On a hot Saturday afternoon, Ibu (Indonesian word for Mrs.) Sembiring stepped into the Tanjung Gusta Prison in Medan, North Sumatra, for one mission: To bring her son back behind bars.
Less than 48 hours before, he had made an escape along with hundreds other inmates, following a deadly prison riot that left several people killed in a fire. Early Friday morning, he showed up at his mother’s house exhausted and in needs of a shelter. She had not visited him in the past six months, as she had been ill for some time.
Ibu Sembiring was trembling, holding her son’s right arm when she handed him over to prison officials. The officials swiftly escorted him as dozens of reporters, me including, descended on them like hungry mosquitos. Looking heart broken, she watched him rode off on a motorbike back to the partly damaged prison. Teary eyed, she said she planned to return the next day to bring him some homecooked meal.
In a firm tone and without hesitation, she told him in Indonesian before parting: “Jalani hukumanmu” or serve your sentence. Her son, who looked in his late 20s, is doing time for drug offences.
Her remarks stuck with me that day. It must have been hurtful and hard for her to enforce tough love on her son, teaching him to take responsibilities for his wrongdoings, when she could have at least enjoyed a few days of reunion with him.
In recent years we have seen Indonesian courts gave lenient sentences in high profile cases involving children of government officials or celebrities who got into calamitous trouble, such as fatal accidents involving underage-drivers. Many were upset by the legal outcomes, and the courts’ justification for their decisions are often so baffling that it raised suspicions of briberies (a common presumption in the still largely corrupt environment of Indonesia’s justice system).
There’s a quote that I personally love from a movie scene about a mother who was feeling guilty about sending her son to face his crimes: “You can't fix everything for him….. You give him everything he asks for, and you clean up his mess, and you believe him even when he lies to you, and that is not love. Love is making him face who he is. The best thing you can do for him is to do the best thing for him. It's not your fault what he did, but letting him get away with it, that is your fault.”
Many mothers can probably relate to this—after all the love of a parent to a child is often blind. But that Saturday, Ibu Sembiring displayed an admirable and exemplary feat. She showed that, however hard, parents must make a better choice when it comes to upholding their children’s integrity. In the end, letting their children get away with their faults is an even bigger crime.