Sunday, 8 October 2017

The transforming power of hope, acceptance and love.

When a man falls, he pays for it. But in a society that remembers, most times he is made to over-pay for it.

In today's papers entitled "A rare hug from daddy during special visit to prison," writer Theresa Tan wrote about Douglas (not his real name), an inmate still serving a 12-yr prison term for Criminal Breach of Trust.

When he was first sentenced six years ago, he thought he will never see his wife and daughter again. He said: "I also have this fear of being abandoned, like nobody is there for me when I'm released."

But his wife came faithfully every month to prison to visit him with their daughter. And yesterday, Douglas and 23 other inmates celebrated Children's Day with their children.

For the first time, they were allowed to hug their loved ones, and Douglas hugged his daughter for the longest time. No more glass panel to separate the inmate father from his beloved daughter.

The inmates also had a change of clothes. From the usual prison garb of white T-shirt with numbers printed on it and blue shorts, they donned blue polo T-shirts and navy blue track pants.

It was an ingenious touch to give the inmates a foretaste of having their identity back (at least for that one day) from a criminal to a reformed father/husband who is prepared to change over a new leaf after the prison term is served. It was both a crossroad experience and a transforming moment for Douglas and the rest of the inmates that day.

Douglas admitted to this: "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."

Lesson? Now, I know you do the crime, you do the time, but what do we hope to achieve after the time is served?

The price may be paid, but does the society give hope to the payer? For isn't it true that without hope (or a vision of a future), the people perish?

From the cold gavel of the judge, a man's sentence is passed. He then enters an institution that effectively strips him of everything that once defined him, which includes the good and bad.

He will be punished for abusing his freedom, and therefore he will be denied his freedom completely. He will lose his titles, reputation, and identity.

Without question, he will be classified as a criminal and his checkered past will dog him into his future, even a future away from the bars.

In other words, the shadows will always follow the ex-inmate's post-prison life even in his earnest search for that light at the end of the dimmed tunnel of stigmatization, alienation and ostracisation. 

But in denying his freedom, there is a risk that such denial may also take from him what he needs most desperately to turn over a new leaf.

It is said that nothing is more dangerous and unpredictable than a man without hope, acceptance and love.

Admittedly, in some cases, it may be well deserved in the pursuit of justice for the victims. But surely, this does not apply to all cases.

Vengeance (or the bars of incarceration) may be best served cold in the light of the gravity of some offences and the demonstrated impenitence of the offenders.

But for other cases, that is, the majority of them, redemption is undeniably best served with a warm touch, a tear of hope, a joy welling from within, an offer of love unconditional and an embrace of reaffirmation.

And if the goal of imprisonment is not just to do justice for the victims, some of which are multimillion-dollar corporations, in line with society's preventive and deterrence sentencing objectives, but also to see to it that the offender walks the straight and narrow path after he leaves the prison bars behind, then the initiatives taken by Focus on the Family to allow the inmates to reconnect again with loved ones is truly an applaudable effort towards saving the reforming inmates, his loved ones and the society at large.

A spokesperson for Focus on the Family said: "Humans thrive when we know we are loved. When inmates connect and are reconciled with their families, there is a lower chance of them reoffending." (Ms Adelene Chan).

And not only Focus on the Family, but other organizations like Singapore's Children Society with their running projects, Salvation Army with their family bonding programmes by encouraging children to write to their dads, and Yellow Ribbon Fund to reintegrate inmates back into society, are collectively making a deep and sustained impact in the lives of the inmates to remind them that hope, acceptance and love have never left them, and are in fact waiting eagerly for their return.

The shining truth is that, at such time, there is no greater tool to transform the human heart than the bridge of love to heal the brokenness, the river of hope to wash away the unchangeable past, and the joy of family (of loved ones) to restore and strengthen the fragility of the soul once stunned by the public.

Let me end with the words of Douglas' daughter. She 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."

Alas, sometimes, I feel that our society is more broken than the broken heart of a man who is on his hardscrabble road to repentance. While he is on his road to healing (of redemption), a greater healing ought to come from the outside, that is, our society at large.

A compassionate society will not leave anyone behind. It is a society that always turns back to reach out no matter where it is heading towards. It is a society that finishes the race together (with all), and this is no pipe dream or some sort of utopian goals. This can be our reality, when we allow hope,  acceptance and love to take root in our collective hearts. Cheerz.

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