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CAUSES WEEK

Tales of father-son ties offer peek into inmates' thoughts

Book serves as a way to bridge gap between those in prison and society

Published on Dec 15, 2012 6:00 AM
 
The Good Father & Other Stories was compiled by Saca, the Prison School and The Patatas. Saca director  Prem Kumar said that through the book, former offenders can speak for themselves, while The Patatas director Dawn Toh said the book allows people to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is in prison. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

AN INMATE writes of his realisation of the distance between his son and himself: "Separated by steel walls and high concrete walls, I am left as a mere spectator to his growth and infant years."

Another writes about his descent into prison and how his own father reported him to the police: "My world became colourless and dull ever since and I literally gave up on myself."

These touching observations are taken from a collection of essays on paternal relationships compiled by the Singapore After- Care Association (Saca), the Prison School and social start-up The Patatas.

Set up in 1956, Saca has been helping former offenders reintegrate into mainstream society.

Marginalised by their experience, many of the 10,000 released each year struggle once they step beyond the prison gates.

The charity provides counselling and referrals to help former offenders adjust to life outside.

It also offers financial support for them to go back to school, and even has volunteer befriender programmes. More recently, Saca has started an annual essay writing competition for those inmates studying at the Prison School.

In each of their June holiday periods since 2010, more than 300 prisoners have penned their thoughts on subjects ranging from sacrifice to second chances.

For the first time, 20 of the inmates' essays are being published anonymously in a book titled The Good Father & Other Stories.

Funded by the Lee Foundation and Dads for Life, 6,000 copies of the illustrated 90-page book have been printed. Some of the father- son stories are based on their imagination but many are drawn from personal experience.

Saca director Prem Kumar, 44, spoke of the book's appeal and its ability to change the perception of former offenders.

"At the heart of reintegration is acceptance. And before accepting something you have to understand it," he said. "We can say a thousand things on behalf of our clients, but through this, they can speak for themselves."

Launched in September, the $12 book is available at goodfather.sg and through Saca and The Patatas. All proceeds will go to Saca, which so far faces a $300,000 deficit in its annual $1.6 million operating budget for this fiscal year.

Unedited, the writing is simple and honest.

The Patatas director Dawn Toh, 25, echoed Mr Kumar's opinion that the book was a way to bridge the divide between former offenders and the rest of society. "The essays are written with emotions and sincerity," she said. "When you read them, you put yourself in the shoes of someone who's in prison."

llim@sph.com.sg

For more information about the book, go to http://goodfather.sg/

For more information about Saca's programmes, go to www.saca.org.sg/home

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