What it feels like…

Esquire (Singapore) - - Contents -

to serve time in de­ten­tion bar­racks.

I was sen­tenced to nine months for con­sump­tion of mar­i­juana while I was in Na­tional Ser­vice. Sit­u­ated within Kranji Camp 3, rows of tow­er­ing barb­wire fences sep­a­rate the SAF De­ten­tion Bar­racks from the rest of the camp.

Most of the peo­ple with whom I in­ter­acted were serv­ing longer sen­tences for [other se­ri­ous of­fences]. They were the least of my wor­ries—some code-switch­ing, sport­ing a tat­too or two and a lit­tle bilin­gual­ism will get you far, but it’s easy to de­tach your­self from the gang ac­tiv­ity and ran­dom frays. Once in a while, vi­o­lent de­tainees who liked to sharpen things and spit at the guards would end up in soli­tary—a 1x2m cell that lacks a proper bath­room.

There’s no Wi-Fi or any sem­blance of tech­nol­ogy inside. The only things that con­nect us to the real world are books and letters. Once a week, you get letters that are sub­ject to checks by the mil­i­tary police… that is if they de­cide to do their jobs; if they don’t, in­mates who haven’t seen their par­ents/wives/chil­dren in months are de­prived of their only form of con­tact for another week.

The whole chrone­mics [the study of the role of time in com­mu­ni­ca­tion] screws with your senses. The cell has a lit­tle win­dow that was cov­ered up dur­ing my first month be­cause of con­struc­tion within the com­pound. Half the block didn’t get to see the out­side. No sky, no Coper­ni­cus.

Food wasn’t pre­pared on-site and it came on sad-looking food trays, which were slid un­der our barred doors. Each tray was filled with starchy, cold rice, and the rest that’s ei­ther a ‘pro­tein’—usu­ally pro­cessed fish­balls or canned hot dogs—and a veg­etable, which is just steamed cab­bage. We got three meals a day and some­times they got served late, but we wouldn’t know be­cause we had no ac­cess to clocks.

Due to the yard be­ing ren­o­vated, our sand­bag regime—an ar­du­ous cir­cu­lar march while car­ry­ing huge bags of sand—was on an un­even plot of con­crete about half the size of a basketball court. The sand­bag regime has since been phased out and de­tainees now do the reg­u­lar 5BX [Five Ba­sic Ex­er­cises].

Be­cause DB is con­sid­ered a mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity, yard time doesn’t fol­low proper ‘prison’ leg­is­la­tion. Yard time en­tails a cer­tain ra­tio of NS reg­u­lars to pris­on­ers: if there weren’t enough NS reg­u­lars, de­tainees never see the sun. So, in De­cem­ber, when they were clear­ing their an­nual leave, some de­tainees never left their cells for close to a month.

‘Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion’ is a strong word. I guess ‘de­ter­rence’, which is the goal of our jus­tice sys­tem, would be more fit­ting. Avoid­ing DB or any sim­i­lar en­counter is prob­a­bly the great­est de­ter­rent be­sides hav­ing lots to lose. This D-grade sab­bat­i­cal wasn’t worth the crime at all. I did, how­ever, come out the other side more self-aware and grounded.

By Marshall, 20s, stu­dent

(Names and iden­ti­fy­ing fea­tures have been changed for this ar­ti­cle.)

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