The Yellow Ribbon: Do more than wear it

The Yellow Ribbon Prison Run held on 14 September this year raised more than $130,000 through donations from 10 organisations pledging their support through the #YRselfie activity.

A boy’s head being shaved. A man writing a penitent letter to his wife. His son asking, “Is Daddy coming home today?” And a simple yellow ribbon.

This moving TV advertisement has touched many viewers, and is part of the message that the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) continues to share throughout Singapore: “Help Unlock the Second Prison” – the societal stigma faced by ex-offenders and their families.

The YRP was launched in 2004 as a nationwide public education campaign aimed at changing society’s mindset to give ex-offenders a second chance in life, and to bring about societal acceptance of them and their families. It is spearheaded by the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network, a group of community and government organisations responsible for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.

Through the successful reintegration of ex-offenders as responsible and contributing citizens, the YRP seeks to help create a more inclusive community, one that will lead to a safer and more secure Singapore.

The project’s name was inspired by the hit song from the 1970s, ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’, which is reportedly based on the real-life tale of an ex-offender’s journey to forgiveness. The act of wearing a yellow ribbon pin as a sign of offering acceptance, forgiveness and second chances to ex-offenders has since become one of the project’s signature activities.

The Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF) was registered as an Institute of Public Character (IPC) in 2004 to administer programmes and services for ex-offenders and their families. Ten years later, the programmes have not only made their mark on society’s acceptance of ex-offenders, but also made a substantial difference in the lives of ex-offenders, with more than 25,000 beneficiaries and their families receiving help from the YRF. These include education and employability training, short-term accommodation support if shelter is needed upon release, and programmes supporting families of those incarcerated.

Success Story – Mr Hanniel Choong
It has been a challenge for Mr Hanniel Choong to reintegrate into society. In 1977, Hanniel went to prison for the first time for drug-related charges. The 49-year-old has spent time in and out of the prison over a period of almost 20 years.

When he was behind bars, he learned about the word of God through the Christian counselling programmes by the volunteer organisation The Helping Hand. It taught him the real meaning of life and the need to change for the better.

Hanniel expressed that it was a struggle gaining employment with a disclosed background of drug addiction and crime. It was no walk in the park either to rebuild trust with his family, who almost gave up on him during his repeated incarceration. It took him years to win back their trust and confidence.

After his release in 1996, he joined the Adam Road Presbyterian Church (ARPC) as a member. Two years later, ARPC sent him to a halfway house called The House of Hope in Cebu, Philippines. He worked there and helped rehabilitate drug addicts for three years. He then returned to Singapore and now works full-time as a Maintenance Officer in ARPC.

Married with three children, Hanniel has a passion for running. He helped raise $10,000 for the YRF by being part of the team that competed in the Aviva Ironman 70.3 Singapore Triathlon in 2009.

Do more than wear it
Creating an environment that supports ex-offenders like Hanniel in turning their lives around requires members of society to “do more than wear [the yellow ribbon]”, as the YRP exhorts in its latest series of advertisements.

Mr David Sim is one of the volunteers featured in the campaign by YRP. A cabbie, he divides his time between driving passengers to their destinations and steering ex-offenders towards transformation and reintegration.

Like David, volunteers can offer hope and opportunities to ex-offenders and their families by supporting events or aftercare programmes. The YRP is also encouraging individuals and companies to step forward as youth advocates and corporate partners.

“The Lord has sent me… to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

Isaiah 61:1

To find out more on volunteering opportunities with the YRP, please email yellow_ribbon_proj@yahoo.com.sg

Mr David Sim does more than just wear the yellow ribbon – he helps steer ex-offenders towards transformation and reintegration.

Photos courtesy of the Yellow Ribbon Project

Grace Toh is the Assistant Editor of Methodist Message and has been a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church for most of her life. She put together this article with valuable input from Mr Kenneth Foo and Mr Elric Toh from the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network Office.