Prison Volunteer

Part 1 – A story on my volunteer journey – A Prison Volunteer

Image extracted from Google

Aged only 22 when she started volunteering as a prison counsellor, her petite frame belies her strength and fortitude. She is unfazed counselling men more than twice her age and twice her size.

When Ms Nitha Devi walks into Changi Men’s Prison for her weekly counselling sessions, she knows she has to take charge. When inmates are seen chatting away among themselves, she immediately gives a loud clap in their direction, before asking them to repeat what she has just said.

ENTERING A WHOLE NEW WORLD

She counsels men hardened by a life of hard times and heightened struggles. How did someone relatively young in age and inexperienced with the school of hard knocks, come to work closely with prisoners?

It is an unlikely scenario but her volunteer journey has turned into a journey of self-discovery and fulfillment.

Ms Devi, 24, is a paralegal in a local law firm by day and part-time law student at Temasek Polytechnic by night. For more than two years now, Saturday mornings find her setting aside her court papers and law textbooks to provide support and counselling to male inmates.

The Hindu counsellor with the Singapore Prison Service recalls that her journey took its roots when she was roped in by her cousin to attend an eight-week counselling training programme with the Hindu Centre. She did not have the slightest inkling that after graduating, she would soon find herself in a men’s prison. “They talked about the places we would be posted to in a general way. Old folks homes, this home, that home, women’s prison, men’s prison, and other institutions,” she says. “When the list came out after the training and I saw my name next to the Changi Men’s Prison, I thought, ‘Seriously, me, at the men’s prison?’ But looking back I’m glad I was chosen.”

During each weekly two-hour session, inmates are treated as “someone important to us, whom we want to help in any way we can”, by Ms Devi and four other Hindu counsellors.

At the start of each week, the counsellors, who collectively conduct the sessions, sit down together to work out a “teaching chart” – identifying the topic for the week and the counsellor to lead the session. The topics touch on life values such as forgiveness, patience and honesty, providing inmates the opportunity to open up and share their innermost thoughts and feelings.

Image extracted from Google

MUSTERING THE COURAGE

Today, she projects a cool and confident demeanour and gains the respect of male inmates, but ask Ms Devi about her “greenhorn” volunteer days, and you would receive a sheepish but candid confession that she “had not dared to speak” in her first few months. “Each time I wanted to speak, I held back,” she reveals, beset with uncertainty over whether the male inmates would be interested in what she had to say, and whether they would trust her enough to confide their fears and insecurities.

“I finally worked up the courage to say, ‘Hi, I’m Nitha. I know am young, and it isn’t easy to take advice from someone half your age, but I hope to have your cooperation. I believe I can learn a lot from you, and I hope you’ll learn something from me as well,’” she recalls.

The response from the “orderly and respectful” inmates made her feel at ease and drove herconfidence up a notch. “They greeted me with a resounding ‘Yes Ma’am, we know you’re Nitha, you’ve been sitting really quietly behind!’ It made me feel good that they were supportive.”

While Ms Devi used to counsel a group of 38 men, the pool of inmates has since gone down to 16, as some have moved on to halfway houses for former drug addicts. She received vindication of her success at helping the men make a change in their lives, when she visited them. Glowing with pride, she recalls that the inmates she used to counsel were commended by staff of a halfway house for being the “most disciplined and self-motivated batch they’ve taken in, because they don’t need to be told; they know how to behave”.

This is due in no small part to the self-discipline and self-motivation Ms Devi has drilled into them during her counselling sessions. She firmly believes that for inmates to rehabilitate successfully, “90% of the effort must come from them. Counsellors are only able to do 10%, because once they are out, how are we going to be by their side 24/7, reminding them what to do and what not to do?”

Image extracted from Google

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Thank you, my readers.

#secondchance #prison #volunteer #hope #love #inspired #motivation #yellowribbon #nevergiveup #blogger

A big shoutout to Feedspot for featuring my blog in their TOP 100 SINGAPORE BLOGS LIST.

x Nini, 27 October 2018

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