Prison service honours volunteers

Psychotherapist Mohd Ismail Abu Bakar has been volunteering as a befriender to inmates and former offenders since about 2011. One of those he helped is Daniel (back to camera), now a second-year student in marine engineering at Singapore Polytechnic.
Psychotherapist Mohd Ismail Abu Bakar has been volunteering as a befriender to inmates and former offenders since about 2011. One of those he helped is Daniel (back to camera), now a second-year student in marine engineering at Singapore Polytechnic.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

When Daniel (not his real name) was released last year after six years behind bars, he was glad that he could rely on the support of not just his family members but also that of Mr Mohd Ismail Abu Bakar.

Mr Ismail, 57, a psychotherapist, had volunteered to be a “befriender” to Daniel. He met Daniel, 33, twice while the latter was in jail and four times after he was released, for about half an hour each time.

Daniel said Mr Ismail encouraged him to further his studies and spend more time studying so that his mind would be occupied.

Now a second-year student in marine engineering at Singapore Polytechnic, Daniel said: “Knowing that there was someone other than my family was willing to walk the path with me, gave me the extra confidence in moving back into society.”

Mr Ismail was one of 208 volunteers recognised yesterday at the Singapore Prison Service Volunteers Awards Ceremony, held at The Star Gallery in Buona Vista, for supporting the rehabilitation of inmates and former offenders. Twenty-five voluntary work organisations were also recognised.

Befrienders provide emotional support and mentorship for up to 16 months.

Mr Ismail, a prison befriender since about 2011, said he started to volunteer to make a difference.

He said the main problem former inmates face is being accepted by society. “They want people to understand them. They want someone who cares for them and shows concern and love,” he said.

Mr Ismail said the former inmates he befriended feel understood and comforted when he listens to them talk about their problems.

Deputy Superintendent of Prisons Jonathan Lin said that support from befrienders helps former inmates stay away from negative influences when they are back in the community. “That is important for them to stay clean,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Prison service honours volunteers'. Print Edition | Subscribe