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Reintegration and rehabilitation of inmates and ex-offenders through art

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister For Culture, Community And Youth, & Second Minister For Law, At The Launch Of Yellow Ribbon Community Arts Festival 2022 on 4 Nov 2022

  1. Good evening. 
  2. It is a real pleasure to be invited and to join you at the launch of the Yellow Ribbon Community Arts Festival 2022. 
  3. Let me start by extending my appreciation to the Yellow Ribbon Project and the Singapore Prison Service for their sustained efforts in supporting inmates, ex-offenders and their families through various meaningful programmes and initiatives, particularly through art.

    Reintegration and rehabilitation of inmates and ex-offenders through art

  4. The arts play an important role in the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates and ex-offenders: 

    a. There is meaning when you showcase and do something that is appreciated, where you feel that there is value in what you do.

    b. The arts serve as a platform to express their hopes, dreams and aspirations, and 

    c. through this, foster reconciliation, bring them closer to their families and communities.

    d. Everyone, at the most basic level, can enjoy, benefit from and also contribute to our arts and heritage.
  5. This year marks 15 years of having art programmes behind bars, which continue to grow from strength to strength.
  6. Many of you have shared how these art programmes have benefitted inmates, ex-offenders, and their families:

    a. To-date, almost 400 inmates have turned into artists, giving them opportunities to further their education and training in the arts, and more importantly, find some meaning in what they do, and pursue relevant employment upon their release. 

    b. Proceeds from the sale of artworks have also been channelled to the Yellow Ribbon Fund to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates and ex-offenders, and their families.  
  7. One of the key programmes is the annual art exhibition. 

    a. Launched in 2017, the-then Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition aimed to raise awareness of second chances for inmates and ex-offenders, and to showcase their artistic talents.

    b. In 2019, it was renamed the “Yellow Ribbon Community Art & Poetry Exhibition” to include poetry as another art form of creative expression.
  8. Since then, the event has been rejuvenated to provide a more encompassing art experience.

    a. Beyond painting and poetry, our inmates and ex-offenders can also develop and showcase their creative talents in pottery, music, bakery and handicraft.
  9. With this transformation – today, I am pleased to announce that the annual exhibition will now be known as the “Yellow Ribbon Community Arts Festival”.

    Strengthening bonds through art

  10. The theme of this year’s Yellow Ribbon Community Arts Festival is “Home is where the heART is”. 

    a. It challenges inmates and ex-offenders to redefine what home means to each of them. 

    Story of inmate Tom

  11. Let me share a story about inmate Tom (not his real name), whose poem is on display at today’s Festival.

    a. In his untitled poem, Tom reminisced life with his parents before his incarceration and recalled their little acts of love.  

    b. Poetry served as an outlet for Tom to express his gratitude towards his parents, reflect on his life and family, and also redefine what family and home now means to him. 

    c. His realisation of his parents’ undying love and support motivated Tom to continue his studies behind bars. 
    • He enrolled in prison school, where he attained his GCE O-Level certificate and later, a Diploma in International Supply Chain Management offered by Ngee Ann Polytechnic. My warmest congratulations to Tom!
    • I think his story can serve as an inspiration to many of these ex-offenders and inmates, and to all of us.

    Importance of community support

  12. The support of the community is particularly important in the rehabilitation and reintegration journey of our inmates and ex-offenders. 
  13. By working together, we can help those around us to overcome challenges, regardless of their circumstances, and emerge ready to build a brighter future. 
  14. Often, it is the segregation and stigmatisation that stands in the way of reintegration. Through art, which is a very common language, it knows no barriers and no boundaries, and certainly no stigmatisation. 
  15. I am happy to see many partners coming together to support this Festival, including

    a. Gardens by the Bay as venue partner;

    b. Sing Lit Station and CANVAS as art mentors for inmate participants;

    c. Intune Music for supporting music performances throughout the festival period; and the

    d. Halfway houses for supporting the music performances, as well as raising funds through the sale of merchandise and baked goods. 
  16. I would also like to highlight the support of Singapore Management University’s student volunteer group, Un.Ravelled. 
  17. In support of the Yellow Ribbon Project, the group started Project Crochet last year to:

    a. train inmates, ex-offenders and volunteers to crochet Yellow Ribbon Pins. 
    • Thus far, over 4,000 pins have been distributed to help to raise awareness on the Yellow Ribbon Project, and
    • Also enable the community to show their support for second chances. 
  18. Un.Ravelled has also helped to raise funds for the Yellow Ribbon Fund at the recent Yellow Ribbon Race, and continues to support the Yellow Ribbon Project.

    a. You too can support Un.Ravelled’s initiative by crocheting your own Yellow Ribbon Pin and sharing them with others. 

    b. I understand that the DIY Yellow Ribbon Packs are available at the Yellow Ribbon Fund booth at the end of the exhibition area. 

    Inmates and ex-offenders contribute in meaningful ways

  19. While community support from partners can provide platforms and opportunities for ex-offenders, it is equally important that they take charge of their lives to reintegrate into society and strive to be contributing active citizens of society. 
  20. At the same time, there can be no better role models than ex-offenders themselves who have turned their lives around, to serve as not just mentors, but someone who has walked and shared their path and inspire for other inmates and ex-offenders as they take that plunge. 

    Story of Ridhuan

  21. Take for example, Mr Ridhuan. 

    a. Ridhuan enjoys drawing and other creative pursuits from a very young age. As an introvert with speech impediments, art naturally became an outlet for him to express himself.  

    b. During his 18-year imprisonment, Ridhuan actively participated in art courses, including batik painting, ceramics and pottery-making. 

    c. The encouragement from his art instructors and their belief in him contributed significantly to his rehabilitation. His own confidence grew over time when he saw his own artworks displayed both locally and internationally. 

    d. Ridhuan’s achievements include participation in the annual Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition, as well as the CDL Singapore Sculpture Award and Berlin’s Fine Art International Contest in 2017.

    e. Following his release in 2021, Ridhuan is now back into prison – not as an inmate, but as a mentor to aspiring inmate-artists at the prison’s Visual Arts Hub. 

    f. Thank you very much Ridhuan, and thank you for continuing to serve. He is a tremendous role model because there is nothing like seeing it happen before your eyes, being able to talk to this person who has done it and seen it work.


  22. All of us can play a part in giving ex-offenders a chance to break away from the prejudice and stigmatisation against them, so that they can really restart their lives. Not just emotionally, but with substance that can be sustained for the long term. 
  23. Ridhuan and Tom’s inspiring stories show that everyone can make a positive difference if they are given the relevant support.
  24. I think we have the foundation, the network of support systems that can truly sustain this project.
  25. To all our community partners, thank you very much for your trust and belief in giving our inmates and ex-offenders and for giving them that valued second chance. 

    a. As we see more inmates expressing interest to take up art during their incarceration and being active in the industry upon their release, let us continue to not just open the doors for them, but to keep those doors open. Should one shut on them, keep opening another, for a second chance means we do not give up on them.
  26. I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage more partners and fellow Singaporeans to continue to support the Yellow Ribbon Project.  
  27. Each tiny act of giving second chances not just makes a difference to that individual to whom you give that second chance, but also inspires others that something can be done, more can be done. If this can create a ripple effect, we can create a more caring, more inclusive and more cohesive society, not just those outside the prisons but also those in the prisons, then I think we can build a home that is inclusive, that is Singapore. 
  28. I wish everyone a pleasant evening. Thank you. 
Last updated on 04 November 2022