SINGAPORE – The daily activity time in jail for John is precious because that is when the 34-year-old is usually allowed to enjoy leisure activities, such as watching television or exercising.
But for the past three weeks, John, who cannot be identified, has voluntarily sacrificed the time to assemble funpacks for the National Day Parade (NDP) on Aug 9, along with 29 other inmates.
They are working to pack 50,000 funpacks by the end of this month, and are clocking six hours a day to hit the target.
The decision to volunteer was an easy one for John, who is determined to make a positive contribution while serving the sentence he received in January for drug offences.
“First and foremost, I am a Singaporean, and it is really a chance for me to get involved in NDP because my closest involvement was just watching it on television,” said John.
“This time around, I get to actually contribute to it… and be part of the parade. It is not something that many Singaporeans can say.”
He added: “The work makes me feel very productive, and it just makes me feel like I am growing as a person.”
The work by the Changi Prison inmates is part of a project to provide them with an opportunity to contribute back to society.
The Reach Out project is a collaboration between the NDP 2019 Celebration Outreach Committee, Yellow Ribbon Project and the Very Special Arts (VSA) Singapore.
It is the first time in 10 years that inmates are involved in the packing.
About 100 inmates had volunteered to pack the bags, but only 30 were selected due to space constraints of the room that the inmates have to work in.
The 50,000 packs, some of which would be distributed at the National Day Parade, will each include a greeting card designed by seven VSA students, who have been diagnosed with either autism or Down Syndrome.
Comprising seven designs, each card features a wish for Singapore’s birthday from a Changi Prison inmate.
The students were mentored by artist Barry Yeow, an ex-offender. He had the students draw what Singapore meant to them.
Lieutenant-Colonel (NS) Hoe Kok Wei, chairman of this year’s NDP Celebration Outreach Committee, said involving the inmates in the process was challenging from a logistical perspective, as a significant amount of items had to be moved in and out of Changi Prison.
But the team wanted to involve them to promote the message of inclusivity.
LTC (NS) Hoe said: “From the perspective of the committee, we actually put the opportunity to ensure that the celebration is not confined to the mainstream, and that every Singaporean has a stake in this celebration.”
“We are using the NDP platform and using celebrations as avenues to bring different groups of people together, regardless of their background.”
One of the artists, Kenneth Lee, a 27-year-old VSA student who has autism, drew a card that featured people of various ethnicities and cultures against a backdrop of the Singapore flag, as a representation of the society here.
Mr Lee, who works in housekeeping in a hotel, said: “It was a good experience to draw for the NDP. I felt proud and was overwhelmed.”