The Yellow Ribbon Prison Run took place this morning at Changi.
CREATES AWARENESS OF GIVING SECOND CHANCES
This run is one of the key charity initiatives of the Yellow Ribbon Project, which is an initiative that is targeted at creating awareness of giving second chances to ex-offenders after their release from prison, and generate acceptance of ex-offenders into society as well as to help inspire community action to support the rehabilitation and integration of ex-offenders into the Singapore society at large.
The cause is also one that many runners agree with. Said Vincent Casanova, 39, a management consultant, “These ex-prisoners had a hard time in prison and they have paid their dues; now they deserve a second chance in life. Not giving them another chance to turn over a new leaf will only drive them back to more crime. They should be reinserted and accepted back into society.”
Added Martin Darby, 51, who runs a fitness company, “I believe that everyone, and not just ex-offenders, should be given second chances. We all make mistakes in life and we should be able to forgive people.”
COMPRISED OF TWO CATEGORIES
The 2016 running race had comprised of two categories – a 10km competitive race and a 5km fun run, to cater to runners of differing abilities.
As one of the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run’s social media advocates, I took part in the 10km race.
RAN IN THE 10KM RACE
The 10km event flagged off at 7.45am at the SAF Field behind the Changi Village food centre. To avoid any potential traffic congestion, I made sure that I was early – and reached the Singapore Expo at about 6.30am and took the free shuttle bus from there to the starting line.
I reached the SAF Field at about 7.10am – so this meant that I still had time to spare and catch my breath before the race was to commence.
Prior to the race flagging off, the mock-up “prison gates” positioned at the starting arch were opened at about 7.35am and I had thought that this had been a very meaningful gesture, that had symbolised the release of the ex-offenders into the society.
A HILLY COURSE
Then the race flagged off. Due to the hilly nature of the course, I was not out to target a personal best in this event. Instead, I was aiming to use it to train my hill running, targeting my Easy and Steady heart rate zones. Wary of running too fast, I started the race at the upper end of my Easy zone and aimed to keep my pace under control.
As expected, the hills in the race came early on – after about 2km – 3km of running. And from then on, it was non-stop all rolling hills. I tried to run up the hills at a faster pace and then use the downhills to slow down and allow my heart rate to recover.
But with each hill, I realised that it was harder to keep my heart rate under control though and that it was taking a little bit longer to recover after each uphill session.
Said Vivian Tang, 46, a stockbroker, “This is possibly the hilliest road race in Singapore – and that makes it challenging. Halfway when running, I was thinking to myself, why am I doing this to myself?”
But Julia Ng, 22, a Medicine student at the Nanyang Technological University, said, “I liked the mixture of hills and slopes; it makes it much more challenging than your normal flat road race in Singapore.”
THE SCORCHING HEAT
The heat also did not help my running either. As 7.45am is relatively late to start a 10km run, the sun was already shining brightly on me by about the third kilometre and this made it harder to run; so, I was constantly finding myself checking my pace and heart rate to ensure that it did not go out of my target zones.
Said Vincent, “It was very hot today and we all suffered a lot during the run.”
AMPLE HYDRATION STATIONS
Fortunately though, there were ample hydration stations along the way, serving water and isotonic drinks – with the route being 10km, we were hydrated after roughly every 3km of running so these helped to give me something to look forward to when the going got tougher.
My only gripe about this though… was that the hydration was not ice-cold!
During the run though, the interesting sights on the way had helped to keep my mind away from the heat. Rather than the standard scenic city routes, we were treated to historical sights such as the Johore Battery (an artillery battery with three large naval guns installed by the British in the 1930s), the Changi Women’s Prison (the only female prison in Singapore) and the Tanah Merah Prison (houses young prisoners undertaking academic studies).
Oh and for the Pokemon Go players, some of these historical sites were PokeGyms too according to the race organisers… in fact the organisers had mentioned there had been at least three or four PokeGyms located along the 10km route.
LAST TWO KILOMETRES WITHIN CHANGI PRISON ITSELF
As with the previous years, the last two kilometres of the 10km route was through the Changi Prison compound itself; I always find this part of the run very meaningful and at the same time, it gives runners the chance to actually have a look at the prison compounds and as such, have a very rough idea of what the prisoners may experience inside the compounds.
However at the same time, this part of the run is a little mentally depressing because with all of the continuous looping around the prison, you somehow get the feeling that it’s never-ending!
So seeing the finish line felt good because it meant that the run was over and I could finally go and catch my breath and recharge my batteries.
