Lee Leng    Muru    Azahari

This is Their Story

Lee Leng's Story: From Losing To An Addiction To Winning Others With Her Passion

What would most 18-year-old teenage girls be doing in their free time? Probably spending quality time with friends and family. For Lee Leng, she spent hers in prison. Growing up from a single-parent family, she was angry at the world. In her teenage years, she fell into bad company who introduced her to drugs. At 18, she was caught for drug consumption in a mall, and that started her journey in and out of prison until the tender age of 30. Read how love won her over.

You’ve got to have Faith

When I was serving my sentence, I had no counsellors or mentors to guide me back to the right path. As a teen filled with angst, I refused to change as I felt I had nothing to live for, outside of prison. But slowly, I found my way back on the right path. All thanks to the Chapel Service, that was made available to inmates. Through my newfound faith, I decided to sit for my GCE ‘O’ Levels, with one of the subjects being Bible Studies. I’m glad to say that I passed all three subjects that I sat for. With faith, I was very driven to do even better for my life.

The Power of Love

As I neared 30 on my fourth admission, I made a pact with myself to change. My husband proposed when I was still in prison, and we got married then. That was in 1988. My husband, our marriage and the love we shared, gave me strength to turn over a new leaf. I was released in 1989, and never looked back to my dark days.

Starting a New Journey

Honestly, life was not easy. It was hard and painful. It was difficult. My husband was the sole breadwinner, as I couldn’t find a proper job. No matter how tough life was, we were determined to rise from any challenges that came our way. We had our sons as we settled into our married life. My late mum, my only sister and our church friends helped. From their support, we managed to get by. With God’s love, and that of our family and friends, we found strength to push through the hard times every day.

Helping to Change Lives

While in prison, I met a teacher, Mrs Thomas who volunteered at The Turning Point. I joined her as a volunteer when I was released and felt good about helping others. The Turning Point is a halfway home that reaches out to women seeking recovery from abuse and a life of crimes.

Growing Passion

I became a fulltime staff at The Turning Point in 2013. As an Aftercare Executive, I organise lessons that impart life skills to offenders who were serving the last year of their sentence. In the second phase of their sentence, I find them jobs, reach out to their Employers and follow up on their performance to ensure they have resettled happily. This became my passion.

“I once lost to my addiction. Now I win others with my passion”

Lee Leng, 60s & still changing lives.
Lee Leng pays it forward, inspired by the support and encouragement from the community.You too, can play a part towards a more inclusive society.

Lend A Hand. Make A Difference.
Find out how here

Muru's Story: From Secret Societies To Uniting Communities

Unlike others who spend their prime 30s building up a life and career, Muru spent his in and out of prison - for 16 years. In his heyday, he was part of a secret society, got involved in drugs, petty thefts, housebreaking, robbery and manslaughter. Those episodes of his life are over. He is living a fulfilling life now. Discover his story here.

Making the Change

No matter how hard a person I was, I experienced a total change of heart when my 8-year-old son visited me in prison, in 2006. He asked why I wasn’t present for Children’s Day like all his other classmates’ parents. “Why are you not there for me?” he said. I was tongue-tied and reflected on my life in prison when he left. I have lost so much the past decade and a half! I made a decision there and then, enough is enough. That’s when I began to change everything about me.

My Healing Journey

I started my healing journey by joining an in-care programme that helped me understand more about my true self. As I found my strength, I took courage to leave the secret society I had joined. It wasn’t easy. I had objections from many members, especially those who were in prison with me. But the choice was mine to make, and I left. I was selected as a peer facilitator. I was in the programme for 8 years, before my release.

Every Challenge is My Blessing

After incarceration, I had a hard time resettling into life. Strangers and people I knew labelled me with hurtful words, but I challenged myself and turned their words into my strength, pushing me to be better every day. Mr Elvis, the Deputy Director of the Industrial & Services Co-operative Ltd (ISCOS), approached me to be part of the ISCOS Titans programme. ISCOS extends their friendship and support to help people like me regain our foothold in society.

Reaching Out to Change Lives

With the backing of ISCOS, I found a new focus in my life - to give back to society by helping others who were in need of assistance. With a proper job at ISCOS and working as a GRAB driver to supplement my income, I was recognised as an ISCOS Titan, a title given to reformed offenders who have properly reintegrated into society and are helping others.

