Astro Ch 555
Beyond Bars: KL’s Pudu Prison
Premieres Sunday 10pm, 26 December 2010 on HISTORY™ (Astro Ch 555)
Encores Monday 6pm, 27 Dec; Tuesday 7pm, 28 Dec
This program is available in Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese subtitles
KL’s Pudu Prison is Malaysia’s most notorious jail, located right smack in the middle of bustling Kuala Lumpur. Built by the British more than 100 years ago, the jail was used to house successive generations of wrongdoers, from triad members and gangsters to rapists, murderers and communist terrorists. Construction of the Pudu Prison began in 1891 and was completed in 1895. It quickly became a statement building – a menacing symbol of British power and harsh penal system.
For more than a century, hardcore criminals, political prisoners and prisoners-of-war during the Japanese Occupation of World War Two were incarcerated behind Pudu’s looming walls. For most of its working life, the death sentences pronounced on the guilty were carried out at the Pudu Prison. One of Malaysia’s most infamous gangsters, Botak Chin, was hanged in 1981.
Former warders remember Botak Chin, seen by some as a folk hero, as being rebellious to the end. “He kept on asking to be hanged,” says former warder Abdul Manap, who worked for 30 years at the Pudu Prison. But even hard men like Botak Chin change when they meet the hangman…
In 1986 Pudu grabbed headlines when triad leader Jimmy Chua, together with five other prisoners, held a visiting doctor and medical assistant hostage.
Chua, an ex-policeman and death row prisoner, had nothing to lose. He wanted out from Pudu – which had become worse than any hell hole on earth.
Built to hold just 600 men, by the 1980s, it was stuffed with more than 5000 prisoners. “Pudu Jail was a time bomb,” says Nor Shahid, a former Pudu prison officer.
Today, Pudu Prison stands derelict, ghostly in downtown Kuala Lumpur – part of its walls have been torn down – a prelude to its reincarnation as a modern integrated development. Some heritage activists, former inmates and warders of Pudu have protested the demolition of this important historical landmark. But money usually speaks louder than sentiment. The old prison stands on prime real estate – ripe for development. The site has been earmarked for the Bukit Bintang City Centre – estimated to cost 1.6 billion US dollars.
“This is a place where I lost so much time and life, and also a place where I suffered for so many years. It’s the place that let me become another person. There’s no right to demolish and destroy it,” insists Tan Ah Lek, a former gangster, now reformed.
Beyond Bars…KL’s Pudu Prison is a one-hour documentary showcasing some never-seen-before footage of the Victorian era prison including the gallows which has since been demolished.
Interviews with formers warders and inmates of Pudu Prison including a death row prisoner provide engaging anecdotes of life as it was inside the jail.
• How does it feel to be on death row? What was it like to handle an execution?
• How do the prisoners make cakes in prison?
• Is Pudu Prison haunted? Have you been disturbed by ghostly spirits?
These are some of the questions that will be answered in the documentary.
Even more exciting is the chance to experience a visual walkthrough with Malaysia’s paranormal researchers doing experiments in various parts of the Pudu Prison – the haunted corridor, the condemned cell and cell ‘111’.
Pudu has its fair share of ghost stories and of restless spirits refusing to leave the prison. Whether they are or are not there, the prison remains a haunting presence in modern Kuala Lumpur – a city that so fervently embraces the future shadowed by its past.
Beyond Bars…KL’s Pudu Prison is the first in-depth documentary with fascinating visual narrative of the historical prison in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The documentary also brings together the views of the authorities, the stories of inmates and warders as well as public opinion on Malaysia’s most infamous prison.
It has housed, removed and buried prisoners of wars and the most notorious criminals known to the Malaysia. The 10 hectares of prime land in Kuala Lumpur on which it rests today have been slated for demolition to be replaced by a commercial and residential complex. Amidst the hue and cry from concerned members of the public, historians and conservationists, is the understated awareness that the last days of the 115-year-old prison are numbered. Beyond Bars: KL’s Pudu Prison, tells the story of Malaysia’s most prominent prison from the eyes of some of it’s most enigmatic characters who lived and worked there.