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70 ex-offenders given Yellow Ribbon Awards: Former drug user turned life around because of young son

When she was only 14, Ms Grace Sim had dropped out of secondary school and had become a casual drug user after friends introduced her to Ecstasy and Erimin-5 tablets.

Barely four years later, she was sentenced to a year in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre for taking drugs.

But the seriousness of her situation failed to hit home, and her drug addiction would see her serving two stints in prison.

It was only at the age of 25 that she harboured thoughts of changing, after she was dealt the longest sentence she had ever received.

“I was already a single mother when I was 23. I got to take care of my son for only a year before I was arrested again,” she said.

“My jail term this time was five years, and the only thought I had when I went in was to improve myself so that I could become a better mother to my son.”

Today, the 34-year-old has been drug-free for nine years and holds a steady job as a customer service team leader at courier company XDel Singapore.

On Wednesday, she was one of 70 former offenders given recognition at the second iteration of the Yellow Ribbon Awards, held at The Star Gallery in Buona Vista.

The awards, given by the Singapore Prison Service and Yellow Ribbon Singapore, are for those who have made achievements and contributions towards championing second chances for inmates and former offenders.

A statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Yellow Ribbon Singapore helps former offenders rebuild their lives and lower the rate of reoffending.

A total of 203 awards were given out at the ceremony, with recipients ranging from former offenders and employers to community partners and volunteers.

Ms Sim received the Advocates of Second Chances Award, and credited her 11-year-old son and her father for how she has changed.

Her son was put in foster care when she was in jail, and the thought of improving herself to better provide for him kept her motivated.

Despite having only a Primary School Leaving Examination certificate when she went into prison, Ms Sim left in 2017 with an N-level certificate.

What her father said to her before she began serving her jail sentence also inspired her.

“When he said that I might not see him again if I ever returned to prison, I realised I had to change my ways,” she said.

“Growing up, I broke my father’s heart so many times, but he still continued to love and support me. I didn’t want to break his heart again.”

Minister for Communications and Information and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo, who was guest of honour, lauded the support given by family members and the community to former offenders.

But more needs to be done to facilitate their longer-term reintegration into society, she said in her speech to over 270 attendees.

Data on the cohort released from prison in 2016 showed that two out of five former offenders ended up reoffending and going to prison again within five years.

To lower the rate of reoffending, Mrs Teo said, longer-term issues need to be examined and improved upon, including former offenders’ employment prospects and a stronger support network that continues even after their release. “Underpinning all these is the need to further strengthen the ecosystem of support to help those who want to change, and help them stay motivated to do so.”

Ms Sim, in recounting her own experience, said that even though her journey of change was not easy, it was worthwhile.

“Nobody can change you, unless you want to change,” she said. “Don’t worry about what other people say or think because by your actions, you can prove people wrong.”

YELLOW RIBBON PROJECTcrimeAWARDS AND PRIZES