Realisations of a Malaysian on Singapore’s death row

Pannir Selvam Pranthanam is a Malaysian sentenced to death in Singapore for drug trafficking. — Picture courtesy of Pannir Selvam’s family
Pannir Selvam Pranthanam is a Malaysian sentenced to death in Singapore for drug trafficking. — Picture courtesy of Pannir Selvam’s family

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 — When I was in remand, I was surprised to see a lot of my fellow Malaysian here that have been charged as criminals for drug offences. They were all used as drug mules, their lives treated like a disposable item by the drug traders and kingpins. Some of them do it voluntarily, some for a quick relief out of financial difficulties without knowing the severity of the offence, some because they trusted a wrong friend, some out of greed, and some even didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, but now, they were all staring at the death in the eye.

I am not someone who is familiar with the workings of illegal drug dealings nor with gangster-related matters as well as any other criminal activity. Matter of fact, I would tell that I am not a very knowledgeable person, in a general sense. I am a layperson, working as a security officer who sometime work double shifts to earn extra money. I am not a saint, however, it’s too far for me even to fathom that, and my vices were gambling and drinking.

Loneliness is something that hunts everyone, even a well-connected, socialised person would sometimes feel like they are alone, especially in this digital age where all the advancement in technology should be bringing people close together but it ironically doesn’t. People are breaking apart, drifting far away in their own world, so for those whom are behind the bars, isolated within a jail wall cell — it’s like a cancer, that’s becoming ever malignant.

Moral support and encouragement meant a lot for us. Family visits and letters from our beloved one become our source of hope and strength — it’s relieves the symptoms of that cancer. Some inmates struggle to even read and write in simple English, Malay or Tamil. Those who can, would help the others write for them to address their family or lawyers.

Keeping the brain active in solitary imprisonment is key in helping us to survive the loneliness and hardships, as there a saving, “Use it or Lose it”. This quote applies here.

There was a lot of time for me in prison to do some soul searching and to reflect on my life. Questions like why I am here? Where was I supposed to be? What responsibilities do I have as a son to my parents? As a brother to my siblings? As a fellow human being what are my moral and social responsibilities towards society? Everything that is progressive and constructive is always running in my mind. Being in a prison for nearly for 5 years now, has taught me a lot of things that I was blind to see when I was still out there free. My world, in hindsight, was so small in a sense — I just went to work, paid my bills, watched football, gambled and drank sometimes. That is what pretty much I know and did, most of my adult life.

My level of awareness on social issues and my values in relationships, career progress, life, love, family, freedom, friendship and faith in God was not good. In every aspect where I could have been a better person, I didn’t, and the potential in those area were left untapped. I lived in the present and drifted along with whatever and wherever life brought on.

I am a simple guy. I don’t compare myself to anyone. I don’t envy if others are better, good or richer than me. In hindsight, I am not that good when it comes to choosing the right friends for me as I don’t judge others, when I get to know someone. I won’t be thinking, back in my head, “How to make use of him or how to cheat him or what do I have to gain from this friendship?” Nor will I think if such a person has any bad intentions towards me or is thinking about using of me. I don’t have this critical thinking mind set. I just accept people as who they are. There is a name for this type of a person, a person like me, and its “Stupid” & “Naïve”, but that’s just who I was then, I was just me.

We human beings have a tendency to take things for granted, and we won’t be aware of it until it’ too late. We don’t realise how much something or someone means to us until the moment we lose them. Sometimes, it’s those simple things in life that we fail to recognise are the ones that have an important lesson to teach us in life. Like having a simple meal with our family, making a phone call to your mum and dad, spending quality time with siblings, having the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want, breathing fresh air, seeing the sunset, strolling in the park, and seeing shining stars.

Everything becomes scared and invaluable when we fail to appreciate what we had then, and now means so much to us. One thing that rips your heart apart is the moment of realisation that you can’t do the right things that you wanted to do so much. You keep telling yourself, “If I were given one last opportunity at life, just one chance to amend my mistake and to work for common good of our society, I would take it.” I will never ever able to forgive myself now as I’ve let my chance slip away. 

