Published: 12 October 2019
Mr Desmond Chin, Commissioner of Prisons and Co-Chair of CARE Network,
Mr Chng Hwee Hong, Chairman SCORE and Co-Chair of CARE Network,
Mr Matthew Wee, CEO SCORE and Chairman of Yellow Ribbon Project,
Families and Friends.
1. I’m very happy to be here, it gives me great pleasure to be part of this event. A point that is worth highlighting is that Yellow Ribbon is a home-grown project, it is conceptualised by our Prison officers, and I think it is something to be very proud of. The Yellow Ribbon Project is actually being studied and copied by other countries. Let’s give ourselves a big round of applause.
2. Projects like Yellow Ribbon have yielded good results and one example of these good results is if you look at our two-year recidivism rate. 20 years ago, it was about 44 per cent. That means for every ten people that leave prison, four come back. Today, it stands at around 24 per cent for the 2016 cohort and this is actually one of the lowest in the world. This is remarkable progress.
3. How did we achieve this? I think through projects like this is one example. Another key group that has contributed to this good result is the fact that we have a very good and capable team in Prisons and in SCORE, as well as ex-offenders who are willing to own the message, take charge of their lives and take control, and rise above adversity and reform to return to the right path.
4. Of course, we have a pro-social community through employers, voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and various groups coming together to celebrate our ex-offenders and their families.
Celebrating the Award Recipients
5. There were many difficulties along the way. Challenges in the area of employment, financial, personal and family-related obstacles that must be overcome. Each of you have overcome these great difficulties and great challenges and tapped on the available resources to be where you are.
6. But most of you did not just stop there. You actually go on and contribute in other various ways. Whether it is in helping people at halfway houses, shelters or at homes providing mentoring to youths-at-risk.
7. I think it speaks a lot about your convictions. The fact that you were in for something and you saw the impact it had on you and you wanting to give back to others so that others can draw the right lessons from incarceration and ensure that they return to the right path and remain there. I think that is critical.
Profile Story of Whye Kee
8. One example of an inspirational figure is Whye Kee. He spent over ten years in prison. He was convicted for gang related offences as well as drug consumption.
9. In the last three years of his prison sentence from 2005 to 2007, he decided to join a pottery club to kill time. To his surprise, he actually enjoyed what he was doing. He fell in love with pottery because that gave him a sense of calmness. After his release in 2008, he was determined to make a fresh start. He enrolled in LASALLE to pursue a degree in Fine Arts and he embarked on numerous community projects.
10. In 2013, he co-founded Beacon of Life Academy in 2013 that supports youth-at-risk by organising social activities and mentoring opportunities for them.
11. In 2016, Whye Kee decided to fulfil his passion and founded Qi Pottery. He specialises in creating tea wares and has also done many installations, sculptures, paintings, and has exhibited his work widely. So, congratulations to him.
12. More than anything else, his desire to give back is very strong. He has joined the Industrial and Services Co-operative Society (ISCOS) Titans programme earlier this year, and he has conducted various motivational sharing and befriending programmes for inmates.
13. His story of reform and change is truly uplifting and inspiring is his strong desire to give back and not give up, and to let others know that there is a possibility, there’s always chance, there’s always hope not to give up.
Role of Family
14. The other group of persons I would like to pay tribute to are the families. Families play a very important part. They are the bedrock. They are the people who support us no matter what happens. Various studies and research have shown that families play a very critical role in helping us get past our difficulties and in reforming and staying on the right course.
15. So, to all families here, thank you very much. Congratulations to all of you. You’ve been through a lot. It is not easy because offenders may go back to their own ways, but most of you did not give up and you were there when they needed you most.
Role of Employers
16. Another group of persons that I think plays a very important part is the employers. For ex-offenders, many worry about fitting back into society upon release. They worry whether they will have enough money to support themselves. They worry about whether they will be accepted, they worry about their sense of worth, whether other people will look at them and think this guy is worth a second chance.
