A Second Chance – And More – To Rebuild Lives 

The 20th Anniversary Appreciation Event for the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders (CARE) Network gave Abigail Chua the opportunity to gain new insights into how ex-offenders integrate back into society and find out how youths can support this journey.

BY
Abigail Chua
Publicity Manager 
HYPE Issue #52`

Edited by
Jamie Mah and Lavonne Yew

Deputy Editor and Sub-Editor 
Hype Issue #53

Published on
May 20, 2021

Infographic of how youths respond to the idea of ex-offenders and second chances. Infographic by Abigail Chua, information from surveys done by HYPE.

Second chances are vital and for ex-offenders, it is hope for a new life. This message reverberated in the stories of ex-offenders and throughout the 20th Anniversary Appreciation Event of the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders (CARE) Network.

“We all make mistakes in life,” says Associate Professor Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim. The Minister of State for the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development adds: “For them, they have made a mistake that required them to be incarcerated. Nevertheless, they have chances to change.”

To Sabrina Chong Abdullah, an ex-offender incarcerated for drug-related offences, a second chance acts as a reminder not to give up on the road to recovery and reintegration.

 “If [my husband] never gave me the last chance, maybe I’m not here also,” says Sabrina who was initially struggling to balance work and family, especially with her children being a bit of a handful then.

 Her caseworker, Ms Halimatus Sa’adiah Binte Numan, adds: “At first, she mentioned [that she felt] like giving up [and] going back to her old ways.”

A fitness mat with a laptop showing Chloe Ting's ab workout for people who are trying to stay fit during the circuit breaker period which was set in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 cases in Singapore.

Sabrina Chong Abdullah (left) and her caseworker Halimatus Sa’adiah Binte Numan (right) sharing Sabrina’s journey in reintegrating back to society. Photo by Aqilah Salim.

Despite feeling this way, Sabrina’s determination to keep her family intact and to tear away society’s labels motivated her to persevere.

In a survey conducted by HYPE with over 50 respondents aged 17 to 24, three common words that respondents associated with ex-offenders were: “criminals”, “gangsters” and “dangerous”.

Chances Are Like Reminders

These negative feelings associated with ex-offenders is the stigma of incarceration. But these negative feelings and the stigma should not define a person.

“[We] cannot be who we are forever,” says Sabrina. “The proverb says the leopard never changes its spots. But I want to change and take [the negative feelings] away from people’s mindset.”

Having been given countless second chances by her husband after her relapses, Sabrina put her foot down after realising that no one could help her unless she helped herself. With her family as motivation, Sabrina learnt to cope with balancing work and family without the use of drugs.

During this period of recovery, Sabrina also received support from the counselling sessions organised by the Industrial & Services Co-Operative Society Ltd (ISCOS). These sessions allowed Sabrina to voice out her problems and relieve the burden of any issues weighing on her mind.

“I share my problem with my counsellors, even small small problems I share,” she says with a laugh. “When we take up our problems, we voice out and become lighter so we never dwell on it.”

In addition to her case worker’s help in figuring out the steps to be taken to reintegrate into society, the counselling sessions also helped Sabrina better understand her thought processes. ISCOS events have become an opportunity for Sabrina to bond with her family.

CARE Network’s 20th Anniversary Appreciation Event with Associate Professor Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (middle) who gave a speech and shared stories of ex-offenders supported by the CARE Network. Photo by Aqilah Salim.

Other than Sabrina, there are also many other ex-offenders who found new life with the second chance they received. For many, the CARE Network has helped to support them while they were incarcerated by helping their families get back on their feet. After their release, CARE Network continues to engage with them and their family for a seamless reintegration into society.

 This support has seen families grow more resilient and independent. Dr Faishal told the story of an ex-offender who expressed his gratitude for the support the partners gave him and his family.

 “Throughout the journey while he was incarcerated, he became stronger and was able to take care of the family,” Dr Faishal says. “When he was in prison, he felt at ease that someone in the community was looking after his family.”

 After his release, the continuous engagement helped his family grow from strength to strength. Although he knows his journey of recovery is filled with hurdles, he knows that the community and CARE Network are together with him on this journey.

Volunteering And Creating Conversations

Support for ex-offenders and their families is the pivot to help them reintegrate back into society. As for this generation of youths, what is the love you can give to help them reintegrate into society seamlessly?

In a HYPE survey, 98 per cent of respondents believed in giving second chances. However, 65 per cent of the respondents were clueless about what role they could play to provide that second chance.

 “As long as [you] have the interest to volunteer or to help a certain specific group [such as ex-offenders], it’s already one step ahead since you already know what specific group you want to work with,” Halimatus says.

 The first step in playing a part is the intention to want to help them. The next step would be researching to know what volunteering opportunities are out there. For CARE Network, youths and volunteers can learn about volunteering by leveraging online platforms for e-training such as the “Risk-Need-Responsivity Approach to Offender Rehabilitation in Singapore” module.

Another viable area is volunteering with the Red Cross.

 “I got this Red Cross, they got people who go to my house as volunteers to teach my children, to read to my younger children,” Sabrina shares.

 Youths can also start conversations to create awareness of the need to give second chances, and to generate acceptance of ex-offenders and their families in the community.

 The first place to start could be having conversations with young people whose parents are incarcerated or have an incarceration record. Build a relationship with them, let them know that you are genuinely there to support them and create a bond.

 “As we create a bond, they’ll be more willing to share and open up about their stories,” Halimatus advises.

 Through these stories, youths will understand their struggles and the kind of support they need. By sharing these stories with their peers, youths help them become more aware of what ex-offenders and their family go through on a daily basis.

 These stories of struggles and learning from their mistakes is what being human is. Like Sabrina, beyond the “dangerous”, “criminal” or “gangster” labels, she is someone who is loyal, independent and resilient. She is someone who used her second chance to change for the better.

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