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August 4, 2021

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Officers make a difference at Nanhui Prison

The job of a prison officer is little understood by ordinary people because of the special group – criminals – the officers deal with each day.

Different from the austere conditions and violence portrayed in film and TV dramas, guards in China’s prisons are not only policeman, but also civil servants applying state powers in their work.

They are responsible for educating and reforming criminals.

More than 350,000 prison officers work in some 600 jails in China. They try their best to convert criminals into law-abiding citizens.

For example, since the start of this year, “Double Ten” activities have been launched by Shanghai Nanhui Prison to eradicate inappropriate language and behavior used by work gangs and to set good standards. The prison aims to establish the guidance of rewarding work and punishing laziness, and gather new power and new energy for officers to strive for excellence.

A group of young officers, such as Sun Minjie, Chen Junhao and Huang Lei, have stood out in managing these activities with enthusiasm and optimism.

‘I want to be ordinary but not mediocre.’

Sun, 28, an officer of the prison’s seventh section, is a retired national swimming athlete. She was selected and trained by Luwan Youngsters’ Amateur Athletic Training School in 1999 because of her height advantage.

In her 19-year athletic career, she excelled in the World Swimming Championships and won a gold medal in the National Swimming Championships. She left the national team in 2018 because of bruising to her leg.

“When I was young, I had two dreams – to be a world champion and a policewoman,” Sun said. “After retiring from the national team, I chose to become a prison officer in August 2019 to fulfill my dream.”

She is currently engaged in education and correction of female criminals in Nanhui Prison’s seventh section. She teaches courses such as mental health and culture, and applies her athleticism to teaching yoga to female prisoners.

One of the most impressive responses to her prison work came in the form of a thank-you card she received earlier this year from an elderly former criminal.

“When I first took over this prisoner, other guards told me that she was difficult to discipline,” Sun said. “After more than a year of getting along with her, I found that I had established a very positive relationship with her. Before her release, I helped her contact her family. The way that she still thinks of me makes me feel, although it’s just a thin card, my work was approved.”

Sun is now working as hard as possible to improve her work skills.

“When I was an athlete, I always tried to break the limits of my body,” she said. “Now, just retired but not faded, I want my police career to be ordinary but not mediocre.”

‘I hope more people could know what we do’

Different from Sun’s career change, Chen, 31, became a prison officer as soon as he graduated from Shanghai University of Political Science and Law in 2013. He is now a prison officer of the fourth section.

“Our aim is to ‘help people inside the wall reform well and let the people outside the wall live well,’” Chen said.

He told Shanghai Daily the main work of the prison police is not just as guards. There are many other aspects, such as taking care of inmates’ health and turning them into someone who is not harmful to society.

Nanhui Prison is home to more than a thousand criminals, mostly elderly, ailing or disabled.

A criminal under Chen’s supervision once fainted due to low blood sugar. He quickly provided the criminal with a cup of brown sugar water to help him recover.

“Hypoglycemia – low blood sugar – sometimes can be very dangerous,” Chen said, “so if he was not treated in time, the consequences could be serious.”

After the incident, the criminal’s family sent a pennant to Chen to show their gratitude.

“The recognition of the criminal’s family is more real than any other medals,” he said.

In 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, Nanhui Prison started a new work schedule to prevent criminals becoming infected. Chen did not leave the prison for more than a month, his longest time without a break.

“My dad broke his leg and needed surgery at that time, but I could not be there for him, to take care of him, because of the particularity of my work,” he said.

“I hope the outside world can pay more attention to us, for what we do and what we say.”

‘May you be loyal to yourself and live like yourself’

In Nanhui Prison, there is also a team of policemen who are always on the periphery to ensure the security and order of the jail, making sure that they can deal with an emergency as soon as it occurs. Huang, 28, is one of the team.

From the dispersal of prison garbage trucks to the supervision of criminals for medical parole, they are all part of Huang’s daily work.

Many criminals in Nanhui Prison suffer from diabetes and need daily insulin injections.

“When criminals receive insulin injections, it is also our responsibility to ensure the safety of doctors and to prevent criminals from getting access to needles,” he said.

In Huang’s mind, his work is trivial and ordinary. However, only when everyone does their job can the prison function normally.

“Once during a night patrol, I found the door of the laundry room was left open,” he recalled, “then I closed it as soon as possible.”

“Don’t underestimate an unclosed door. The most important part of a guard’s work is to keep every door closed and locked.”

“I am greatly fond of these words: ‘May you be loyal to yourself and live like yourself’,” he said. “I love what I am doing now and I like who I am.”


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