Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Goodbye Pudu Prison

During my younger days, I often passed the Pudu Prison on my way to the city centre to shop or watch a movie or simply to lepak with my friends at snack bars like Rendezvous or Oasis. As I passed the prison, I can't help but notice that, especially in the mornings, there would be a line of prisoners or inmates, on 'patrol', walking down the path outside the prison walls, flanked by two prison guards, one in front and one at the back on their way to attend to their morning chores. The inmates could be seen carrying brooms, sickles and rattan baskets. The policemen, during those days, wore khaki colored uniforms with the pants three quarter long and the 'fez' looking hat.

The building did not mean much to me except that I was told by my dad that if I did anything 'naughty', that was where I would be spending time in order for me to repent. It was only when the news came that the building would be demolished that a sense of nostalgia sank in. The question I have been asking since then was, why the need to demolish? Now, earlier, we were told that there weren't enough rooms to house the inmates so there was a need to relocate it to Kajang. Next thing, I heard it was to make way for development. Another reason was, it would be an eyesore to have a prison block right in the city centre. So I am wondering which is which?

Anyway the die is cast and the prison is now being ripped apart from top to bottom. When the MP for Bukit Bintang Fong Kui Lun (DAP) asked why the building is not being retained as part of Malaysia's heritage, Deputy Finance Minister Awang Adek Hussain (UMNO-BN) replied: "To our opinion, it's not something to be proud of." What a cock-eyed reply. Of course, Pudu Prison or for that matter, any prison is nothing to be proud of. But in the case of Pudu Prison, it can be treated part of our heritage and can be renovated into a touristic site. Let's take a look at some other countries:

1. The Bastille in France. Today, France celebrates Bastille Day on every July 14 to commemorate the founding of the replublic.
2. Alcatraz in the States. Founded in 1934 and is a tourist attraction today. The prison have played host to criminals like Al Capone.
3. The Tower of London. Founded by Richard the Lion Heart (1189-1199) and has undergone many changes since then.

Our Pudu Prison qualifies to be among these greats for it was built in 1895. You take away the prison, you take away our history, or is UMNO trying to portray it's so-called righteousness again?

A prominent feature of the prison is the mural painting on its outer walls done by former inmate, Khong Yen Chong, in the 1980s. Stretching out to more than 260m long, the mural used up nearly 2,000 litres of paint. The painting earned Khong the Guiness Stout Effort Award for "outstanding achievement in his world record work of art."

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