I’m in the Training and Employment department at ISCOS. We provide employment assistance and job matching to ex-offenders to help them reintegrate into society. Many of them still feel the stigma and discrimination after their release from prison.  

Something that we stress upon a lot is attitude; it’s not so much work experience. Is the person ready to reintegrate into society?

Is he or she able to let go of own pride and ego, start from basics and learn everything all over again? Is he or she willing to earn an honest living even if the job is hard? Having the right attitude is the key for them to change.

We also offer subsidies if they want to upgrade their skills. Many of them lack the academic qualifications, so through the Skills Assistance Subsidy Scheme, we provide career guidance and advise them on courses they can take up to progress in their line of work.

Before working at ISCOS, I was doing HR work at a different company. My role was to make sure staff followed procedures and protocols. I dealt with people, but it was on a very organisational level, and I didn’t find the work fulfilling. I wanted to connect with people in a different way, so I chose a different career path.

I’ve been at ISCOS for two years now, and over here, my work feels purposeful and the clients are practically life. I still remember the first client I was assigned to during my first nine months. He was just released from prison a few months prior and found it hard getting a job.

Because of his record, he was rejected by several companies. When I managed to find him a job, he was very grateful. He was planning to get married, so with his stable job and income, he was able to plan for the future. Knowing that gave me a sense of accomplishment.

I think being genuine is the most important thing in my line of work. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. If the way you express yourself makes the ex-offender feel comfortable, he or she will find it easier to trust you. I wouldn’t say they trust me 100 percent, but a good 50 percent is enough to get them to open up.

I like asking them about their family and loved ones. No matter how bad their crimes were, they’re still human with feelings for certain people. I remind them that they’re not just working for themselves, but for the people who care for them and have been there for them.

There are certain people in Singapore who are strongly against giving ex-offenders a chance. They believe ex-offenders have not paid for their crimes in full. It only takes a single person in the company to hold this belief and the door to that company will be closed to all ex-offenders.

That’s why the outside world feels like a second prison to many ex-offenders. Serving a sentence is one thing, but having to live with the stigma is a whole other thing. Not everyone will give them a second chance, and that’s just something they’ll have to deal with.

Those who are given a second, third and even a fourth chance, don’t take it for granted. It’s not an entitlement. You have to earn it with your own effort, initiative and change in attitude. The road will be tough, but don’t give up. Just remember there are people who are willing to help you.” – Brian, 28  

Brian Kang is a staff of ISCOS.

Humans of ISCOS is a collaboration between The Everyday People and ISCOS, a co-operative that helps ex-offenders in Singapore. Read more here.