"I had decided to join the CSD after a career talk in my high school...."
Five months ago, Sukhdeep Kaur was beaming with joy as she marched along fellow batch mates after completing the Hong Kong Correctional Services Department (CSD) training.
She conquered the physical fitness test as well as tests on aptitude and basic law.
After a determined chase, she realised her dream of a donning a uniform. And in the process, she had also made history by becoming the department’s first Sikh female officer. Yet another feather in the turban for Sikhs globally.
“I had decided to join the CSD after a career talk in my high school. I always wanted to wear their uniform, I found it quite attractive,” she told Asia Samachar in an interview.
Once she had set her mind, the Hongkonger was absolutely relentless in making her dream come true.
“Then I had to pass this physical test involving 5 tasks. I trained myself for that for almost three months, running 10k and doing gym. After passing that, I went through group interview in Chinese. And then final interview. I made it through all with God’s grace,” she said.
Donning her blue turban that matched her navy blue uniform, Sukhdeep’s photo was prominently splashed in a local newspaper that reported on the 6 Dec 2019 graduation ceremony at the Stanley prison...
On the language front, the ability to speak Cantonese – the predominant Chinese dialect – is vital.
“I wouldn’t say I am that fluent as I studied in the English medium school. I had realised the importance of learning Cantonese when I was looking for a job. Most required speaking Cantonese, so I spent some time in polishing my language skills,” she said.
She added: “Inmates and locals are surprised when I speak Cantonese as not many non-Chinese speak fluently. I’m not that fluent, but they feel it’s good enough. While locals tend to speak to me in English when they first see me but soon start speaking the local language when I reply in Cantonese.”
In an interview with a local newspapers, Sukhdeep said that speaking the local language was key to career prospects. Her hard work paid off when she got an A*, the top grade, at GCSE. Her passion to join a uniform force led her to the Project Gemstone, a community integration programme run by the police force, which offered more Chinese training. Eventually she passed the CSD job interview, conducted in Cantonese.
She can understand 95% of spoken Cantonese, but had to speak slowly and choose her words carefully as she still thought in English, she told the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
“But the first week I worked in the prison, I didn’t even know it when my superior said my name in the walkie-talkie, because he was talking too fast. He slowed it down when talking to me afterwards,” she told the newspaper. “I like speaking in Cantonese with persons in custody, because a big part of my job is communicating with them, knowing their hopes and dreams, and encouraging them to get a second life outside prisons. That’s why I want to become a prison officer too, because I believe in giving people a second chance.”
Now working in Lo Wu Correctional Institution, a place for women inmates, Sukhdeep believes her ethnic background can give her a unique edge in rehabilitating prisoners. She told SCMP: “Some persons in custody have asked me about my turban, which is a good place to start a conversation. Indians there may also feel more comfortable opening up to me in their own native language.”
On the whole, the CSD handles young offenders, drug dependants, first-time offenders and recidivists. It manages 28 correctional facilities comprising correctional institutions, half-way houses and custodial wards of public hospital.
An exciting journey awaits Sukhdeep.