I volunteered much of my time by conducting motivational talks in prison, at the Reformative Training Centre (RTC) and halfway houses, reaching out to inmates and many youths at risk. I shared my stories with them, letting them see what I have lost, what they have lost. With the in-care programmes in place – I showed them how much I have gained. I talked to many secret society members and persuaded them to leave their gang, and be free of the “control”.

I hope society will never give up on those who have fallen and trying to get up. It is never too late to change. It is not easy, but every day, with my peers behind me, I am motivated to change lives. Like how my life was changed.

“Once I joined the wrong society, now I help unite the community”

Muru, 47 & free!
Muru pays it forward, inspired by the support and encouragement from the community.
You too can play a part towards a more inclusive society.

Lend A Hand. Make A Difference.
Find out how here

Azahari's Story: From Near Death To Delivering Hope

Most 16 years olds will be in school, participating in extra-curricular activities or preparing for the important examinations all teens go through. But not Azahari. Boredom led to his fall. At age 14, he was introduced to drugs that led his life to a downward spiral. Between the ages of 16 to 20, he was incarcerated several times for rioting and drug-related offences. At 20, he was jailed for 20 years and given 20 strokes of the cane for peddling drugs. He missed being hung by a mere 2gm. Read on for his life changing story.

The Call for Change

For a lad of 20, being sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment and given 20 strokes of the cane is definitely a wake up call. As I noticed the older inmates around me, I asked myself - is this what my life amounted to? I knew it was up to me to change myself. My so-called destiny. And so I did.

Setting New Goals

With the support and encouragement of Yellow Ribbon, I took my GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels while serving my sentence. I did well in my ‘A’ levels and managed to get a place in Singapore Polytechnic to study Diploma in Chemical Engineering, funded by the Yellow Ribbon Fund STAR Bursary. In my 14th year I was released due to good behaviour. This time, I was focused on what I wanted and pushed even harder to attain this higher education.

Building a New Me

Upon my release, I was happy to find a job in retail, through the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE). There, I met my spouse. We got married a year later and had a child. My perspective of life changed. I channelled my energy into my academic pursuit and graduated with my Diploma in 2018.

Extending My Helping Hand

The Yellow Ribbon Project did so much for me when I was in prison. The immense help and support from the staff to get me back on the right path really moved me. I knew how hard it was to be in prison and so I took it upon myself to assist families of the newly incarcerated through the Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP). Through YRCP, I conduct house visits and engage with these families, finding out the type of assistance they need – from household bills, food ration, to tuition fees for kids who are still in school.

As a beneficiary of YR, I want to ensure that families of the newly incarcerated have avenues to go to should they require assistance. It is definitely hard to cope when their loved one is in prison. I help them write to the relevant authorities for the aid they require and invite them to Meet-the-People’s session with the MPs who will be able to assist them even more. Most families do not know how to seek help, so given the opportunity, this is my way of giving back to an organisation and a society that has helped me get back on my feet.

I also volunteer at the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA) as a peer leader. I share my past with those I mentor and help them seek the best way out of a life of drugs. With God’s blessings, I have found peace and turned a new leaf, and I hope they will too.

“Once I chased for payments out of greed. Now I strive to help families in need”

Azahari, 39 & at peace.
Azahari pays it forward, inspired by the support and encouragement from the community. You too, can play a part towards a more inclusive society.

Lend A Hand. Make A Difference.
Find out how here

Elvin    Jenap    Kulkarni

YR Heroes

Partner With YRP Like Chef Elvin

A Chef with the heart to serve. This is the story of Elvin Chew, a commitee member of the Singapore Chefs’ Association (SCA), partner of the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) that imparts basic culinary skillsets to inmates so that they can support themselves out of prison.

“When I first did Dining Behind Bars (DBB), I was faced with cool exteriors from the inmates – which suggested to me that they were either shy, or unable to express themselves properly. But when it came to the second time, they were all vying for my attention,” Elvin recalls with a chuckle.
At first glance, nothing about him seems out of the ordinary. To a person who has just met him, he resembles your typical run-of-the-mill executive chef who is passionate about food. Just like any other person whose job revolves around the kitchen.
However what many do not realise is, that beneath the surface level, he is also part of an organisation that is dedicated to training inmates with the relevant skillsets. Ones that able them to kickstart their careers with a sense of fulfillment upon release from prison.