No one could take away nor fathom the grief and regret you’ve felt knowing that your action in that spur of moment had cost you your life. Deep within us all, there lies a fire of sincerity in our hearts to do the right things, and the fire will never burn out and nor hope will ever fade away. A gem cannot be polished without some friction nor can a man progress without adversity. ‘When a man’s fight begins within himself, he is worth something’- Robert Browning

I don’t want to waste my time anymore. I have been improving my English and developing my reading habits. There are some authors that I’ve grown to really like reading such as David Baldacci, John Grisham, Michael Connelly, Harlen Coben, Sidney Sheldon and Lee Child. I would read till the wee hours of morning at 4am or 5am. I had my family to bring me SPM test books in the latest SPM exam format so that I can do the exercises, learn more and improve my mental faculty.

Sometime people will laugh at me saying, “What you are you going to do by learning all this now? We are on death row now and waiting to die, then why trouble yourself?” But I want to. Besides that, there stress here by itself can make us inmates lose our minds, albeit slowly.

I never lose hope or give up and never stop learning whatever I can with the time I have. ‘Be a student as long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life — Henry L. Doherty.

As how Napoleon Hill put it, “We must resolve to throw off the influences of our unfortunate environment and build our life”. Lots of people that have been less fortunate and under privileged have done that and succeeded.

For example, Michael Milton, the six-times Paralympic Gold Medallist. Oprah Winfrey, she was born into poverty and had a troubled childhood. She lost a child when she was 14, but now, she is a billionaire and is one of the most powerful and influential activist, host and philanthropist in the world. Heller Keller is deaf and blind but managed to graduate from college, became an author, activist and lecturer of extraordinary influence. 

As such, why should you and I give up? I believe there lies unlimited talent, passion and purpose, which lies dormant within us that we still can discover and we surprise ourselves sometimes with 

what we can achieve.

Faith in God 

After getting arrested and be held as a prisoner for a capital case, my life had gone upside down, to say at the very least. I was troubled with the uncertainty of the future. It didn’t help as well to hear every now and then that people in the same predicament as me being sentenced to death.

Even when I didn’t want to think about death, the thought of it comes as an uninvited guest and it will always linger over in mind, refusing to go away. At the age of 27, when my life hasn’t barely begun, trying to understand death was something hard to digest.

There’s a saying — ‘for any human being, next to living well is the importance of dying well’ but now, my life is already over, and it is like a living hell.  Thinking of the possibilities of getting hanged is not a very comforting vision, and so I can’t meet the above two requirements anymore.

I was far away from God at that moment but God has never been far from me. Its takes me some time to realise this truth. My heart feely heavy and all I can muster myself to say is “I am sorry Jesus”.

Hope to live 

As I said earlier, even when everything was going against me. I do not used my energy to entertain negative thoughts nor dwell on my predicament. I try to discover myself and the silver lining through all of this and I channel all my energy to do so that I would not dwell in dark thoughts. 

I found that studying about social science and humanities is something that I was interested in and it addresses my passion towards society. The imminent prospect of death had made me realise how much value a life is and we human beings, individual and as a whole, have a moral and social obligation towards mankind. As I reflected on my life, I’ve now also realised how important it is to have an enriching environment for the betterment of growing kids and youth and the next generation that will inherit this world from us.

I have a goal. I hope to live on and I have a passion and direction in what I can do, if I ever do live. I’ve share whatever I can here, and if you’re reading this, I’m eternally thankful. This is just a small part of what I know, I believe I can be a better person. I have done my best to change in this 5 years and I will do the same in coming days. I value my life so much now and I want to be there for my family too, as well atone for sins to them, society and my country.

If given a chance, I’d do what I can to save a life. In my defence, I did not murder anyone, I did not take anyone’s life but I do admit my mistakes and I sincerely apologise as I did not know it was heroin and I wish for a chance to heal and fix the mess that I have caused in my ignorance and foolishness. I sincerely want to right my wrongs not just because I am guilty but I think everyone of us have moral responsibility to live their lives, the best they can, to the service of others.

Taking my life away can never justify my involvement in this, but giving it back to me with a second chance, would justify, I believe, the life I would live from then on.

* Pannir Selvam Pranthanam is a Malaysian sentenced to death in Singapore for drug trafficking. This article was provided to Malay Mail by his sister who said the piece was “structured” from letters he wrote from prison. It has been reproduced here in its entirety and verbatim.

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