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From the Heart, Behind Bars: A National Day Message of Hope
For some inmates, volunteering to pack the NDP fun-pack is their way of being a part of National Day.

Home Team News SPS Fun Pack 01B
PHOTOS: Jermaine Ting

“Good morning, sir! Good morning, ma’am!” 

The men greeted us in unison as we entered the room. The assembly line hummed with activity as they exchanged goods between them with speed and efficiency. As National Day approached, they were close to hitting their target for the big day.

We were at Changi Prison.

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This year, inmates from Institution B5 within the Changi Prison Complex volunteered to pack fun-packs for the National Day Parade, as part of the Reach Out Programme to help spread National Day cheer. A collaboration between the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), the Yellow Ribbon Project and Very Special Arts Singapore (VSA), the Programme saw 30 inmates packing 50,000 fun-packs for this year's National Day Parade.

Scribbled on a whiteboard in green was the daily objective for the inmates, and their common goal – to give back to society. By now, they were working together like a well-oiled machine. 

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The packing is systematic. First comes labelling – at a table, one team starts by organising and registering each item with stickers.  

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Next comes the assembly line. With boxes containing different items around them, the inmates place their respective items on plastic trays one by one and pass them on. 

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Chips, candy bars, bamboo straws, stickers, flags – item by item, the plastic trays make their way around the tables in a loop before being checked again.

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Last but not least is a special card adorned with messages from the inmates and illustrations by the talented artists from VSA. After all the items had been compiled on the tray, the inmates placed them in a stylish knapsack in familiar shades of red and white.

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Steadily Working
It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing on Day One, but as time passed, the team got into a groove. Asked what was the most precious factor when it came to doing a good job, an inmate noted the value of their teamwork. Communication not only helped them to gel as a team, but also sped up their pace of work and even led them to devise more efficient methods of packing.

Over the weeks, their routine had been steadfast. For six hours every weekday, the inmates used their personal activity time to contribute to the National Day festivities – three hours during the day, three in the evening. 

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Morale was high; carrying out their tasks, the inmates chatted and joked among themselves as they worked hard to reach their targets. 

Being a Part of National Day 
Why volunteer in the first place? For inmates like John (not his real name), the choice to volunteer wasn’t a difficult one.

“First and foremost, I'm a Singaporean,” he explained. “This was something new for me, and being part of National Day itself isn’t something many Singaporeans can do, so it wasn’t a hard decision for me to volunteer.”

To inmates like John, such opportunities are another step in their rehabilitation. As a former drug offender, John’s personal journey has been tumultuous. 

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Over time, however, he has come to realise the value of receiving advice and help from those who have his best interests at heart, through being in a safe environment. Mindful of his past mistakes, John shares that being a volunteer helps him persevere in his path – in his words, to “keep on keeping on."

According to the inmates, volunteering allows them to feel a special sense of acceptance as they get to be involved in the National Day festivities with the rest of Singapore. As SPS officer Senior Chief Warder Illamaran Thamizhkkothai explained, for the inmates, giving is receiving, and the sense of inclusiveness they get as volunteers gives them the spirit to become better people.

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On the cards that the inmates had packed were a multitude of different messages from the heart. Some inmates thanked Singapore for its inclusiveness and acceptance. Others were grateful to be given a chance to further their studies. Others still were proud to call themselves Singaporean, and hoped to make up for lost time when they stepped back into the world.

As for John, he simply looks forward to being there for his mother, and to be a better son than he was before. Like many of his fellow inmates, he’ll send National Day wishes to the country, and look forward to the day that he can be home again.
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Soo Jun Xiang
  2. 07 August 2019
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