On Assignment
A Mother’s Tears, a Child’s Touch
Helping inmates and their children work towards a better life to come, as one family.

The children arrive, dashing in with their arms extended. 

The room echoes with chatter as families make up for lost time, amid bear hugs and kisses. 

Not once did the mothers let go of their children’s hands. 

Tears flowed freely among the inmates as Prison officers and volunteers struggled to hold back theirs. 

8 June 2018 Mothers Prison Family Visit
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

We were at Changi Prison Complex on a Friday afternoon. Under the Family Bonding initiative of the Kids in Play Programme – an effort by the Salvation Army Prison Support Services and the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) – inmates get to interact and bond with their children without a physical barrier between them. 

The Kids in Play Programme provides a range of professional support to inmates and their families, to facilitate the reintegration of inmates into society. Great care is taken to prepare the participants for each Family Bonding session; prior to meeting, inmates attend sessions on parenting skills while their children learn about developing a positive self-identity and planning for the future.  

8 June 2018 Mothers Prison Family Visit 2
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

The last time Aisyah (not her real name) hugged her children was in 2015. A mother to six kids aged four to 11, She’s serving a five-year sentence for drug-related offences.  

“I feel I missed out on their growing up,” said Aisyah, 31. “My youngest child was four months old and my eldest in Primary Three when I was jailed.” 
 
8 June 2018 Mothers SPS Prison Family Visit
PHOTO: Ash Tiswari

In Aisyah’s absence, her children were taken care of by her mother-in-law, with financial assistance from a Community Development Council, the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association and the Yellow Ribbon Fund

For Aisyah, the meeting was another small step forward in her rehabilitation. “Through sessions like this, my relationship with my kids can improve,” she said. “They’re more open now, and are willing to share more with me.” 
 
8 June 2018 Mothers SPS Prison Family Visit 4
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

It was a special afternoon as well for Sarah (not her real name). The last time she’d held her five children was a year ago, when she participated in the same Programme.

“They miss talking to me because we used to sleep in the same room, so they think of me when they see my empty bed – it’s harder for them,” said the 46-year-old, who’s serving a seven-year sentence for Criminal Breach of Trust. “But today, I can hold my kids and get up close and personal with them, and they can hug me. It’s very different from their usual visits, and we have more time to talk.” 
 
8 June 2018 Mothers SPS Prison Family Visit 5
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Families of inmates may visit their relatives in prison up to twice a month, either face-to-face (but separated by a glass panel) or via video-conferencing at any of the nine tele-visit centres in Singapore.

That’s why Family Bonding sessions are special. “They give inmates a sense of self-worth by allowing them to play a more active mothering role,” said Superintendent 1A (Supt 1A) Angeline Chua, 2nd Superintendent at Institution A4. “They also learn communication skills and can strengthen the bonds with their children.”

8 June 2018 Mothers SPS Prison Family Visit 6
PHOTO: Ash Tiswari

Friday’s session ended with the inmates presenting their children with handmade greeting cards, which the kids took home with them – a small reminder of the promise of a better life to come, as one family. 

The Salvation Army Prison Support Services Kids in Play Programme
Started in 1998, the Salvation Army Prison Support Services Kids in Play Programme works with the SPS to run various professional support programmes for inmates and their families.

  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 08 June 2018
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