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HEARt of SINGAPORE: Giving good people with bad records a fair shot
“So start with some humility. Don’t judge.” We bring you some highlights of that afternoon's event.

Cohen, 25, was working for a media production and events company through a temporary employment agency and quickly building an exemplary track record of creative accomplishments there. After several months at the company, the employer wanted to offer him permanent employment. However, one routine background check later, they discovered his criminal record and terminated him on the spot, to the shock and anguish of his direct supervisor who has witnessed the diligence, prudence and talent of the young man.

If you find this story unbelievable, it spells good news to society as a whole.

How about the story of Mariah who had to take care of her brother’s wife and six children while he served time in prison? With more than 10 people surviving on just her husband’s meagre monthly wage, the family had to sometimes survive on plain water alone for days. Until help arrived.

Severe as the conditions were for this family, this account is true, as was the timely aid that reached them through Singapore’s very own Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YR-CP).

“You may say it was a blessing in disguise. Mariah kept her dire financial situation to herself all these years and later took in her brother’s family. It took the first house visit by our Yellow Ribbon Champions, which was meant for her brother and sis-in-law, to unravel the separate plight Mariah and her family were suffering in,” shared Ms Suzana Ahmad, a fervent volunteer at Tampines Changkat and Chairman of her Residents’ Committee there.

Mariah’s brother, Damien, was imprisoned in 2012 and released seven months later. During his time in prison, his heavily pregnant wife, Mariah’s sister-in-law, and their five little children moved in with Mariah and her family. After an appeal by his wife for an early release at one Meet-the-People Session at Tampines Changkat, and consent received from Damien, YR-CP volunteers at Tampines Changkat immediately swung into action and visited the Damien’s wife and children at Mariah’s home to assess their needs and render assistance.

It was then that the volunteers or Yellow Ribbon Champions found out about Mariah’s separate 12-year-long suffering. The full-time housewife then had decided to leave her job more than 12 years ago to take care of her ill and bedridden mother until the latter’s passing 10 years later. She has two young children and the family survived on her husband’s wages alone.

“Thankfully, our Yellow Ribbon Champions are well-trained. They were empathetic and asked the right questions and used the right tone and body language that helped bring Mariah out of her reclusion, making her feel comfortable enough to share. She broke down and cried when she realised, finally there was somebody who understood and would not judge her or her family for their desperate situation,” said Ms Ahmad who has been a grassroots volunteer and leader for 10 years.

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Ms Suzana Ahmat (in grey) talked to Home Team News about her journey as a Tampines Changkat volunteer and was moved to tears when sharing about Mariah's experience.   PHOTO: Heather Leong

Mariah was subsequently given the assistance she needed, as was Damien, who is now doing well as a manager. Ms Ahmad also shared how Damien is determined to be a good example to his children and “show them that a person can turn good even when he had made a mistake”.

“Have an open heart, don’t look down on them,” said Ms Euphemia Cheong, another Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YR-CP) volunteer from Queenstown grassroots division.

Ms Cheong joined the project in August 2013 when Queenstown first adopted it. She, too, has met families of inmates who sunk into depression or suffered silently because they did not know where or how to get help.

“It’s very difficult on them. They have to overcome the stigma, the fears and pains of being separated from their loved ones who are imprisoned, the sense of hopelessness, and what their relatives or neighbours might say,” added Ms Cheong. “So, many of them keep to themselves. If not for YR-CP, nobody may even know about their suffering. That’s why we invite them to parties and visit them regularly; help them assimilate while respecting their privacy, to ensure they are well taken care of.”

Ms Cheong and Ms Ahmad were speaking with Home Team News during the Yellow Ribbon Community Project Awards and Appreciation Luncheon 2014 held on 07 June 2014 at The Chevrons. 

In all, 16 awards were handed out that afternoon in recognition of grassroots support in helping the families of inmates. Taman Jurong, Admiralty, Kaki Bukit, Nee Soon East, Chong Pang, Tampines Central, Tampines West, Nanyang, Thomson-Toa Payoh, Teck Ghee and Marsiling grassroots divisions also received awards of appreciation for their commitment to the Project for more than three years running.