MEANINGFUL ACTIVITIES AT THE RACE VILLAGE
Besides the run though, there were some very meaningful activities at the race village – located at the Changi Prison compound – that reiterated the race theme of giving second chances. For example there had been an exhibition to impart runners with information about the process that prisoners go through, from incarceration to release and how they are integrated into society.
I found all of these very meaningful and though I have seen these exhibits before in previous editions of this run, having a recap is always good.
As usual, the mock-up of a prison cell at the race village was also meaningful; I had been given a tour of the Changi Prison recently as an invited guest, and looking at the mock-up cell at the race had really reminded me of that experience – and what the prisoners have to go through, during their incarceration.
A LITTLE GAME TO REDEEM A FREE ICE CREAM
And as well there was a simple game that runners could play… in order to redeem a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. I admit that I had played it in order to get the cold ice cream, but then again, this game is quite eye-opening.
The little game appeared to be based on three simple stages – the incarceration, imprisonment and release of a prisoner. And I had thought that it was quite meaningful.
At the incarceration stage of the game, we had been given a mock-up sample of the supplies that prisoners would receive when they are imprisoned, and are told that there is one item that is ‘wrong’ and are asked to identify which one it is.
In the imprisonment stage, we were asked to fold shirts; learning how to wash and fold the laundry efficiently are a few of the life skills that inmates are taught during their stay in prison. Besides this though, there are other skills that they learn, such as baking and being taught how to play musical instruments.
Then in the release stage of the game, we were asked to “throw” a styrofoam starfish back into the “ocean.” This is based on a childhood story of a boy throwing starfish that have been washed ashore – back into the water, one by one and how, though it may not change the “world”, it makes a difference to that one “starfish.”
And of course, after that, I had redeemed my ice cream eagerly! After all, ice cream is always great after a run.
Apart from the ice cream, there were also muffins and cookies given out, courtesy of the prison’s in-house SCORE Bakery too; and they are actually quite delicious.
Overall I would say that though the games were pretty simple to play, they would give the runners a rough indication of the journey that the inmates go through – when they are arrested for committing a crime.
THE ACTIVITIES WERE MEANINGFUL
Other runners also thought that the activities were very meaningful. Said Martin, “The exhibits are very informative and give great insights into what prison life is like.”
He added, “I think that it’s important to share the information with as much people as possible to help society understand what these people have to go through. That is critical into helping society to accept them when they are released.”
Despite the fact that there had been rather long queues at the third game station and the ice cream booth, it was heartening to see so many people spending their Sunday morning to support this meaningful cause.
EX-OFFENDERS AND THEIR PRISON WARDENS AT THE RACE
For the ex-offenders themselves too, the large crowds at the race were also very heartwarming and had brought them some joy.
Bella (not her real name), 31, an admin officer, is one of them. Since her release from prison in 2014, she has since gotten married and has had kids. Now she is determined to change her ways for the better.
It is hard to believe that the petite woman had been involved with the law. But Bella had been initially incarcerated in 2003 for doing drugs. She had subsequently returned to prison again in 2004 and 2012. But having earned her N Levels certificate during her incarceration and getting a job through the Yellow Ribbon Initiative, it’s meant that she’s now firmly put her drug days behind her.
Bella had taken part in the 5km category of this year’s Yellow Ribbon Prison Run.
Said Bella, “I was really happy to see so many people coming out to support this cause. I wanted to take part in this run to raise awareness of this cause and I am glad it has been so successful.”
Bella feels that such events definitely help to bring out more awareness to the Yellow Ribbon Fund, and that eventually, Singaporeans can become completely accepting of ex-offenders in society.
Together with her prison warden, Siti Hawa, 31, Bella had been amongst of the 13 teams of ex-prisoners and their wardens – to take part in the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run today.
Said Siti, “Taking part in this race gives the ex-offenders a goal to look forward to and to aim for something and challenge themselves when they are training and running. This is the first time we have done this and it has been successful.”
She also feels that it’s quite meaningful to have the ex-offenders along the running route as well – as after all, they are just ordinary people who have made mistakes – rather than brutal and violent criminals who should be stigmatised for their actions.
A WELL ORGANISED EVENT
Overall, the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2016 was a very well organised event – according to many of the runners.
Said Martin, “This is the third year I have taken part in this race and I really enjoy it. The logistics and organisation is fantastic – as usual.”
Added Julia, “The run was well organised and I don’t really have any bad comments about it, maybe except that the baggage drop could be improved; the volunteers had some trouble in locating our bags.”
My only gripe about the race? The delicious Milo Van – which had paid the Changi Prison a visit last year – did not make a reappearance again!
Thank you Yellow Ribbon Project for the opportunity and the race slot.