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Prison journal spells out good news

By Li Wenfang in Guangzhou  (China Daily)

18:43, May 03, 2013

Odoh is an enthusiastic contributor to a journal that is making headlines for all the right reasons.

The Nigerian citizen wrote 45 articles last year for the four-page journal published in Panyu Prison, Guangzhou, Guangdong province.

Fourteen of his articles were used in the journal, published in English and Chinese, and his hard work was recognized with an award from the prison authority.

"I wrote on life, endurance, love and family. I encouraged people to have patience in life," Odoh said.

He was happy to receive "gifts" such as the paper and pens provided by the prison administration for writing, and payment for the articles used.

"Since I entered prison, I realized the only way to get ready for the future is to learn," he said. "I learned a lot (from the journal) about Chinese culture and I learned how to associate with inmates.

"It's good to read about the prison, about people in prison and how to pay attention to rehabilitation. I also like reading about Chinese law."

The prison has been taking foreigners since 2009 and more than 100 of them are inmates.

The journal was launched in March last year in response to this.

"The Panyu Prison Newspaper boosts the education and rehabilitation of foreign inmates," said prison warden He Fang.

"It helps foreign inmates adjust to the environment of the prison and speeds up their rehabilitation."

Correctional officer Yan Xiaohong agreed.

"We felt that due to the differences in culture and understanding, English content in the journal would be necessary for better education and rehabilitation.

"Although we promoted Chinese law at meetings and by video, we had to do more to help the foreign inmates," he explained. "A paper is convenient as it can be read repeatedly.

Prison: Journal a good way to learn language

"Few of them knew any Chinese at the beginning.'' Some foreign inmates were initially reluctant but gradually integrated into the project. The journal has played a positive role in the process."

Page 1 of the journal covers prison news and pages 2 and 3 carry articles from Chinese and foreign inmates.

"We encourage inmates to write for the journal," Yan said, adding the journal has received 240 articles from foreign inmates, with 64 published.

An article entitled "Life is a teacher" by an inmate identified as David starts: "Among the many teachers in this world, life is the ultimate teacher. As babies, our parents are teachers. As adults, government becomes our teacher. Then, here comes the lesson of life."

Page 4 is devoted to topics such as Chinese culture, law, customs, history and health.

Yan was impressed at the quality of writing.

"Foreign inmates have a straightforward way of writing. We could feel it was heartfelt."

Special events for foreign inmates also include a Christmas celebration with greeting cards to mail home.

Translation is done by Xiao, a Chinese inmate, who once worked for customs.

Some of the cases reported in the journal touched him deeply, he said.

Meng, a Chinese inmate who had been a software developer, is responsible for page design and graphics.

The four editors, all inmates, are also responsible for searching for suitable content for page 4.

The journal serves as a good platform for inmates to learn English and Chinese, Meng said.

"A number of foreign inmates learn Chinese and speak very good Chinese now and many Chinese inmates use the time in prison as an opportunity to learn English," Meng said.

Many Chinese inmates registered for the two English classes last year, he said.

A Chinese class was also provided and two foreign inmates even performed in Chinese in a Spring Festival gala, Yan said.

The bilingual journal is not the only way of communicating with foreign inmates. The prison has a dozen officers who speak English.

Newspapers posted on walls in the prison are all bilingual and the internal TV prison news has English subtitles. English-language books and newspapers are available at the prison library and book suppliers come to the prison sometimes so inmates can buy books.

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