Our Community
Volunteers and Befrienders: In the Service of Others
Prison volunteers play a crucial role in supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders. Two dedicated volunteers share their stories with us.

While most of us spend our Sundays in the company of friends and family, Mr Tan Jet Kuan devotes his to inmates. A volunteer from the Singapore Buddhist Federation, the 58-year-old counsels inmates on their journey of rehabilitation. 

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Mr Tan Jet Kuan decided to sign up as a volunteer in 2000. PHOTO: Desmond Ang 

Mr Tan first became a Prison volunteer 15 years ago. “Through my interactions with inmates and ex-offenders, I’ve learnt that it’s their trust in you as a friend that makes them more willing to listen,” he said. 

Mr Tan recalled an instance when building this sense of trust paid off. “I once counselled an inmate whose family broke up after he was released, affecting him badly,” he recalled. “But he kept his head and sought us out, and we helped him through that tough time. He’s now the boss of a small business and even leads his own group of volunteers!” 
 
Partnerships with the Community 
The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) collaborates with volunteers and community partners to support the rehabilitation of inmates and ex-offenders. Besides religious organisations that provide religious counselling, its community partners also include secular organisations that run a variety of programmes, from motivational and self-enrichment classes to family bonding.

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SUPT Valerie Chiang oversees SPS’s community partnerships and engagement efforts, as well as family programmes and services. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

For such programmes to succeed, certain factors are crucial – so says Superintendent (SUPT) Valerie Chiang, Senior Assistant Director, Community & Family Policy, Rehabilitation & Reintegration Division, SPS: “We look at an inmate’s resolve to change, his or her rehabilitation needs and the kind of programmes that are available.”

Another important factor is social support, which can come in the form of community partners who serve as a positive influence to ex-offenders. That’s where befriending programmes come in. “Through such programmes, volunteers befriend and engage with inmates who are close to their release date,” said SUPT Valerie. “This helps them know that there are people who’re willing to journey with them, which is very valuable.”

A Friend in Times of Need
As a volunteer with SPS’ Befriending Programme, Ms Thurayya Binte HJ Mohamed provides moral and emotional support to inmates and ex-offenders, encouraging them to stay crime-free. 
 
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Ms Thurayya Binte HJ Mohamed is committed to sharing her experiences to help inmates and ex-offenders. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

“I came from a broken family myself, and I felt I could share my experiences with my befriendees,” said the 50-year-old customer service officer at Darul Ghufran Mosque. “They often need social assistance and religious guidance.” 

Befrienders are introduced to inmates around three to 10 months before their release. Through one-on-one sharing sessions, both parties learn to understand each other better. The sessions also help befrienders understand their clients’ immediate needs and provide any support needed for up to six months after release. 

This sense of concern can make all the difference in an ex-offender’s journey of rehabilitation. “It’s about giving them exposure to a different set of values, and a different group of friends who can be an anchor of support,” said SUPT Valerie. “That’s why we’re very appreciative of the time and effort put in by our volunteers. They bring experience, skills, knowledge and a willingness to work for others.” 



Be Part of Their Rehabilitation
At the SPS Volunteer Awards Ceremony in November 2018, Mr Tan received the Gold Award for more than 15 years of volunteering while Ms Thurayya received the Long Service Award (Five Years). 

Read the opening speech at the Awards Ceremony by Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health, here. Find out more about volunteering as an SPS volunteer here.

  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 03 January 2019
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