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Home / People / In the Spotlight / Prison break: Be the key  
Published: 23 Sep 2011 10:00AM (Singapore)
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Prison break: Be the key
The Yellow Ribbon Prison Run unlocked a second prison for ex-offenders with the help of the runners. Find out what this second prison is, how the runners unlocked it and how you can also do your part in unlocking it.
 
By Abigail Chua Si Yi
The 10-km competitive run runners being flagged off at the Start point of the marathon.
The Yellow Ribbon Prison Run was held on 18th September 2011.

Themed “Beyond The Run”, the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run’s runners loaned their voices collectively to a message for all ex-offenders: “To pick themselves up and to get back on track”.

Guest-of-Honour, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sport, Major General Chan Chun Sing started off the event by unlocking a gate at the starting point of the marathon.

Although many ex-offenders have done their time for the wrong they have done, many still see them with discriminatory eyes.

When ex-offenders are freed from prison, they enter a second prison - public discrimination and low self-esteem.

The symbolism of unlocking the gate represented the freeing of the ex-offenders from a social and psychological prison the key to which is in the hands of family, friends, neighbours, employers, and the community at large.

Flagging off the race were Major-General Chan Chun Sing. Deputy Director of Prisons Mr Desmond Chin, Singapore Corporation Of Rehabilitative Enterprises Chairman Mr Kong Mun Kwong and Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.
 
All of them also participated in the marathon.
Guest-of-Honour Major General Chan Chun Sing being handed the key to symbolically unlock the gates of the second prison. PHOTO: Joanne Yan

The run started with the 10-km competitive run and participating were people from various walks of life including professional runners, children, students, and even ex-offenders themselves.

Mr R Selvanathan, 52, was an ex-offender participating in the 10-km run.

Seven months after release, he was able to find a job as an inventory clerk with the help and support of his friends.

However, he has seen his fellow ex-offenders with less luck.

“I have friends who not only face stigmatism from the public, but also stigmatise themselves,” he said.

“I want to run in this marathon because I want to help raise awareness of this. The Yellow Ribbon Project is very useful and has changed lives.”

He has been attending support groups to help build his self-confidence.

The Yellow Ribbon Project, which engages the community in accepting ex-offenders and their families and giving them a second chance at life, was established in 2004 by our former President Mr S R Nathan.

It has helped Mr Selvanathan not only by providing support, but also by providing courses for both ex-offenders and inmates to “upgrade” themselves.

Since its inauguration three years ago, the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run has garnered more and more supporters and participants.

Two of them were Aeron Yong, and his father, Mr Titus Yong, who both participated in the 10-km run.

Aeron’s age? Eight years old.

Aeron Yong, 8 and his father Mr Titus Yong crossing the finish line.
Over the past month, the Primary Two Temasek Primary School student has been collecting donations from family and friends by accomplishing sporting feats.

These feats include scaling Mouth Ruapehu, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and challenging himself to complete the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run’s competitive 10-km race in less than 80 minutes!

To beat the clock, he and his father have been training by running around the Bedok Reservoir about three times a week.

Aeron’s goal is to provide books for the children of inmates.

Mr Titus Yong, a university lecturer, said that the victims of the second prison are not just the ex-offenders, but the “families in the background” too.

“Children who go to school have to face classmates who ask where their parents are,” he said.

“They also lose an important breadwinner as well.”

Both father and son have managed to raise about $1000 in donations for the children of inmates.

Mr Kevin Hoon, Chairman of the Yellow Prison Run and prison officer, said: “The event this time was very successful. There are about 9000 runners this year which is the highest record number of runners since 2009.”

All funds raised at the event will go to the Community Services Society and the Salvation Army, both of which help the children of offenders.

Also supporting the event were group runners from the St. Andrew’s Cathedral.

The group was made up of participants for both the 10-km competitive run and the 6-km fun run.
St Andrew's Cathedral group runners. The group was made up of both 10-km competitive run and 6-km fun run runners.

Justin Ng, 23, was the leader of the group and participant of the 10-km run.

I wanted to support the Yellow Ribbon Project through this run and challenge myself to a long distance run,” he said.

“I support the YRP because I have been given many second chances and so I believe in second chances. I hope that through this run, more awareness is created for the YRP and also give the ex-convicts another chance at a new life to encourage them to go back into society.”

Training at least twice a week and constantly challenging himself to run further and faster each time, the results of his 10-km met his expectations and his happiness could be seen as he laughed and jumped around with his friends at the finish line.

Justin also finds it meaningful that he can do his part just by running and his contribution of the $5 registration fee.

And indeed, the event managed to raise a total of S$731,000 this year.

Lenice Lee, 20, part of Justin’s group and a 6-km fun run participant said: “I find that this is a very rare opportunity to be able to run with my friends as we are all usually busy with school or work.”

For Lenice, aiming for the goodie bag at the end was a bonus motivation as well as seeing the many meaningful historical and prison sites along the route.

The route went past eight different sites such as the Changi Prison Complex, Changi Chapel and Museum, Changi Prison Wall, Tanah Merah Prison, Changi Women’s Prison and more.

Joyce Chua, 20, another 6-km participant in Justin’s group said: “Almost to the finish line, there was a cheer team that made me feel more encouraged and motivated to finish and run across the finish line.”

The cheer team was made up of students from Fajar Secondary School.

With clappers and pompoms in hand, they cheered and encouraged runners who were tired after many kilometres under the scorching sun.

“As I ran, I could picture just how ex-inmates run the uphill race against the prejudice and rejection by the society,” said Eugene Chua, 25, another 10-km runner in the St. Andrew's Cathedral group.

“We run with muscle aches and sweat, but these inmates run with the painful hurt and helplessness. People along the race motivate and encourage us to run forward, why can't we do the same for the ex-inmates?”

After the run, runners and their family and friends relaxed at a carnival of games, performances, goodie bags, prizes, exhibitions of artworks done by reforming inmates, and testimonials of ex-offenders.

One testimonial said: “I put up a strong front in front of my family, but inside me, I was so fearful of my new label.”

This testimonial conveyed the fear and the realism of the “second prison”.

Adding to the exhibitions were yellow ribbons pinned up by the runners, with their wishes toward the ex-offenders and current inmates, written on them.

A child's yellow ribbon and message to his father among hundreds of other well-wishers.

Most of the wishes told the ex-offenders and inmates to not give up hope, and encouraged them to stand proud.

Meanwhile some told of their most heartfelt emotions and hopes.

“Daddy, we miss you.”

“Mummy is waiting for you at home.”

“We are waiting for you to come home.”

Everyone and anyone can unlock the second prison, but only if you start trying.
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Related Multimedia

  Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2011  
Related Articles
  Insight into Rehabilitation within Prison Walls
  Artists of their own lives
  Reintegrating ex-offenders with the “soft touch”
  Managing the business of hope
  Getting back up from zero
  More helping hands needed to reintegrate ex-offenders
  Prisons-Community partnership helps keep recidivism rate low
Related Department
Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprise
Singapore Prison Service
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