4,500 show support for ex-offenders at second edition of Unlabelled Run

Around 4,500 participants signed up for the Unlabelled Run at Punggol on Saturday (July 8), to show support for giving ex-offenders a second chance. Organised by non-profit group The New Charis Mission, the run aims to raise awareness for the good work that ex-inmates have done for the community as well.ST VIDEO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - They may use wheelchairs to get around, but this did not stop pastor Philip Chan, 66, and his wife Christina Chan, 70, from joining a run to show support for former offenders and calling for more people to give them a second chance.

They were among some 4,500 people who signed up for the second edition of the Unlabelled Run on Saturday (July 8), organised by non-profit organisation The New Charis Mission.

Around 500 participants were former inmates and their families.

The run was initiated by The New Charis Mission's executive director Don Wong last year, to raise awareness of former offenders' good work for the community.

Mr Chan, who is co-founder of a halfway house called The Hiding Place, recalls his own brush with the law in 1973 - drug addiction had once landed him behind bars for three months.

"In the past, if you were known as a drug addict, people tended to be more afraid," he said. "Now, with halfway houses, the prison ministry, and other groups, there is more acceptance."

But there is still work to be done, with former offenders finding it hard to land a job, and facing social stigma, he added.

Second Minister for Home Affairs Desmond Lee, who was at the event, said it is important to "remember that we, too, make mistakes".

It is with a "spirit of forgiveness and acceptance" that Singapore can build a stronger society, he added.

He highlighted that the community needs to step up to support reintegration as well.

"Employers must be prepared to hire people, on the basis that they have come back on a clean slate," said Mr Lee.

Similarly, family members' help is crucial in the "most difficult few years immediately after release", and volunteers should support this process as well, he said.

"We need role models," he added. "Ex-offenders who have done well, who have become prominent - we need them to stand up and to lead by example."

Among other participants of the run were administration and operations executive Dennis Goh, 41, who struggled with drug addiction for almost 20 years.

He had started taking heroin at the age of 16, and was caught with drugs at age 24.

But he vowed to kick the addiction for the sake of his 11-year-old daughter, and has been "clean" for around three years.

"In her initial primary school years, I wasn't there for her, and had been heavily hooked on drugs," said Mr Goh. "My daughter is growing up, and I know that I can't carry on with my life just taking substances and without sparing a thought for her."