Monday 8 July 2013

Inmates' families get helping hand

440 volunteers reach out to over 1,000 families with members in jail
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Sunday Times, 7 Jul 2013

When retiree Betty Lai visited the parents of a woman who was in prison, she found that they were taking care of their daughter's 15-month-old baby.

So the 65-year-old helped them get financial assistance to supplement the income the inmate's father received from working for a laundry service. She also got a part-time job for the mother and a place in an infant care centre for the baby.

This was one of the success stories Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli related yesterday during an event to recognise the work done by volunteers with the Yellow Ribbon-Community Outreach Project - run by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS).

From just 58 volunteers benefiting 78 families in 2010, when the project began, there are now 440 volunteers helping to reach out to more than 1,000 families.

The volunteers, who come from grassroots organisations across 56 GRC divisions islandwide, help families with members in jail to look for financial assistance, education subsidies and employment.

During the appreciation luncheon and award ceremony at Buona Vista Community Centre, Mr Masagos lauded their work in "lending a helping hand to inmates' families to manage the difficulties they are confronted with after their loved ones are admitted into prison".

"More importantly, they have helped families cope with the stress and anxiety from the absence of a family figure at home, usually the caregiver or the breadwinner," he said.

Giving another example, Mr Masagos spoke about a 19-year-old whose father was in jail. She was so touched by the help she received in furthering her studies that she joined the programme.

The outreach programme, he added, also allows inmates to focus on rehabilitation, knowing that their families are being cared for.

Despite the encouraging increase in the number of people volunteering, SPS' Reintegration and Community Collaboration Services deputy director Abdul Karim Shahul Hameed said more are needed, adding that those who sign up will get a day of training to help them handle home visits.

They are taught how to engage the families, and how to handle sensitive issues.

But visiting these families, even with the inmate's consent, can still be a tense affair, volunteers told The Sunday Times.

Mr Mohamed Imhar Mohamed Said, 57, who has been doing volunteer work since he was 17, said: "In the beginning the family may not be very happy, and we will get scolded."

But the personal assistant, who oversees the Siglap Division and East Coast GRC volunteers, added: "I don't see it as a failure. I will just leave and go back again. The second time, they are more welcoming."

Ms Fiona Tan, 40, a volunteer from the Admiralty Division, makes it a point to break the ice by finding common topics they can talk about. Even simple things like banter with children who are present can reduce the tension, said the civil servant.

Retiree Albert Lee, a volunteer from the Marsiling Division, does not mind the pitfalls.

Said the 66-year-old, who has been volunteering for 30 years: "I get satisfaction from helping them, and that is something money cannot buy."

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