goTaiping Everlasting Peace
                                                    Taiping, Perak, Malaysia


Pak Rashid is still looking for an identity

 - after 31 years in Taiping prison


He now shares a small two-bedroom house with Wahab, and "Koriang" -- a mother cat -- with her three kittens called Tompok, Merah, and Chomot.

The kittens are surrogates to the children that Salleh will probably never have.

"Even though we made a hole in the wall for them to go out and answer the call of nature, the kittens aren't so toilet-trained at all.

"There are times when I come home and the living room is a real mess.

"If I'm really tired, I just go into my room, shut the door and leave them to do whatever they like," said Salleh.

The two brothers just live for the day, earning between RM20 and RM30 a day from repairing shoes which they use to buy food.

And, although Salleh is qualified for welfare assistance, he said he won't ask for it because he felt that he could still manage for now.

He has two more younger brothers -- Ahmad and Zulkifli -- who live in Baling, Kedah, and a younger sister Fatimah, who lives in Muadzam, 4km from Changkat Jering. Between those three, Salleh is an uncle 13 times over.

"I haven't decided yet whether to spend Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Baling this year. Our motorcycle was stolen recently.

"Having been a robber myself, I'm not surprised. Thieving is a normal thing in this world, isn't it? God is probably paying me back for my sins," Salleh laughed.

In 1975, when he was just 26, Salleh and an accomplice decided to rob a Felda vehicle carrying a consignment of cash.

They were caught and because it was an armed robbery, they were sentenced to jail for the rest of their natural lives. A natural life sentence means the prisoner will never be released.

Unlike a life sentence where a prisoner gets a maximum 20 years, or 14 years with good behaviour, the only way a natural life convict can get out is through a royal pardon.

At the time he was released in 2006, at age 57, Salleh had spent almost five extra years in prison than he had lived as a free man.

He has to live up to the age of 62 before he evens out the time he spends in the outside with those he spent in the inside. He is now 60.

Salleh had no idea how the cost of living had increased in 31 years because he was in jail for so long.

"A cup of black coffee used to cost satu kupang (10 sen); but now it's lapan kupang (80 sen).

"It was such a big difference that I thought 'Is this real? Are the sellers trying to cheat me?'," Salleh said.

"It took him a while to get accustomed to living on the outside," said Wahab, who is 21 years Salleh's junior.

Wahab was only 5-years-old when his big brother was sent to jail.

"Before he went in, there were only one-lane roads. Now, there are multiple lanes and he doesn't know how to ride in the busy traffic.

"Sometimes he just stops in the middle of the road," said Wahab, who rode pillion with Salleh while he was learning how to ride a motorcycle.

"Prison is a part of his life that whenever we talked, it's common for him to start a sentence with 'In prison...'

"Even after three years, he still hasn't found his bearings. He's still out of time and feels misplaced," said Wahab.

"He's looking for an identity for himself; whether to continue living from his interrupted youth, or to be an old person; whether to be a good person, or the tearaway that he was when he was young.

"At the moment, he just layan hidup (takes each day as it comes)," said Wahab.

The brothers' lives revolve around waking up and going to the market. Their world is all within a one-kilometre radius of their home and they hardly wander out of it.

Therefore, Salleh's life outside isn't any more exciting than inside Taiping Prison.

But, he is a free man.

"While I was in prison, even though I watched television, I always imagined how life outside would be like in the '70s.

"But it's actually more challenging and difficult.

"I don't feel disappointed. I just have to learn to live in this era," said Salleh.

"My productive years were wasted in prison. If I hadn't done what I did, I wouldn't have spent almost 31 years in jail.

"Maybe I would have had children and become as successful as my friends.

"That is an alternate life I can never realise. And I just have to accept that," he said.