The previous post of “Cinderella” – it’s just one part of what had happened on a day I regard as “magical”. However, the start to Monday November 21, 2005 was actually a lot less pleasant than being floored by a dreamy song – you might get floored… literally.
Welcome to Pusat Serenti Gambang where the culture of “Abang-Abang” or “The Rights and Superiority of Seniors” is the rule and is zealously enforced. It is the day that each and every newcomer waits with dread, and he is filled with terror as his time to face it arrives.
This is the day when he steps out of the Detox building after a two-week stay in a cell and is taken to the Orientasi block about 150 metres away.
“So what’s the problem with that?”, you might ask. Well, you won’t just be taking a `lenggang’ stroll to your hostel, for that 150 metres might be the toughest you’ll undertake in your whole life.
Before you get to watch television and Cinderella or whatever, you have to pay tribute – in whatever form demanded – to those more senior than you. And that’s everyone else you were to encounter or taken to on the stretch below (crudely marked in blue, from the start at bottom left. Then it’s to the kitchen and canteen, passing by the Cendana hostel in yellow, police post and Orientasi “B”. Click on image for a better view and place marks).
The place you fear most is the kitchen, which will be the first stop. When I first arrived on Nov 7, I was put in Cell 2. There were four inmates, including three who would leave Detox the following morning. That left me and 286/05 `Mat Tiger’, who was there a week earlier.
There was a problem with the three – 281/05 Zul, 32, a former soldier from KL was a `samseng’ outside and had been in pusat and prison a few times, the experience of which should have helped him handle Gambang. But due to his temper, he committed a grave error where he had argued with a kitchen crew sending food and cursed him with the obscene `Puk*mak’. Now those in the kitchen were waiting to extract their revenge.
Unfortunately, the other two would unjustly have to pay for Zul’s insolence too for they would go together. One of them was 280/05 Hanafi, 26 from Triang – to be known as the best sepak takraw player at Gambang. He was also with me and 279/05 `Rosli Tukang Gunting’ at PKAADK Kuantan 10 months later.
From our cell, Mat Tiger and I could hear the shoutings and commotion as the three were put through various physically painful `exercises’ and humiliations, with various seniors shouting abuses at them. We were quiet, thinking about our future sufferings. And a week after Mat Tiger left the cell, it was now my turn…
Even if your heart was filled with terror or whatever, there was no escaping this gauntlet. I couldn’t do anything, except to just prepare myself for whatever the seniors decide on. It was raining that day, and I – like everyone coming out – was in blue shorts… and shirtless. A Pengawas (Prefect) was my escort… `Jaafar Pak Long’, a couple of years older than I was. And he, by virtue of being a pengawas, was also `a Rajah’ at Gambang – he had an umbrella to shield himself from the heavy rain.
First stop, the dreaded kitchen. Already, a mob of five had left their work and assembled to `orientate the newcomer’. This is the crunch for me – all alone and at the mercy of the kitchen mob. The first thing was to give greetings and thank the crew for bringing our food… LOUDLY: “Assalamualaikum, Abang-Abang dapur. Saya, 287/05 xx dari Pasir Mas, Kelantan, ucap terima kasih kepada Abang-Abang semua.”
No matter how loud, the newbie would always receive mocking shouts “What was that?? Can’t hear you – SPEAK LOUDER!!” Another went “Tak dengaaaarrr!!”; Another “KUAT… KUAT LAGIII!!”
But I must have had a guardian angel – out of the corner of my eye, I could see – or felt – the prefect putting up his palms vertically and horizontally to form a `T’. It was “Payung” (umbrella)… “Give him a break”. Then a tough-looking inmate approached me – a crew had screamed a maniacal “SKALI LAGIIIII!”, but the toughie signalled for them to cut it out… which they did. It’s obvious this guy had a lot of clout. He was `Snek’, around 30, from Taiping; and he was one of the three `top toughies’ at Gambang.
He invited me to sit at a bench, and asked someone to get some food and drink. The latter returned with a cetong of tea with milk and buns. Spoke a bit with me, rolled tobacco with newspaper and gave it to me after a few puffs. I was surprised – and worried – there was the kitchen officer inside who could see what we were doing. Smoking is, after all, forbidden in all pusat. At the Pengkalan Chepa prison, you would be whacked with a thick rattan – or worse. But Snek said, “Tak apa, hisap lah… takde apa kat sini”. Okay, thanks!
I didn’t get it anywhere near as bad as the others – in fact, those who knew about this would express envy that I got away unscathed while they had suffered. What happened? For one thing, I didn’t look too well; and the Pengawas was worried “something bad might happen”.
Then there was Snek – this was one of those who were `samseng’; loutish, no qualms about beating up others. BUT he was also with principles; was respectful of those older. And to him, I was to be protected, not preyed upon…
The prefect took me down the slope where I passed the Cendana hostel. Of course I didn’t know what it was then; that this would be my hostel after 3 months. The rain was a lucky break for me actually – the residents must have been sleeping on that chilly morning. Were they looking for some cheap fun, a newcomer would be halted and made to pay some tribute first before moving on – clean the toilets, or clear the drains, or massage someone for free…
Then it was to Orientasi `B’; one of two hostels for the red-shirted Phase 1. There was fencing all around, and unlike the other `seniors hostels’, the gate was always locked. A police post stood as sentry in front. This was the last hurdle before I go from shirtless to red-shirt. Again, I was in luck. The prefect, walking behind, pointed at me and again put up the `T’ `Payung’ sign.
An orientation routine gone bad had resulted in the inmates at that hostel being more cautious. Then newcomer 278/05 Dollah was doing the exercising routines demanded when he fainted and fell into the ditch. He was a HIV-chronic case, which the inmates didn’t know. That shocked them, and they were now extremely lenient with anyone who didn’t look too well.
The inmate in charge of discipline, with the title of Squad Leader, was 250/05 Zaidi @ Dugong. Now this was another toughie with principle and charisma… a natural leader. Besides pusat and prison, he was also a detainee at Simpang Renggam under preventive laws. And the Checker at his block, which said something of the high regard other criminals had for him.
Anyway, I only had to give Salam, say who I was and ask for permission to go in. The first attempt was met with a token “Ask again”, which I did. And the reply then was “Boleh Masuk!”… followed by going up to shake hands with each and every one.
“You had it damn easy,” Mat Tiger said. He told me that he had to crawl under the double-decker beds for two full rounds – and that was after some jumping jacks and push-ups of a few hundred. And I got my red shirt – I was from then a part of the group.. the Sixth Session of 2005; an equal with the others. A few hours later, I heard that Sehati Sejiwa song…
I felt a sense of camaraderie and of belonging. A guy from Tanah Merah, Kelantan gave me his extra pillow – just salvaged sponge with a cloth covering, but the comfort was appreciated. Mat Tiger and another inmate gave me slit sarongs – as a blanket and cover for the sleeping plank (only Phase 2 and above get a mattress).
It was the start to the floods with heavy rains, and despite the thinness of the `blanket’, I was filled with gratitude for having these at least… and for the kind-hearted new friends that I’ve made.
That night, I sat on the upper bed looking at the rain outside, and alternatively at what was on TV. It was “pusat serenti”, court-ordered, with many more months to go. But somehow, I was at peace… it felt cosy, I felt “among friends” and I was contented. And I resolved to be someone of value to “My Group” in any way I could… and I resolved to try and be someone better than that person who was arrested on Aug 11 while trying to obtain morphine…