Lucky prisoners get taste of Spring Festival freedom

Several lucky prisoners are tasting freedom for the first time in years this holiday season, as part of a program initiated by the Ministry of Justice.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A warden puts an electronic bracelet on a prisoner who has been granted freedom for the holiday

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Lu and Zhang walk out of the prison with prison officers.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Lu hugs his wife

Several prisoners from three Shanghai prisons are experiencing the sweet taste of freedom for five days during the Spring Festival under a program initiated by the Ministry of Justice.

The lucky few get to spend the holidays with their loved ones as a way of hastening rehabilitation among selected prisoners.

Strict criteria was applied when considering prisoners for temporary release, including the nature of their crimes, their behavior in prison, and the potential risk to the public.

They included Lu Agen, 56, who was incarcerated in August 2011 on smuggling charges, and his 64-year-old inmate, surnamed Zhang, who was sentenced to 10 years and three months for theft.

At 9am on Thursday, the wardens put electronic bracelets on their wrists — they were told to wear them around the clock before returning to prison five days later.

The devices can show their real-time locations to the prison and send an alert if they leave the city or try to break them.

They were also told to register at local police stations and call the prison to report their daily activities. 

After informing them of the rules, the prison officers gave them two suits of clothes that their families had prepared for them.

Looking at the clothes, both Lu and Zhang, in their prison uniforms, had their eyes well up.

Walking out of the prison gate in casual clothes around 10am, they saw their families waiting for them.

Lu hugged his wife and son. 

He planned to take a bath at a bathhouse before heading home, he said, because it is believed to get rid of bad luck.

He would visit the graves of his parents and the home of his parents-in-law during the festival.

“I’m really grateful to be granted the chance to see my family at such an important occasion,” he said. “I promise I will behave well for the rest of my life.”

Zhang was greeted by his wife and grandson. He said he felt sorry for his family.

“They must have experienced pains and difficulties, but they have never talked about it when they came to see me in the prison,” he said. “The only way for me to pay them back is to reform myself as well as I can and go back home as soon as possible.”

He said he was excited at the chance to reunite with his family in advance.

“I will play with my grandson, take him to the park and buy delicious food for him,” Zhang said. 

Zhang said he would be released in September and see his youngest grandchild, expected to be born in June.

But for now he has one more plan during this short taste of freedom.

“I plan to walk around the neighborhood," he said. "It must have changed a lot in the past seven years.”

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