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A Garden of Possibilities: An Inmate’s Story

How the Yellow Ribbon Community Art & Poetry Exhibition helps inmates to realise new possibilities in life.
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PHOTOS: Chloe Low, Joash Tan

Say no to drugs – a message we hear all too often. But how much harm can a single mistake cause? For 34-year-old Hannah (not her real name), the cost wasn’t only to herself, but to her six children as well. 

Hannah’s spiral into drug abuse began in her twenties as an escape from her financial worries. “My personal life was messy,” she recalled, “and I felt like other people didn't understand me, so I turned to drugs.” 

Incarcerated for drug-related offences, Hannah began to face her demons and consider a fresh start in life. As a mother of six, one of her biggest regrets is not being able to see her children. “I missed sending my youngest son to school on his first day of Primary One,” she shared.

One way in which Hannah expresses her hope for a new beginning is through art. This came about when her Personal Supervisor, Staff Sergeant Ragini of the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), encouraged her to take part in the Yellow Ribbon Community Art and Poetry Exhibition (YR CAPE). 

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YR CAPE was introduced in 2007, in collaboration with SPS’ partners in the art community. Under the programme, inmates work closely with artist-mentors for four months to produce works of art and poetry that express their hope for a second chance in life. The artwork can be adopted by members of the public, with proceeds going towards the Yellow Ribbon Fund to support rehabilitation programmes. 

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According to Hannah, taking part in YR CAPE has given her the opportunity to express her desire for a better life, for herself and her family. PHOTO: SPS

YR CAPE’s theme this year is “A Garden of Possibilities,” and the exhibition showcases 79 works of art and 19 poems by inmates and ex-offenders. Among the selected works is a vibrant painting of Marina Bay by Hannah. “I want to take my children there after I’m released,” she said. 

Art programmes for inmates help to inculcate values of patience, perseverance, determination and open-mindedness towards any possibilities. Hannah has grown to enjoy painting as a way to express herself. Painting has also helped her to recall precious childhood memories of her mother, Mdm Lisa, teaching her and her siblings about art. “I’ve always liked to draw flowers, even as a child, and that’s why I added them to my painting of Marina Bay,” said Hannah. “I feel happy when I’m painting; art is like therapy to me.” 

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Emma and Mdm Lisa at the YR CAPE virtual family session. PHOTO: Joash Tan

In October, Hannah got the chance to share her love of art with Mdm Lisa during a virtual family session for inmates and their families at the Prison Link Centre. Also in attendance was Hannah’s younger sister, Emma. 

Mdm Lisa shared that both her and Emma were former drug abusers, but who now volunteer with various community service programmes, and they hope Hannah can join them upon her release. The three women spent the YR CAPE family session drawing and painting together, and talking about when they could be together as a family again. “Hannah told me to put a picture of her artwork on my fridge, to show her children,” said Mdm Lisa.

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PHOTO: Chloe Low

With Hannah still serving her sentence, Mdm Lisa is now taking care of Hannah’s children, but it’s a responsibility she bears gladly, as someone has previously undergone a similar change in heart. “Everyone will do wrong at some point,” explained Mdm Lisa. “We just need to learn from it, and change.” 

Besides YR CAPE, Hannah is also involved in programmes like Art Behind Bars, which teaches female inmates handicraft skills so that they can start their own businesses. She also attends psychology-based correctional and religious programmes.

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PHOTO: Chloe Low

Through YR CAPE, Hannah has painted a picture of the better person she hopes to be. “I told my children that I’ll bring them to Marina Bay one day, and I will,” she said. “I want them to know that this is a promise that I’ll truly change for the better.” 

Yellow Ribbon Community Art & Poetry Exhibition (YR CAPE)
YR CAPE seeks to raise awareness about second chances for inmates and ex-offenders. It also provides a platform for them to express their hopes and aspirations through art, showcase their artistic talents, foster closer family relationships through the family sessions and reach out to the community through the exhibitions.

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Since its inception in 2007, YR CAPE has evolved through the years, and the poetry element was incorporated into the exhibition in 2019. To date, close to 400 inmates have had the opportunity to showcase their artworks through the exhibition. Check out YR CAPE’s virtual gallery at www.yellowribbonart.sg.

Written by

Chloe Low


24 December 2021

Prisons Management and Rehabilitation
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