After spending 40 years in jail, Jamil Arshad will forever cherish the date March 22 — when he received a royal pardon from the Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.
The period behind bars made Jamil, 63, the longest-serving prisoner in the country, and he was finally returned to his hometown in Kampung Guang, Keliwang, Sembawa in Indonesia this morning.
“When I was informed that I will be getting a royal pardon from Sultan Ibrahim, I almost didn’t believe it because I had been sentenced to life in prison. In 2012, there was a mass amnesty in Johor where the longest-serving prisoner at the time was 37 years, while I had done 29. I said in my heart, I wouldn’t have a chance.
“I believed I was going to die in prison. All I could think of was what would I be bringing with me to the afterlife when I die, so I focused on praying. Yesterday morning, when the Prisons director informed me that I will be getting a pardon, I just didn’t react to it.
“It was only after the Prisons director entered and asked me, Pak Jamil can you sew a Baju Melayu like this? (while showing a picture of a man). I looked and said yes I can. But the director insisted that I look at the picture again and asked to guess who the person was. I recognised the person but I could not recall where I met him before and it turned out that it was my brother, and I immediately went to my room and cried because I could not believe the news,” he told Bernama when met at the Taiping Prison yesterday.
Jamil said he felt grateful to be given an opportunity to spend the remaining days of his life in his village, but deep down, it was hard for him to leave the prison that helped him to turn around and be a useful member of society.
“I am excited to be given a pardon, but at the same time, I am also sad to leave the prison. It’s nice to be released but it’s sad to be separated from the staff who looked after me like a friend and not as a prisoner,” he said.
During his time in prison, Jamil became a skilful tailor and sewed thousands of Baju Melayu and blazers for the prison officers.
Before being transferred to the Taiping Prison, Jamil was sent to the Johor Bahru prison, where he picked up the skill to make rattan furniture like chairs and tables.
In fact, Jamil said that armed with the religious knowledge acquired during his time in the village, in his 40 years of celebrating Hari Raya in prison, he had also led other congregants, including for the Aidilfitri prayers.
Jamil advised the youngsters not to waste their youth and keep steadfast to religion to avoid doing bad deeds.
“When we’re young, we feel empowered when holding a gun, like the world is ours. I was not a good person even when I was in Indonesia, I would be in and out of prison. And thanks to the prison officers here, I was able to change my life and become a human being who has not missed a prayer since the 90s.
“I was determined to change everything. I prayed five times a day and did not miss out on any advice I was given, which made the last 36 years here feel like 36 months. When I look in the mirror, I see that my hair is grey. When I went to jail I was chubby, but now I am thin,” he said, thanking Sultan Ibrahim and the entire staff of Taiping Prison.
Taiping Prison director SAC Nazri Mohamad said Jamil was sent to the Johor Bahru Prison in February 1983 after he was sentenced to life in prison and given six strokes of the cane under Section 5 of the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971 (Act 37) by the Johor Bahru Sessions Court.
Jamil was then transferred to the Taiping Prison in 1986 to serve his sentence.
According to Nazri, on March 22, Jamil received a royal pardon following the Johor State Pardons Board meeting on the condition that he should be deported to Indonesia and take an undertaking not to return to the country again.
Nazri also described Pak Jamil as a pious prisoner who was diligent in everything that he was involved in besides being liked by the other inmates.
“He was active in religious activities and was an imam and taught other inmates to read the Quran. Just mention the name ‘Jamil Hayat’ (as he was affectionately known at the prison) and everyone will say they admire and respect him for his character, leadership and knowledge,” he added.