Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄), who served as premier and Presidential Office secretary-general in the former Democratic Progressive Party administration, has stepped away from the limelight and now works as a full-time volunteer for the Prison Fellowship Taiwan.
The story of Chang’s transition from a leading figure in the central government to a volunteer began in May 2008, when the organization received a telephone call asking for Reverend Huang Ming-chen (黃明鎮).
Recalling that call, Huang said he was surprised to hear someone calling himself Chang Chun-hsiung saying he wished to volunteer for the group to help inmates and death-row prisoners. Huang was moved by the call.
Since that first telephone call in 2008, Chang has spent the past four years traveling around Taiwan and its outlying islands, leaving his footprints in nearly 50 prisons nationwide.
Chang has met many prisoners and seeks to boost the morale of those awaiting execution on death-row, often meeting with them for in-depth one-on-one conversations. This helps inmates to calm down, but it can also allow them to understand the reasons why they have been given such a sentence.
One of the convicts who has been consoled by Chang is Huang Ling-chi (黃凌奇), who killed his 10-month-old daughter by throwing her into a pot of boiling water in 2009.
Huang had been living with his partner, Lin Yu-chin (林玉琴), and after an argument about his drinking problem, he threw his 10 month-old daughter into a pot of boiling water. Although the baby was sent to hospital, a delay in her treatment meant that she died four days later.
Huang Ling-chi met Chang in the Changhua Detention Center — some days after he had committed the act — and Chang told the disconsolate man that even if the court did not issue a death sentence for his actions, killing his daughter would nonetheless weigh heavily on his soul unless he repented.
When they met again, Chang said Huang Ling-chi had taken to reading the Bible and even led other inmates in prayer. Chang said that he offered to stand as a witness if Huang wanted to be baptized.
Huang Ling-chi and eight other prisoners were baptized on Dec. 25, 2009, and keeping his word, Chang not only attended and stood witness, he held Huang Ling-chi’s hands after the ceremony and told him to cherish his religious rebirth.
Chang said he once helped an inmate who had spent 30 years in and out of prison. The man was initially convicted for juvenile theft, but after a life of crime, ended up on death row.
Chang said that prisons are often severely short of staff to facilitate rehabilitation, so many prisoners end up getting into more trouble after being released from prison.
“I told the man that although the court had issued a death sentence, the sentence on his conscience could only be served through belief [in God,]” Chang said, adding that he hoped the man would sincerely apologize to his victims or their family members.
“I promised him that I would help him with his will,” Chang added, saying that he also tried to encourage the convicted men to donate their organs.
More than 6,000 people in Taiwan are on the country’s organ transplant waiting list, but only a few hundred people a year sign up to donate their organs, Chang said.
Chang’s dedication to helping both death-row convicts and the families of victims also rubs off on those whom he meets, the former premier said.