More than 130 inmates attended the fair, with the majority of them due to leave prison this year.

Shirley, not her real name, was one of the inmates on the hunt for a job. She will finally be free today, after 16 years and 77 days. She signed a contract with a local catering company, Xinzhenjiang, to become a waitress in a restaurant.

Sixteen years ago, her father was attacked and ended up in hospital after having a quarrel with some people hanging around their community. She became involved in a brawl with one of the men and stabbed him. He eventually died.

“I lost my head when I saw my dad lying on the bed,” she said. “My parents were sent to the country in the 1960s, they sacrificed a lot for me.”

She was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Repentance and sorrow ate at her. But she gradually found prison was different from what she thought it would be.

“There are various classes,” she said. “The staff are also nice.”

With the help of the prison officers and volunteers, she worked hard. Her performance has won her seven remissions.

Yet she became more and more anxious about her future.

“I know nothing about smartphones or WeChat or Alipay,” she said. “Basically, I’m a dropout.”

Moreover, Shirley feared she won’t be accepted by society.

Her concerns are shared by many other inmates.

“I have no idea what I can do,” said Jane, another inmate searching for a job at the fair. “But I’m overwhelmed by the warmth of these companies.”

Kang Zhijian, head of Jing’an District’s volunteer association for prisoners, who lobbied the 15 companies to attend the jobs fair, said many ex-inmates struggled to find work.

“Many were rejected because of their criminal records,” said Kang. “Some fell back to their disastrous old ways such as theft or robbery.

“For those soon to be freed, prejudice is the arch enemy preventing them from embracing new lives.”

Kang started volunteering in prisons 20 years ago. In 2014, he formed a studio to help the inmates with their problems.

“We met a couple, both of them behind the bars. They had left their son alone with the grandparents who couldn’t even afford the school fees,” Kang said. “We paid the fees so that the couple can settle down and serve their time.”

Every three months, Kang’s volunteers go to prisons in the city to help inmates.

Feng Dechang, president of Shanghai Xinzhenjiang Catering Group which hired Shirley, said he had thought the prisoners would be riff-raffs without merit.

“It turned out they are talented in many ways,” Feng said. “They have paid their dues and realized their mistakes. They should have another chance.”

Zhan Leming, human resources manager of Shanghai Automobile Electronic Component Group which was also hiring at the fair, said many of the inmates are skilled workers, “which is exactly what we need in our new factory in Zhejiang Province.”

At the end of the day, 81 inmates signed letters of intent with the companies.

“It’s a good start that many companies would accept the inmates,” said Huang Yin, who is in charge of education at the prison.

“We will keep in touch with the companies and when the inmates are released, they can go to the companies if there are jobs available. Their history will be kept a secret.”

Huang said she would like to make the employment fair a regular event so that more inmates can have a better start when they are released.


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