Sun, Feb 24, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Rehabilitated ex-con plays drums

Staff writer, with CNA

A-gan, a rehabilitated former convict who has become a key member of the U-Theatre group, gives a performance at an event organized by the Ministry of Justice on Friday to demonstrate the success of its “remedial justice” campaign.

Photo: Hsing Cheng-chen, Taipei Times

The Ministry of Justice on Friday invited an ex-convict to give a drumming performance to demonstrate the success of its “remedial justice” campaign.

The campaign was introduced by the ministry a few years ago to promote dialogue and reconciliation between criminals and their victims.

Eight years ago, the ex-convict, identified only as “A-gan” (阿甘), was sentenced to more than five years in prison for assaulting a man surnamed Chu (朱) during a dispute.

A-gan was also ordered to pay damages of more than NT$3 million (US$100,000) in compensation for the serious injuries inflicted on Chu.

Upon hearing the verdict, A-gan shouted in court that he “should have hurt Chu more seriously.”

Today, because of the justice ministry’s campaign, Chu is a fan of A-gan’s drumming and said he has forgiven the man who inflicted so much pain on him.

According to ministry officials, A-gan, who is from a broken family, had been in prison for more than a year when he came to the attention of the renowned performing arts group U-Theatre during a percussion class at Changhua Prison.

After A-gan was released on parole, he got a job with U-Theatre and developed a passion for drumming.

With the help of the performing group, Changhua Prison and the Legal Aid Foundation, A-gan was able to establish contact with Chu and apologize to him, the officials said.

Chu was invited to speak at Friday’s press conference, but he declined, saying he did not want to distract from the intended focus of the event.

Chu instead issued a recorded statement.

“The injuries have made my life miserable,” he said, adding that he often cannot sleep even after 10 sleeping pills.

He said that during the litigation, he could not bring himself to forgive A-gan because his attacker showed no remorse or regret. Chu said he ignored the many letters A-gan sent him from prison.

Saying he had hated A-gan previously, Chu, who was burdened with huge medical expenses after he was injured and he often suffered epileptic seizures as result of his head trauma, later chose to forgive him and agreed to a settlement of NT$600,000 in damages.

He said the events between him and A-gan over the years led him to realize that “forgiveness is not just one-sided.”

Speaking about his ministry’s remedial justice program, Minister of Justice Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) said that most convicts have difficulty finding a job once they are released and often return to crime when they have no money.

Currently there are about 65,000 inmates in Taiwan’s correctional institutions, who have to return to society someday, Tseng said. If the ministry can help them find jobs upon release, it will not only reduce the recidivist rate, but also improve the manpower problem in the market, he said.

Last year, an estimated 396 manufacturers took part in a job fair held specifically for ex-convicts, offering them 2,180 jobs, according the ministry.

Feng Kuo-ching, the owner of a restaurant and bakery in Hualien, said he was an example of the success of the ministry’s campaign.

He said he was sent to prison as a young man, but obtained loans from the Taiwan After-care Association to start his own business after he was released on parole.

Feng said he now employs more than 10 ex-convicts at his restaurant and bakery.

“I’m willing to give former inmates a chance,” he said.

However, he added that his was just a small business and that he hoped other enterprises would join the program to provide opportunities to former inmates.

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