The YR-CP, since its inception in 2010, has assisted more than 1,700 families of offenders over the last four years. From just eight participating grassroots division in 2010, 61 divisions from all over Singapore have today proactively come on board this collective effort to support the reintegration of ex-offenders and their families into the society.

“It is not just the numbers, but the commitment to come together to do something good and real for the families, and to learn from each other,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, while commending the grassroots-led effort and intent during the YR-CP Awards and Appreciation Luncheon.

Mr Tharman added that reintegration initiatives such as the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS)—which looks into the rehabilitation of ex-inmates with a higher risk of re-offending and therefore a greater need for support in the reintegration process—the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE)-led job training and placement programmes that have, in 2013, helped more than 2,100 offenders secure employment upon their release, and the opening of video-link facilities at Community Clubs and Family Service Centres to make it easier for inmates and their loved ones keep in touch, would only be truly successful with continual community and familial support.

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“Although we may think that we know what the inmates are going through, we don’t—because we have never actually been there ourselves,” said Deputy Prime Minister Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the Yellow Ribbon Community Project Awards and Appreciation Luncheon held on 07 June 2014. “So start with some humility. Don’t judge.” Mr Tharman also shared about video-link facilities set up at various Community Clubs to make it easier for inmates and their families to keep in touch. PHOTO: Heather Leong


“It is critical that the ex-inmate has the moral and emotional support of his or her family, and is accepted by the community,” said Mr Tharman.

A point that was reiterated by Superintendent of Prisons Abdul Karim s/o Shahul Hameed, Deputy Director of Reintegration and Community Collaboration Services from the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), who shared how the community such as the YR-CP volunteers “play a key role in helping to reduce the pressures that these families face, and allow the inmates to reflect on his actions and focus on rehabilitation which contributes to a safer community for all.”

Upon starting their prison terms, newly admitted inmates are introduced to the YR-CP by SPS. The inmates’ consent to reach out to their loved ones is then sought before YR-CP volunteers from the areas their families live in are assigned to visit them at their homes to assess their needs and concerns. The volunteers then help the families to connect with the relevant community support groups such as the Residents’ Committees in their neighbourhoods, Family Service Centres and Community Development Councils for further assistance. The families are also encouraged to attend the Meet-the-People Sessions to raise their concerns.

“When an offender is sent to prison, he may have a lot of concerns, so his mind is preoccupied with his family. So, through this project he has an avenue to request the grassroots to help his loved ones,” expounded Supt Karim. “With the grassroots reaching out to his family while he serves time, his mind is at ease and can hence focus on his rehabilitation. More importantly, when his family receives help from the volunteers and finds out that it was their loved one in prison who had made that request for help to be rendered to them, they will realise that their loved one actually cares for them even though he is incarcerated. This helps the family to stay intact. And family support is very important in ensuring successful reintegration into the society upon an ex-offender’s release from prison.”

To date, more than 580 grassroots volunteers under YR-CP have received basic training to help them assess the support that families of offenders require. PHOTO: Heather Leong To date, more than 580 grassroots volunteers under YR-CP have received basic training to help them assess the support that families of offenders require. They also learn how to help these individuals out of reclusion and isolation. From among the volunteers in each division, leaders or Yellow Ribbon Champions like Ms Ahmad are nominated to oversee and coordinate the YR-CP within the division or residential area.

In an upbeat video played during the Awards ceremony on 07 June 2014, heartfelt reflections by various YR-CP grassroots volunteers, beneficiaries, and mayors of various constituencies such as Mr Tan Chuan-Jin and Mr Teo Ser Luck were shared, all echoing in unison the need for “understanding and open hearts” to extend help to families of those who have been incarcerated and helping them to “build up their confidence and self-esteem again”.

“Although we may think that we know what the inmates are going through, we don’t—because we have never actually been there ourselves,” said Mr Tharman. “So start with some humility. Don’t judge. Learn what we can and serve with our hearts… help them face the challenges and overcome them,” he urged.

“Let’s make Singapore a home where people have real second chances to start afresh and make good.”

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Mabelle Yeo
  2. 10 June 2014
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