Elvin is a good chef, yes. But what makes him great, is his giving nature. And his heart to continually serve the ex-offenders’ community.
As a committee spokesperson for SCA, he has contributed for most of the 7 years in the partnership between the two organisations. And with a wide range of experience in leading a team of chefs at DBB, giving career talks, and even initiating culinary competitions among inmates, he understands this group of people well. In particular, he is aware of the challenges faced as soon as they are released from prison into society. As such, he does his best to ensure ex-offenders adapt to every day life.
It is also easy to assume that once you are out of prison, it would mean total freedom to live your best.
But when it comes to an ex-offenders’ life, the odds are usually stacked against their favour. For them, it is an immense struggle to rebuild society’s trust and return to every day life.
While Elvin is able to provide assistance to ensure they are equipped with the necessary skillsets for them to land a job, there is definitely an adjustment period for ex-offenders to break through in order to gain acceptance from the outside world.

“When I host events such as culinary competitions, inmates get the opportunity to interact with people from the outside, where they learn the world has changed drastically – becoming a very different one than what they were originally used to”, he says.
He adds, “because of that, most ex-offenders are held captive in frequent moments of self-doubt, and more often than not, feel it is easier to return to prison. The prison environment has been what they have known for a pretty long time.”

Elvin has a duty to ensure that the ones deployed to him are properly mentored. Backing them with the right support so they will not go back to their old ways.
“When they are attached to me, I do not see them as an ex-offender in the way I treat them, but I also go the extra mile to guide them so they are able to get back up on their feet and work towards reintegrating into society ”, he says.

And he has.

Recalling a time when he offered an ex-offender some unsolicited advice, he said “there was an ex-offender deployed to me for with no intention of becoming a chef. But I told him to accept the first offer that comes his way and run with it to work towards being financial stable first, and then consider the option of pursuing his dreams.”
That piece of advice went a long way with the ex-offender. And under Elvin’s mentorship, the ex-offender not only thrived in his 9 month stint, but also managed to successfully graduate in a part-time course of his choice.

When asked about his time as a partner of Yellow Ribbon Project, he says
“We have made some improvements as a first step for inmates to be trained to prepare them for their release. I know of some companies who are partnering with YRP and that’s hopeful, but I do think more can be done to ex-offenders become an integral part of society again. We all need to step up to bridge that gap!”

Be Inspired By The Catwoman's Story

A cat has 9 lives, but ex-offenders only have 1 more chance to prove themselves to society. This is the story of Jenap Said, aka “Catwoman”: our behind-the-scenes hero who volunteers with the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) to make a difference to the lives of ex-offenders.

A Chance Encounter

For 59-year-old Jenap M. Said, being a volunteer was not an immediate calling despite her participation in every single Yellow Ribbon Prison Run since 2009.
It was not only until a personal experience with her neighbour’s incarceration, and witnessing how it impacted his family, that gave impetus to help others.
Shortly after the incarceration, Jenap felt the urge to help ease the family’s struggle as she became increasingly aware of his wife’s stress over raising their child as a single parent.
So relying on her natural instincts, she reached out to his wife. Jenap encouraged her to approach a Member of Parliament (MP) of her constituency, as well as the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) for help. That very act triggered a realisation, and she knew—more had to be done.
So she dug deep and decided; that the moment to unleash the power of the cat suit, which she was previously famous for, had arrived. This time, for the greater good…

Donning Her Suit to Draw Attention

If you see a catwoman during the runs, you may have seen her in action.
In her catwoman costume, Jenap has the ability to become instantly recognisable by both the public and ex-offenders. In it, she raises awareness to the ex-offenders’ need for acceptance.
What marks her apart from others is her burning desire to go the extra mile. In 2012, Jenap embarked on a “Dusk till Dawn” challenge, a marathon 12 hours run which began the evening before the actual Yellow Ribbon Prison Run. For that mammoth effort, she was able to raise an incredible $120,000 from people pledging for her cause.
Besides raising money for the run, she is also quite active at the YRP roadshows, and she also volunteers her time to sell crafts made by inmates from Changi Women’s Prison. She has also been an ever-present inspiration during Race Pack Collections days for the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, where she has been helping out every year without fail.
Apart from fundraising, she has also volunteered in a myriad of other ways. Some of these include, attending Dining Behind Bars: a quarterly event that engages influential community leaders, forging close friendships with a few ex-offenders along the way, as well as convincing participants to stay behind for the concert by inmates after collection of their race pack.

