At the age of 18, Kenny thought violence was the answer to all of life’s problems.
Until one night of revenge landed him in prison – for life.
Originally from a poor village in northern India, close to the border of Pakistan, Kenny – not his real name – moved to Hong Kong in 1994 in search of a better future.
Kenny fell into the wrong company, believing he should seek revenge for a close friend whose sister had been abducted, tortured and sexually abused. She later took her own life.
“I became emotionally upset and deeply provoked by the wicked act of ruining the life of an innocent girl. I justified my crime as an act of heroism,” Kenny, recalling the incident, wrote in a letter from his cell in Stanley Prison.
Government records show that a Pakistani male was found dead in a home in Kowloon in 1995, with a total of 136 wounds to his body.
Having served in the maximum security prison for more than two decades after being convicted of murder, Kenny, now 41 years old, has become a changed man.
Kenny, who came to Hong Kong with no formal education, is now on his way to complete a post-graduate degree in marketing via a distance learning at the Open University of Hong Kong. From not being able to read or speak a word of English, he is now fluent in both English and Cantonese, an avid painter, guitarist and composer.
But all of this would not be possible, Kenny says, without change from within.
After years of struggling with hate, anger, grief and shame, Kenny said he found redemption through music and becoming a Christian.
In 2000, he joined a music therapy group. Not only did he learn how to play instruments, but it also became a tool to help him on his journey of inner-healing and acceptance.
“I discovered [music] was able to open many doors of my inner self, especially those which I was afraid to open to others. It gave me the self-confidence to let the outer light come into the dark corners and illuminate my inner being. Through music, I learned how to respect, accept and appreciate everyone’s ideas and capabilities,” Kenny said.
What his 18-year-old self thought were acts of heroism, he realised, were acts of “cowardice, fear, low self-esteem and vulnerability” that had taken root deep inside himself.
“There were days when I wished I could forget and erase horrors from my mind that I have encountered, witnessed and caused to many. But I am not here in prison only to pay for my crime, but for much, much more. I am here for healing my wounded soul. I am here to find hope for my hopeless and meaningless life. I am here to find peace for my restless soul,” he said.
Kenny’s journey with music eventually led him to cross paths with MedArt during its music outreach programme.
MedArt’s band has been performing in prisons, elderly nursing homes and hospitals since 2001.
Kenny was not interested in classical music, until one MedArt performance in 2013.
“At that moment, my world just exploded. Music, or MedArt, had helped me to connect and discover another layer of music. I couldn’t sleep,” he recalled.
In recent years, MedArt volunteers have been allowed to teach prison inmates in small groups how to play music and eventually perform together during the prisons’ graduation ceremonies for inmates.
May Wu, chairwoman of the music outreach committee at MedArt, said the programme had a more far-reaching impact than she ever expected.
“The original aim was to use music to bring care to them, let them feel they’re not being forgotten. I thought, we’ve done very little and that it’d be a good afternoon to enjoy music. But after reading their letters, I realised it wasn’t that simple,” she said.
“Many become people with no self confidence, they’re scared that no one will accept them when they are released. [From their letters] they say they feel very encouraged, thankful and it’s like they’re accepted by society. It’s like we’re their friends, with no discrimination. This was far more than I imagined and I thought it is so amazing that just a performance could achieve that,” Wu said.
Kenny, who is waiting for an early release from prison, said he plans to return home to take care of his elderly parents back in India as well as start a youth group to help youngsters find direction in their lives.
“I may not be a good example for them to follow…I have ruined my dreams. But I can say that nothing is wasted. If they can find the courage to move forward – just move. Nothing is wrong in being wrong as long as we start correcting those wrongs,” Kenny said.
A message from Kenny:
“The last 22 years have left me with so many admitting of failures. I have failed in most of my obligations and responsibilities, as a responsible son, a brother and a fellow human being. I have caused pain and suffering to so many. Their sufferings have provoked me to look into the mirror which reflects the image of a broken man, with shattered dreams and full of guilt. But it also reflects the man who sees the real value of life in love, forgiveness and hope.
I found that sometimes God does allow us to go through certain trials and tests to discover the real purpose and meaning of our lives. Sometimes we have to come to a dark place to find the key or the road map. It doesn’t really make sense at first to know why He allows this. But its only when we come to a certain point and look back, then we find and realize and see that how mysteriously God has worked in our lives and prepared us for all these pains and sorrows which he turns them into blessings.”