3,000 run in solidarity with former offenders

Each Unlabelled Run participant received a temporary tattoo, which can be washed off after the run. It symbolises the removing of labels on former offenders, for whom tattoos can be a source of discrimination, even after they have turned over a new l
Each Unlabelled Run participant received a temporary tattoo, which can be washed off after the run. It symbolises the removing of labels on former offenders, for whom tattoos can be a source of discrimination, even after they have turned over a new leaf.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

They take part in Unlabelled Run in bid to erase stigma attached to ex-offenders

He had gone in and out of prison since age 16, mainly for drug-related offences. When he was released around three years ago, he was grateful to be able to get a job.

Now 33, Mr Jason Yeo is company director of a firm in the construction industry and hopes more people can be given a second chance, just like he was.

He is one of nearly 3,000 people who took part in the first Unlabelled Run at East Coast Park yesterday. About one in 10 participants of the run held by The New Charis Mission non-profit group was a former offender like Mr Yeo.

Each runner was given a temporary tattoo, which can be rinsed off after the run, to symbolise the "unlabelling" of people with a prison record.

Tattoos can be a source of discrimination, even after former offenders have turned over a new leaf, said organisers.

Pastor Don Wong, founder and executive director of The New Charis Mission, said labels remain on former offenders and former drug addicts due to the wrongs they have done.

Removing labels helps not only the former offenders but also their family members, who might feel a sense of stigma.

The run was started to generate awareness of the good work done by former offenders to the community, said Mr Wong.

"Now that (the former offenders) are transformed, reformed... they are giving back in ways previously unimagined," he added, citing home refurbishment projects that former offenders from The New Charis Mission carry out for elderly residents.

"It is beyond the giving of second chances. It is now the taking off of labels pasted over their lives," he said.

Ms Denise Phua, Mayor of Central Singapore District, was the guest of honour at the event.

Actor Chew Chor Meng, who helped in the run's planning, turned up to show support. He said he was touched to see the turnout.

"Initially, when the organisers decided to have the run, only 300 or so participants expressed interest," he said. "So, we thought of ways to make this more interesting and thought of using tattoos."

Fellow actor Zhu Houren, who was also at the event, hoped that people can look past labels.

"Although ex-offenders cannot get rid of their tattoos, they are 'clean' on the inside," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 17, 2016, with the headline '3,000 run in solidarity with former offenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe