In­sein in­mate re­sumes stud­ies be­hind bars

The Myanmar Times - - News - EI SHWE PHYU news­room@mm­

THE man is 21 years old, but looks older. He would look older still ex­cept for the white shirt and green longyi he wears, which gives him the air of a school­boy. He is, in fact, do­ing quite well at his stud­ies. He is also a con­victed mur­derer, serv­ing his time in In­sein Prison.

Three years ago last Thad­ingyut, Ko San Htwe Maung was drink­ing with friends. Some­how they got into a fight. He says he doesn’t know what hap­pened next. But a 60-yearold man was dead. Ko San Htwe Maung was ar­rested, tried, con­victed and sen­tenced to eight years.

“The cell was very crowded. There was nowhere to sit. I was afraid of the other prison­ers and felt very vul­ner­a­ble,” he said of his first im­pres­sions.

“At first I missed my friends and fam­ily, but it got eas­ier later,” he said.

Sent to prison while he was still in high school, Ko San Htwe Maung took his ma­tric­u­la­tion exam in 2011 at BEHS 1 in San­chaung town­ship. Fam­ily cir­cum­stances made it in­con­ve­nient for him to re­take the test, so he dropped out of ed­u­ca­tion for a cou­ple of years.

As a mi­nor, he was at first in­car­cer­ated in the youth wing. Of­fered the chance to re­sume his ed­u­ca­tion, he em­barked on a course of study in the prison.

“When I saw the oth­ers study­ing I de­cided to join them. I had plenty of time, so I de­cided to try to ma­tric­u­late again,” he said.

Last year, he passed, with a score of 333.

He was over­joyed and his par­ents were pleased too, he said.

“It’s bad he’s in prison, but good that he passed the exam,” said his mother, Daw Htwe Htwe, 53.

“Ev­ery day I miss him,” she said, show­ing a photo of him ac­cept­ing a prize as a child.

The par­ents live in San­chaung town­ship. His mother is a cleaner and his fa­ther drives a tr­ishaw.

Be­fore he went to prison, Ko San Htwe Maung worked in a photo stu­dio and com­puter shop, so was able to con­trib­ute to the fam­ily ex­penses. De­prived of the ex­tra cash, his par­ents had to move into a small place next to a rel­a­tive’s house.

“We can’t af­ford to rent a house, so now we live a hut in this al­ley. They say they’re go­ing to knock them down to make way for a project. Our son used to sup­port us but now he can’t,” said Daw Htwe Htwe, vis­i­bly up­set.

She can­not be­lieve her son is a mur­derer, but ac­cepts that he got in­volved in a drunken brawl.

“I al­ways tell him to think he must be pay­ing some­thing back for what he did in the past,” she said.

Dur­ing prison vis­its, she grits her teeth to avoid cry­ing.

“One day they will re­lease him. I know that time is not yet. Un­til then, he’ll just have to stay,” she said.

Af­ter ma­tric­u­lat­ing, en­cour­aged by his mother and neigh­bours, Ko San Htwe Maung de­cided to try for a de­gree from the dis­tance univer­sity. Prison of­fi­cials also helped. “Ev­ery­body should have a chance at an ed­u­ca­tion,” said U Myo Oo, a prison of­fi­cer at In­sein. “He’s a role model for the youth wing,” he said.

Now Ko San Htwe Maung, the only dis­tance stu­dent in the prison, is ma­jor­ing in Myan­mar lit­er­a­ture. He says fic­tion is some­thing of an es­cape for him.

But he still gets de­pressed when he thinks about his friends.

“They all have jobs. All I can say is I’ll have to do my best,” he said in a low voice.

Ko San Htwe Maung says he tries to put the dis­ap­point­ments of the past be­hind him, gets on with the present and looks to­ward the fu­ture. He helps other prison­ers with the knowl­edge he can pass on from his time in the com­puter shop.

This year, 20 stu­dents from the In­sein youth wing have ap­plied to at­tend dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion. Many were in­spired by his ex­am­ple.

“The other prison­ers trust him, and he man­aged to per­suade some who were bored by teach­ers,” said prison of­fi­cer Ko Zaw Linn Maung who has helped Ko San Htwe Maung with his stud­ies.

The young man is work­ing harder as fi­nals ap­proach. He be­lieves that earn­ing a de­gree will help him once he leaves prison and starts to look for a job.

His long-term plan is to own his own busi­ness, but he will first have to gain ex­pe­ri­ence in the em­ploy­ment of oth­ers.

With five years to go, he in­tends to keep study­ing, what­ever the exam re­sults. In the mean­time, he will be able to do some teach­ing in the prison.

“If I’m a grad­u­ate I will get prece­dence when I ap­ply for a job,” he said hope­fully. Out­side, the sky seems to brighten a lit­tle.

Photo: Aung Khant

Ko San Htwe Maung is the only dis­tance univer­sity stu­dent at In­sein Prison.

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