Published: 22 December 2018
Acting Commissioner of Prisons Shie Yong Lee,
Volunteers and Community Partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning everyone.
Our Work Involves Families, Children and Community
1. This Yellow Ribbon ‘Back to School’ project is something I have pushed for. The reason is because this project tells a lot about the work that we do here. It tells a lot about what the Yellow Ribbon is about. Three things – first, family; second, children; and third, the community.
2. First, families. We all know that families are the first line of defence for many of us, and for offenders and ex-offenders as well. Families see us through many life challenges. Strong families help us get through many things. So we must do our best to keep family ties strong, no matter how imperfect the situation is.
3. Second, children. 400 of them are benefiting from this programme. They are the most affected. The absence of a father or mother, who may be recently incarcerated, can be quite traumatising for a child and emotionally draining too.
4. This event reminds us about the work that we do and it also tells us that there is more for us to look at. We may read their charge sheets and think that that is all there is to them. But there is also another side – they are also Mamas and Papas to young children aged 6 to 12, and the children are innocent.
5. Third, the community can and must play an important part in a person’s reintegration and rehabilitation journey.
Contributions of YRCP Volunteers and Community Support
6. This event rallies our community volunteers – the Yellow Ribbon Community volunteers across 77 divisions all around Singapore. And this is important, as it is a very powerful network. A powerful grassroots network and the power of the community can heal most things. Our YRCP volunteers get in touch with families of offenders, identify and address family needs through referrals to community resources and networks, and help the families in times of need.
7. This is also a call for more volunteers to help with our efforts to impact and touch the lives of offenders and their families. Our offenders and their families must know that someone cares. And that is us.
Impact of Incarceration
8. I mentioned earlier about making the best of an imperfect situation. What is this imperfect situation? I am referring about being in prison. One of the hardest parts of the incarceration process is being kept apart from loved ones, missing key milestones like birthdays, first steps, first days at childcare, kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, and many other firsts during the critical growing up years.
9. It is painful and it should serve as a strong reminder that the law has to be followed or there will be consequences. Prison time has to have its deterrent effect, so that the wider society can benefit from low crime rates and the safety and security that we enjoy today, at any time of the day and night.
10. But it is always about balance. Balancing the deterrent effect and in certain cases, justice to the victims and their families, with the impact to the family and innocent children of incarcerated persons.
Letters from Inmates to their Sons
11. Let me read two letters written by two inmates to their sons.
12. The first letter, written by Inmate X reads:
My handsome son, I want to tell you I am sorry. Because I know I have not been a good father over these past years. I wish I had done things better and spent more time with you. I think of you every day and every night. I miss your laugh. I miss your smile. I miss playing PlayStation 4 with you. I miss being by your side. My son, you are a good boy and a man of the house. I am sorry I can’t be with you. I am sorry I let you down. I want you to know that I love you... a lot. And hope that when you grow up you will be a better man than me. I will always be your Ayah. I love you and miss you so much.
13. The second letter, written by Inmate Y reads:
My son, Daddy would like to take this opportunity to praise you for the great improvement in your P3 year end results. Please continue to keep up the good work and spend more time on your Chinese. Do not give up! Daddy believe in you and I know and have faith that you can do it. I am so proud of you, son. Please also forgive Daddy for not being able to be there for you during this point of time because of some problems. But Daddy will come back to you very soon. In the meantime, daddy will need you to help me take good care of mummy and didi while daddy away ok? Don’t give mummy a hard time. As for good work in your exams, I will ask Mummy to reward you on Daddy’s behalf. Go buy something you like ok? Remember if you want to play hard, you must also study hard. Lastly Daddy wishes you a very merry Xmas and happy new year. I miss you so much and love you.
Prisons’ Rehabilitation Efforts
14. We have targeted programmes in our prisons which help inmates with their rehabilitation process, such as counselling; skills training so that they can have a job upon release, emotional-psychological based programmes as well as visits by families. Prison time and such programmes are carefully calibrated to ensure that inmates are not kept longer than necessary.
15. But the fact is from the point of view of a child, any time away is too long. There is something we can do to help maintain family bonds. It won’t be perfect, it won’t be like normal, but we have to try. Projects like the one today are one way. The start of the school year is something every child remembers with a tinge of sadness and excitement. Sadness because the holidays are over, and excitement because of the new year and their new class.
16. Knowing that Mama and Papa are thinking of them would mean a lot. Even when away, Mama and Papa have arranged for new bags and stationeries to be sent. And not just that, a letter handwritten by Mama or Papa sending all the love, specially delivered by members of the community who care. This is a good cause, and a cause worth supporting.
17. There are no bounds to a parent’s love, and prison bars don’t change that love. Distance may be a barrier, but the children must know that their parents’ love and thoughts are with them, always. We have to try and keep trying and keep helping. For those who have offended and were imprisoned, they have to make sure that they don’t reoffend, together with society’s help. That way, their promises to spend precious time with their children can be kept. That’s the best gift they can give to their families, and we are with them every step of the way.
18. Thank you.