“I was with the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) for nearly 35 years. During that time, I worked with many hardcore addicts and criminals.
I was rotated and held positions in most areas of prison service, from logistics and admin to programming. In the Programmes unit, I looked at providing academic support for offenders.
My reason for working at SPS was to better understand the different people who enter prison; I also wanted to find ways to help them. During in-care, we do a lot to rehabilitate and prepare them for the outside world, but to me, the most critical part is the after-care phase.
That’s why I went over to ISCOS when the opportunity came. I wanted to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society and become purposeful citizens of Singapore. But I was also looking at the bigger picture; I wanted to help the affected families and kids, not just the individual.
Based on research done locally and overseas, kids have a higher chance of engaging in criminal activities if their parents were offenders. I’m talking seven to eight times higher. If we can stop intergenerational offending, we can minimise the number of people going to prison.
I’ve been with ISCOS for 11 years now. When I first came over, I restructured the existing Fairy Godparent Programme (FGP) to make it more impactful for kids with parents who are ex-offenders. We provide family, academic and home support.
In Singapore, you can’t deny that education is very important, so FGP helps motivate kids to study and enhance their academic potential. The home environment is also critical, so we try to ensure that homes are well taken care of and that parents have support to raise their kids.
I think one of the more touching cases I worked on involved this ex-offender who had three kids. Both him and his wife were struggling to meet ends’ meet after he came out of prison four years ago, but we continued to motivate him and take care of his kids through FGP.
They were staying in a rental flat, and he wanted to move and buy his own flat because there were many addicts in the area. It wasn’t a healthy environment for him and his family. He continued to strive, worked two jobs, and finally purchased a house.
When he invited us to his house, I was surprised because it was completely empty. He said, ‘Sir, I hope you don’t mind sitting on the floor.’ I told him I didn’t, and that I was very happy he owned such a beautiful house. Today, his house is completely furnished, and he still keeps in touch.
That’s why I always tell my staff we must continue to help people. If that person fails, we cannot give up on him on her. If you’re easily discouraged and think you can’t give people a second, third or fourth chance, I quite frankly tell them that maybe this job isn’t for you.
I also remind them that we’re not just helping an individual. When an ex-offender changes for the better, we’re helping his family.
When he gets a job, he will also contribute to the workforce and economic success of the country. So it’s not just a job; we need to believe what we’re doing actually makes a difference.” – Elvis, 52
Elvis Overee is Deputy Director at ISCOS.