Ex-offenders take part in run with loved ones, prison staff and bosses

Participants in the 10km category of the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run at the entrance gate and wall of Changi Prison, which was the finishing point of the race. The event raised some $123,000 for the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which helps former inmates.
Participants in the 10km category of the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run at the entrance gate and wall of Changi Prison, which was the finishing point of the race. The event raised some $123,000 for the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which helps former inmates.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Four years ago, her father called the police while she was high on drugs in their rented Yishun flat. Then 27, she was so delirious that she did not even recall being arrested.

But Bella (not her real name) resolved to turn her life around while serving her three-year sentence in Changi Women's Prison.

She had been in jail twice before for drug- and theft-related offences after leaving school at 15, but rediscovered her interest in studying the third time round.

Not only did she go on to complete her N levels behind bars, but she also enrolled in a part-time diploma course after her release in 2014, under a full subsidy by the Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF).

The initiative provides financial support for inmates, former offenders and their families to undergo various rehabilitative programmes.

Yesterday, Bella, now 31 and a recipient of the YRF Star (Skills Training Assistance to Restart) Bursary Fund, teamed up with her husband, her prison officer and her bursary interviewer for the eighth Yellow Ribbon Prison Run.

They were one of 13 four-member teams in the inaugural Run For Second Chances Movement, where former offenders complete a 5km route alongside people who have guided them during and after their jail term. These include family members, prison officers, employers and community partners, said vice- chairman of the run's organising committee Cheam Tiong Pheng.

"This showcases the diversity in support required for ex-offenders in their rehabilitative journey," he said.

More than 9,000 participants turned up yesterday to support the cause, which raised about $123,000 for the YRF this year.

The 5km fun walk and 10km competitive run took participants through historical sites such as the Johore Battery and the newly gazetted Old Changi Prison entrance.

The Changi Prison Complex opens its doors to the public for a carnival only once every year.

For Bella, now an office administrator for a retail distribution company, the bursary has lifted a huge financial burden off her shoulders.

She nominated her prison officer, Ms Siti Hawa Ahmad Salleh, as a team member to show her appreciation for the chief warder's support during her time in prison.

The prison officer was joined by Ms Charlotte Yew, who sat on the panel to interview applicants of the bursary that year.

Said Ms Siti: "I am happy to know that (Bella) has gone on to achieve what she had set out to do. It shows that not all of us may have a good start, but we can have a good end if we are given a second chance."

With the support of her husband, family members and friends, Bella is set to graduate with a double diploma in private secretary and business administration from BMC Academy next year.

She hopes to study for a university degree in future.

Asked for her advice to other former offenders, she said confidently: "Just go for it and chase your dreams."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-offenders take part in run with loved ones, prison staff and bosses'. Print Edition | Subscribe