While visitors panted due to the lack of oxygen in the prison at 3,672 meters above sea level, prisoners in blue uniforms were playing basketball, shouting and laughing.
In a reading-room at the prison in the Tibet Autonomous Region in Lhasa, several female prisoners were bending their heads over novels, textbooks and folktales about Tibet.
Wall newspapers displaying essays and poems written by female prisoners were posted in the courtyard. The atmosphere in the prison was quiet and in good order.
A menu on the blackboard in the dining-room showed: butter tea and roasted barley flour for breakfast, rice, boiled meat and radish for lunch, steamed bread and cabbage vermicelli soup for supper.
Each prisoner was allotted 20-kg rice or wheat flour, five-kg meat, 15-kg vegetables every month, as well as some tea and ghee.
In the corridor of the prison, roses planted by the prisoners were blooming. In a classroom, a female drill master wearing glasses and a police uniform was teaching a male prisoner how to read book. In another room, a male instructor was giving a lesson to Tibetan prisoners in the Tibetan language.
Eight male prisoners were preparing a chorus, playing guitar and electronic organ. “This prison reminds me of a school except for the electrified wires on the high wall,” a journalist visiting the prison said.
There are nearly 1,000 criminals in the prison, the largest of the three prisons in Tibet. A total of 2,300 criminals are imprisoned in the autonomous region currently.
The ratio of imprisonment in the region is much lower than the national average. About 85 percent of the criminals in custody were convicted of corruption, theft, or homicide, and five percent were imprisoned for the crime of jeopardizing state security. Seventy percent of the criminals are Tibetans.
Thirty-five-year old Tungya, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for corruption, was helping in the kitchen. She was allowed to reunite with her husband and two children during the Tibetan New Year last February,
Tungya exchanged letters with her husband and children, and they visited her every month.
“I always encourage my children to study hard,” said Tungya. Her penalty has been reduced twice because of her good behavior in the prison.
Doje was sentenced to 15 years for robbery. He has spent most of the pin money given to him by the prison and his family on cigarettes. The Tibetan Buddhist abides by his belief in the prison.
He loves watching TV. The male prisoners share a large TV set, and they are allowed to watch TV on four evenings every week.
Dawayangjin, a 31-year-old nun, was put into jail for taking part in turbulence in Lhasa. She will finish her term of imprisonment in one year.
“I very much regret what I have done. I was illiterate before I came here, knowing nothing about the history of Tibet and laws of China. I was instigated to participate in the turbulence,” she said.
Dawayangjin received cultural education in the prison. “I have never been scolded nor beaten here. When I was ill, they took me to hospital,” she said.
“I still want to be a nun after I leave prison. Nobody forced me to give up my belief,” she added.
Pan Xiaogang, who took his doctorate of computers at a university in the United States, has the highest education level in the prison. He was sentenced to life in prison for the crime of swindling.
Currently, he gives English and computer lessons to other prisoners. At the same time, he has written three movie scripts, and is writing a novel about Tibet.
“The novel will be published this August, if everything goes right,” he said. Pan refuses to accept his penalty and he is lodging a judicial complaint. He said that his appeal was not blocked. Some prison guards help prisoners write appeal documents.
“All the prisoners received strict judicial trials before they came here, and the complete court trial records are well housed,” said Meng Deli, director of the autonomous region’s department of justice, adding that nobody was put into jail for the so-called reason of hanging the portrait of the Dalai Lama.
Katil Sibal, a United Nations’ official on detaining issue, who visited the prison four years ago, said that criminals here have received humanitarian treatment.