Douglas (not his real name), 55, is in prison but he counts himself somewhat fortunate.

His wife stood by him after he was sentenced to 12 years in jail for criminal breach of trust six years ago. She also faithfully takes their only daughter, 11, to visit him in prison every month.

Yesterday, Douglas and 23 other prisoners celebrated Children’s Day with their children, who ranged from pre-schoolers to teenagers. Children’s Day fell on Friday.

Douglas said some inmates’ families have cut all ties with them.

“I also have this fear of being abandoned, like nobody is there for me when I’m released,” he said.

Unlike Douglas, some of the men had not seen their children for four years until yesterday’s visit.

A 40-year-old inmate touches his three-year-old son for the first time. The man is serving a 7 year sentence for drug offences. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

At yesterday’s celebrations at Tanah Merah Prison, the inmates were allowed an open visit where they could hug and hold their loved ones. Inmates are usually separated from visitors by a glass panel.

And instead of their prison garb of white T-shirts with their inmate numbers printed on them and blue shorts, they wore blue polo T-shirts and navy blue track pants.

The special day was the culmination of a family care programme to help inmates and their families build stronger bonds. They were taught how to communicate, relate and express their love for their loved ones.

Such instruction is needed as ties are often strained between inmates and their families, said Ms Adelene Chan, a spokesman for Focus on the Family Singapore, which started the programme last year.

After spending time with his only son, a 40-year-old inmate speaks to his 93-year-old grandmother, who took care of him when he was young. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The children may be angry and disappointed with their fathers, the family struggles when the breadwinner is jailed and the mother has to cope as a single parent.

“Humans thrive when we know we are loved,” Ms Chan said. “When inmates connect and are reconciled with their families, there is a lower chance of them reoffending.”

Research has shown that family support is a key factor that prevents inmates from reoffending, a spokesman for the Singapore Prison Service said.

That is why it has been working with social service agencies, such as Focus on the Family, to run programmes to help inmates build stronger ties with their families and to address the various issues they or their families face.

As of December last year, there were about 1,100 male and female inmates with children under the age of 16 – which makes up 9 per cent of the prison population.

Yesterday, The Sunday Times was allowed a rare visit to observe the Children’s Day celebration. Many inmates took the chance to hold their children’s hands and hug them during the four-hour event, which included a buffet lunch, games and a talk on ways to express love.The tears flowed freely when they had to part.

A 40-year-old inmate hugs his mother at the end of the visit, as his son cries in the background. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

For Douglas, the programme has been helpful.

He said: “I was addicted to gambling, which led me to commit crime. I will regret it for the rest of my life. I was not there for my family and I have missed all of my daughter’s growing-up years.”

The opportunity to hug his daughter brought him joy, he added.

His daughter said: “I miss dad so much. But I don’t tell my friends that my dad is in jail or they will be shocked. When I miss him, I hug my (toy) dog.”

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