Relying on Instinct and Staying Determined

Selling crafts, however, had its initial challenges for Jenap. Due to a distinct lack of experience, she felt apprehensive in approaching the public to buy from her. But she persisted. And as time went on, she instinctively found a way to successfully sell those items.

Emerging a hero among People

She now has the ability to raise funds to an impressive average of $900 in a short time. But how does she do it?
“You must know how to approach people. And to profile them as you spot them from afar,” she said recalling what she has learnt from her experience in selling crafts.
“Start by properly greeting them, and be bold with your sales pitch. Open by explaining that the purpose of buying—whether it is baked goods, or a handmade mug—would mean that an inmate would be given a second chance upon release from prison,” she quips.

“We can ALL do more!”

When asked about her time as a volunteer, Jenap responds, “the public is certainly more accepting and companies are more inclined to partnering with YRP now. We’ve come a long way, but we can definitely do a lot more.”

Take Action Like The Kulkarni's Family

The family who volunteers, stands together as a unit of strength. This is the story of the Kulkarni family, and how their volunteering journey began with the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) so they could make a difference in the lives of the families of inmates.
For the Kulkarni family, spending time as a family is very important. And with volunteering, family time has become a lot more meaningful for them.

It all started in 2015, when the family of three chanced upon the Home Team Festival. Makarand and his wife Malvika found themselves drawn to the YRP exhibition, which is an essential component of the yearly festival.
What stood out to them, were the posters depicting situations faced by the families of inmates. And as both of them share a 13 year old daughter Mrunal, they felt an instant connection with one of the posters that potrayed the struggles of a little girl.
Feeling such an affinity for the nature of the exhibition prompted them to find out more information about YRP. And together as a family, they began their journey of helping the families of the incarcerated.

“We were touched by the cause, and could empathise with the situation of the families.”

Volunteering mainly to raise funds for familes financially, the family is quite active at YRP roadshows, prison runs, and even awareness programmes such as primary school art exhibitions featuring the creative work from children for the incarcerated.
“We love interacting with the public. I feel like I am constantly improving when I learn new skills at such events. There is also a warm glow of satisfaction knowing you have helped a family who is going through a lot. And we get to forge new friendships, it is great!”, Malvika declares with a laugh.
Besides volunteering with his family, Makarand is also involved in the Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP), an outreach programme where volunteers, who are trained by Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA), visit families of newly-admitted offenders. Once Makarand visits these families, he is able to assess the situation and refer them to available avenues of financial and social assistance.

Volunteering however, is not without its hurdles for the Kulkarni family.

For the the family, selling crafts proved a little challenging for them at first. Due to a lack of familiarity with the public, they were not able to sell as many baked goods as they wanted. “It definitely was not easy for us, we have gotten straight-up ‘no!’ from people despite our best efforts to convince them that it was for a good cause. But then again, we were not as confident in our pitch back then, because we had no clue how they would react.”, she recalls.
And as for Makarand personally, his visits did not start out smooth sailing as a volunteer with YRCP either. “I remember families that would not open their doors for me despite the prearranged appointment. And it was also difficult to get some of the families to open up to me once I was in their homes,” he says.

The family has come a long way since and has successfully conquered those hurdles.

“I would say we are now able to convince the majority of the public to buy items made by ex-offenders. More people respond well to our pitch because we exude our beliefs in the importance of family more confidently.”, she says.
Even for Makarand, learning from more experienced Yellow Ribbon volunteers has made his visits more rewarding these days.
Recalling a visit to an old man in his seventies, he said “the man was living alone suffering from several medical conditions with both his wife and son in prison. When I visited him, he was really grateful for the assistance because he had so many medical bills to pay off!”
When asked about their time as volunteers of the Yellow Ribbon Project, Makarand, Malvika and Mrunal agree that support for the emotional and social well-being of the families of the incarcerated has gradually improved over the years. And they hope to see more families, like them, come together to make a difference to other less privileged families.