GOING from teaching straight-A students to young prisoners whose crimes range from armed robbery to drug dealing and rape might not seem like most people’s idea of career progression, but Eliza Jeremiah begs to differ.

After 20 years of what she describes as “glamour” at a top school in Bangi, Selangor, she made the decision to apply to Sekolah Integriti Kajang (SIK) which houses about 200 boys ranging in age from 13 to 21.

“I prayed about it,” she said. “My two sons are grown up, and I felt like doing something more – I wanted to contribute to society.”
After two years of soul-searching and discussions with her husband and sons, Eliza interviewed at the prison school.

She’s now the assistant supervisor for academics, a position she has held for almost two years, and she has never been happier. She also teaches Mathematics.

“I was shocked when I arrived,” she said. “On my first day here, I was about to climb the stairs. There was a boy halfway up, but he walked back down, greeted me, and then walked up after me!

“In other schools, the students not only don’t make way for you to pass, they might even bump into you and not even stop to apologise. But not here.”

Good behaviour aside, there was, of course, a need for her to adjust her expectations when it came to academic success. After decades of expecting (and receiving) As from all her students, she’s now happy with a handful of Bs.

“Last year, it was my first time in 23 years of teaching that none of my students got an A in Mathematics,” she said. “But I have no regrets.”
When asked about the difference between teaching in her previous school and a school full of young convicts, she said it didn’t bother her very much.

She did marvel at their light fingers, though. “They can steal a pen from right under your nose! The only clue I have that something is wrong is when the whole class starts snickering.”

However, she said it’s all just boyish naughtiness, nothing malicious.

“Having two sons, I know when boys are just being mischievous,” she said. “They will test you, but once you earn their respect and prove that you do care, they will show their enthusiasm to learn.”

She, in turn, gives them the respect they deserve, taking care to treat them as adults and teach them to the best of her formidable abilities.

“The court has punished them already, it’s not our place to punish them more every day. We are here to do what we can to help them recover and move on.

“We want them to realise that one mistake doesn’t mean they are condemned forever.”

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