In this age of social media and instant messaging, a handwritten letter may seem quaint and old-fashioned. But for those in prison, it is the only way to send a message to their loved ones.
About 400 children, aged between six and 12, will be receiving such letters from their parents who are incarcerated, in a pack worth $50 sponsored by the Yellow Ribbon Fund. The children will also be getting school bags, vouchers and stationery, as part of a Back To School initiative launched yesterday.
The children of offenders are often the unintended victims of incarceration, said Superintendent Valerie Chiang, from the Singapore Prison Service's rehabilitation and reintegration division. "With the sudden absence of a family member, these children may develop social and emotional issues which need to be addressed. We hope this small gift can serve to remind the offenders' families and children that the community is there to support them where necessary," she added.
No gift can replace the love of a mother or father, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin. But these letters - asking for forgiveness, and promises that they will not repeat their mistakes - remind children of their parent's love for them, he said.
"It's important for the children to hear this from their parents, that they want to improve themselves."
In letters read out by Mr Amrin at the launch event at Heartbeat@Bedok, incarcerated fathers also praised their children for their exam results and reminisced about playing video games together.
Said one inmate, Joe (not his real name): "I hope that the words I have penned in my letter will encourage (my children) in their studies. For me, education is important for my children's future."
The new initiative is just one of the efforts by the Yellow Ribbon Community Project, which aims to provide support and assistance to the families of offenders. As of June this year, the project, formed in 2010, had trained more than 900 grassroots volunteers and helped over 9,000 families of offenders.
These volunteers conduct regular home visits to assess the welfare of inmates' families, and direct them to the relevant agencies for help with financial, education or housing issues. This may continue even after an inmate's release.
Healthcare worker R, 45, whose husband will be in jail for the next five years for drug offences, said being the only breadwinner for her family of three children is taxing, but community support, such as counselling, has helped ease some of the pressure.
Mr Zulkefle Abdul Rahman, 70, who has been volunteering with the project for five years, said the work volunteers do helps ease the problems the families face. He said the families he works with have accepted his help.
"Sometimes when the children see me, they call out 'ah kong!' (grandfather)," said Mr Zulkefle, who has two children and six grandchildren of his own.