Stanley Prison opened Hong Kong’s first mental therapy center, LIFE GYM, for male prisoners on Monday - offering Virtual Reality and video games to help prisoners prepare for life back in the community.
The VR simulates stressful situations at work. For example, a colleague in the VR believes the VR user has stolen a cellphone and also blames him for taking too much leave. Prisoners using the VR need to explain their actions to the virtual colleague in a rational way and then resolve these problems calmly.
Ming, 23, who was jailed for drug trafficking and is expected to be free next year, joined the trial program at the mental therapy center on April 23. In the VR simulation, he explains slowly to a virtual colleague and then offers to go to the police or to find the cellphone together.
Yvonne Lee Kit-shan, clinical psychologist with the Correctional Services Department, said she noticed Ming paused for a while before responding to insulting words from a virtual colleague. “It was a good sign showing Ming learnt to control his emotions through VR practice,” Lee said.
Ming was also trained to play the group video games with other prisoners. The games require them to discuss strategies and to cooperate with each other in order to pass. “I was reluctant to communicate with other prisoners at the beginning,” Ming said. “Our backgrounds are different. It was hard to play together or even to make friends.”
However, Ming found cooperation was less difficult after playing the video games once a week. He also made a friend, who was involved in engineering.
Every week, the center arranges for prisoners to have a face-to-face group chat. There, Ming and his friend began get to know each other and to communicate.
“My friend told me it was okay to be myself. Although we are prisoners, we should never give up on ourselves or neglect our strengths,” Ming said.
Ming said he grew up with a single mother. He was shy, seldom sharing his thoughts with others. He once thought money was everything and chose the wrong path in life. “I made an unforgivable mistake, but my mom never gave up on me,” Ming said. “She visited me regularly and asked about my recent activities,” he said.
Ming said he was deeply moved and determined to work hard at the center, practicing communication skills and developing team work abilities to get himself fully prepared for his life back in the community next year.
The whole training program lasts eight to 10 months. Each week, prisoners participate in a three-hour group chat, get involved in a three-hour VR or video game and finish one-hour mental health exercises.
Next year, there will be 60 male prisoners joining the program.
Wu Man-wai, chief superintendent of the Stanley Prison, said the center aims to train prisoners expected to be released soon. It teaches them to learn and improve their social skills and to get used to life back in the community.
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