17. I’m very glad that many employers have played a key role in helping our ex-offenders reintegrate back, giving them a sense of dignity, that sense of self-worth.
18. The Government has tried to make it easy because we know businesses are running profit-driven businesses. So, we’ve played our part by helping employers to be more accepting of ex-offenders.
19. Under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s Adapt and Grow initiative, there are a suite of services and programmes to support job seekers, including Project Phoenix and Career Trial. Since 2007, Project Phoenix has been providing training and employment assistance to individuals before their release. This is to prepare them to reintegrate back into the workforce. Employers can also tap on Career Trial. This trial allows employers and jobseekers try out job opportunities and assess if there is a job fit. During the trial, which can be up to three months, jobseekers receive a training allowance from the government. These measures help to alleviate some of the concerns of the employers as well as the jobseekers’ - the ex-offenders’. They have a trial run before they commit to a job, or before the employers accept them for a job.
20. It has provided reassurance to many and I’m very encouraged that our efforts under the Adapt and Grow initiative have helped more than 1,200 ex-offenders to find jobs in 2018. This is a remarkable achievement and it is also a tangible sign of how employers as well as the Government can work hand-in-hand to reach out to the most vulnerable among us.
Profile Story of Nazneen
21. There are many good employers. Let me share one example– Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. They have partnered SCORE since 1999 to offer employment to ex-offenders.
22. Nazneen is an ex-offender who spent one year in prison for drug consumption. She started work as a barista with Coffee Bean after being released from prison in 2017. She started the job with no food and beverage (F&B) experience at all. She had to start from scratch. She struggled to cope with the demands of irregular working hours, having to juggle many tasks and many orders.
23. She often felt overwhelmed and had she had self-doubt. She was not sure whether she was cut out for the job, whether she could do it, or whether people would complain about her, whether people would accept her.
24. To better prepare her for this role, Coffee Bean sent her for a five-module in-house training course that taught her how to cope with different aspects of F&B operations, from basic food hygiene to maintaining service standards.
25. She also received support and guidance from her colleagues. In particular, her manager called Huuznah, is an ex-offender herself. She was a mentor and she met Nazneen regularly, including during her off days, to provide advice on the areas where Nazneen needed help on. She even prepared notes for Nazneen so that she could refer to them if she needed. Huuznah was critical in ensuring that Nazneen had a smoother transition into work life.
26. Nazneen remained undeterred by the challenges. She enrolled herself in a Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications course on Persuasive and Credible Communications to improve her ability to interact with colleagues and customers.
27. In a short span of eight months at Coffee Bean, she was promoted to Assistant Manager. Today, Nazneen has advanced even further to become an Outlet Manager. Congratulations to Nazneen and to Coffee Bean for the support.
28. Many employers, in fact, are outspoken champions of such initiatives. The provided support, they provided guidance; and have helped many of our ex-offenders to rebuild their lives and rebuild their confidence.
29. So today, we celebrate the many people who have done a wonderful job – some quietly, some we know about – and helped many of our offenders find their feet.
30. To our award recipients - congratulations. You have not only turned your lives around, but have positively influenced others around you, giving them hope, giving them inspiration, letting them know that they can do it.
31. To the families, I can only imagine the heartaches that you have gone through, the difficulties you face, the challenges, the feeling that people are judging you and asking questions about how you raised your child. All the different bad perceptions people might have. I can only imagine the depth of your anguish and despite all that, you remain supportive and continue to show love and you were there. So, congratulations and thank you very much for being there for the ex-offenders, it really meant a lot to them.
32. Finally, to our employers for believing and working with our ex-offenders and helping them in this journey. It is not just a job, it is the confidence, it is the hope that we have to continuously grow our ex-offenders, and continuously encourage them and support them in this journey. So on that note, I wish to say thank you to all of you.
33. Rehabilitation and reintegration is not easy. It requires the effort of each and every one of us. It is a continuous journey and there is always room for improvement, we should continue to do more and to do better. On that note, I wish you all a very pleasant day ahead. Congratulations to all award winners. Thank you.