Democracy activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law have shared their experiences of prison life after they were granted bail on Tuesday. The pair spoke about receiving letters from supporters and discussed how they coped without full access to news.

Joshua Wong. Photo: Screenshot.

Wong says correctional officers warned him not to “incite” prisoners to voice concerns over the issue of hair length. He first spent two months at Pik Uk Correctional Institution for underage prisoners before being transferred to an adult facility when he turned 21 two weeks ago. Pik Uk demanded that prisoners’ hair be cut to 6mm, though Wong asked that the requirement be loosened to 1cm.

“Correctional officers warned me not to invite other prisoners to voice concerns over this issue, otherwise I would be inciting disorder in the prison,” he told Commercial Radio on Wednesday during his first interview since his release.

Wong and his Demosisto party colleague Law were sentenced to six and seven months in jail respectively in August by the Court of Appeal over their participation in the Civic Square clashes that led to the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests. The court will hear their application for leave of appeal on November 7, along with activist Alex Chow’s.

Pik Uk Correctional Institution. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Law, an ex-lawmaker, said he did not have to trim his hair at his adult institution: “An adult institution is not so strict.”

Smaller details

As there is a limited flow of news in prison, Law said that –  naturally – he shifted focus to smaller details of his daily life, rather than social issues.

“For example, what is my next meal? How much will be my next wage packet be? Do I have enough money to buy snacks?” said Law. Wong added that these issues were the only things they were able to make their own decision about.

“It makes you feel distant to any big issues happening in the world,” Law added. “This is part of the training for us… how do we train our minds so that we are still curious about the outside world?”

Wong said the only surprise in prison was the opportunity to talk to other prisoners.

“I did not expect that at an adult institution… a Nigerian prisoner actively spoke to me over ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ which he supported,” he said. “I was reading I Am Malala – there was a Pakistani who came to me and said they looked up to her.”

Joshua Wong and Nathan Law. Photo: Screenshot.

Law said prison gave him time to read and reflect on himself. He said he wrote tens of thousands of words, which may be published later.

He said he also received many letters and warm words from supporters: “There are things that people won’t really say face to face, but they will write down in a letter.”

Wong said he received around 700 pages of letters in prison but there was usually a week-long delay.

“I saw news about the referendum in Catalonia in prison – say that I was reading news that they were preparing for the referendum, it was already finished by the time I received [the letter],” he said.

They said they will have to adapt to normal life once again.

“When I was bailed yesterday, I switched on my phone, ‘this thing can emit light! this is so awesome!’ We are not in contact with a phone in prison – there wasn’t even chopsticks in the teenage maximum security prison,” Wong said.

Law’s girlfriend Tiffany Yuen was tipped to run in the Legislative Council by-election for the seat he was forced to vacate following a legal challenge from the government over his controversial oath-taking. But Law did not give a clear answer as to whether she will run.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.