Our Community

Accepting the Families of Ex-offenders as Our Own

A helping hand when it matters most – two Yellow Ribbon Community Project volunteers share how they’re supporting the families of inmates and ex-offenders.
It was a case that brought tears to her eyes.

And it is such cases – involving personal struggles and pain, but also recovery and hope – that keep Ms Suzana Ahmad going. 

An avid volunteer who loves to extend a helping hand to the less fortunate at Tampines Changkat Division, one of the grassroots divisions supporting the Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP). Suzana shared the plight of a family that she had helped under the YRCP – but not before taking a moment to dab her eyes and compose her thoughts. 

“Our fellow residents are like our brothers and sisters,” said the 60-year-old volunteer. “But in this case, we didn’t know that the family had been struggling for several years. The father was serving his prison sentence, the mother was ill and the children weren’t going to school.” 

Ms Suzana Ahmad, Yellow Ribbon Champion for Tampines Changkat Division. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Through the YRCP, Suzana and her fellow volunteers learnt about the family’s plight. They immediately reached out to them to provide the necessary assistance.

Regular home visits allowed the YRCP volunteers to see if the family is coping well, and also monitor and assess their welfare and living environment. “This form of community support is very important,” affirmed Suzana. “The loved ones of offenders need volunteers like us to support them in trying times. Be it pointing them to the right resources and services, or just lending a listening ear, we can demonstrate that the community cares and supports them in this journey.”

“That’s why we believe in the YRCP – it provides an avenue for us to reach out to our residents and make their lives better,” she added.

A Listening Ear, and More

The YRCP is a grassroots-led initiative that offers support to families of newly-sentenced offenders through trained grassroots volunteers. These volunteers conduct regular visits to families to offer a listening ear and assistance such as referrals to the appropriate social support agencies and networks. 

“Yellow Ribbon beneficiaries tend to keep to themselves due to the stigma of having a loved one in prison,” said Suzana, who started volunteering with the YRCP five years ago. “They may feel sad and angry at the same time, or even believe that they’ve lost everything.”

Since the YRCP was launched in September 2010, over 900 volunteers have been trained to effectively reach out to more than 9,000 families of offenders. Besides supporting these families, YRCP volunteers also help them reconnect with their loved ones who are serving their sentences, through prison visits.

“In some cases, a family may even hide an illness from their loved ones in prison,” explained Suzana, “and sadly, there have been times when we’ve had to tell an inmate about a death in the family.” 
Adam, ex-offender turned committed YCRP volunteer at Woodlands Division. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Suzana’s story resonated strongly with Adam (not his real name). Adam’s mother was critically ill during the period when he was serving a sentence for drug-related offences. “But I told myself that even if my mother was very sick, I wouldn’t pay her a final visit,” he recalled. 

Why did Adam make such a decision? 

“It was to protect my mother’s last impression of me,” he explained. “I didn’t want her to see me as an inmate, or for my relatives to ask, ‘How come your son is like that? Why is he in handcuffs?’”

Thankfully, Adam served the last six months of his sentence on home detention, and this gave him the chance to pay his respects to his mother before she passed away in 2017. 

Acceptance, Change, Service 

Now a YRCP volunteer himself, Adam credits his rehabilitation to his family’s love. “When I was in prison, I realised that my family was with me every step of the way,” he said. “They cried together with me, and they were there with me during times of joy. Since others have accepted and given me a chance, why can’t I help those who’re now going through the same struggles?” 

As a YRCP volunteer, Adam reaches out to families of inmates and those who have been recently sentenced, to offer support. “In one recent case, a father had just been sentenced to prison,” he recalled. “We approached his family to make sure that two of his children can attend primary school next year. I’m happy that I helped, and want to continue doing more.” 

The Yellow Ribbon Community Project 

The annual Yellow Ribbon Community Project Awards and Appreciation Luncheon recognises the contributions and efforts of grassroots volunteers towards the families of inmates and ex-offenders. This year’s Luncheon was held on 15 September 2018 and over 400 volunteers were recognised for their efforts. 
Read the opening address by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law.
To learn more about the YRCP, visit this page.

Written by

Desmond Ang


20 September 2018

Community Engagement
Prisons Management and Rehabilitation
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