The Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM) has seen a good response from volunteers who have signed up to serve in the ministry’s aftercare programme for ex-offenders.
However, RCPM says it needs more male volunteers 35 years and older to volunteer for the “befriending” service as many of the ex-offenders are male.
The Walk-with-You aftercare programme provides ex-offenders with befriending, counselling, employment and temporary financial assistance services.
Each client’s needs are assessed on a case-by-case basis. Most of those who seek help from RCPM have already attended the ministry’s activities, such as religious counselling, during their incarceration.
Fifteen people participated in a workshop on July 19 where they were advised on the dos and don’ts of being a befriender. One volunteer who attended the workshop was Madam Maureen Bernard who found the training and guidelines useful.
While Madam Bernard, 57, who was volunteering in the ministry’s in-care programme for offenders did not initially intend to become a befriender, she was later inspired to do so after journeying and helping a female ex-offender turn her life around.
The woman later converted to Catholicism.
Madam Bernard has been counselling the woman during the in-care programme and she took the initiative to contact Madam Bernard for help after being released from prison.
Importance of aftercare
Aftercare is important to RCPM. “If we just stop at the prison level then the mission is incomplete,” said RCPM aftercare coordinator Rachel Sng.
Ms Sng told CatholicNews that not all ex-offenders who turn to RCPM for help are keen on taking up the befriending service as they have more pressing concerns, such as financial needs and finding employment.
RCPM wants to go beyond financial aid as the befriending service would help ex-offenders re-integrate into society. However, those who have the support of their families would not need the befriending service.
Ms Sng added that RCPM does not put pressure on anyone to use its counselling or befriending services. RCPM will however keep the invitation open to ex-offenders, who must first indicate that they want the service.
“I respect their choice.. I always give them a choice. So when they are ready, they come,” she said.
Madam Bernard added that the client must be open to the befriender.
Volunteers should also ideally commit to the journey for at least six months and contact the client regularly.
Volunteers should also possess a good prayer life, be genuine, non-judgemental, patient, empathetic and not impose one’s views on others.
For Madam Bernard, the service comes to an end when the client is able to stand on his or her own feet.
One must not lose one’s temper even though the client can be quite difficult at times, Madam Bernard said. Also, one cannot brush the client aside, even when one is busy, when the client requests for help . Otherwise the client would feel abandoned.
What Madam Bernard does is to gently tell the client that she needs a minute to attend to the task at hand.
She also makes it clear that she would not provide the client with money, or her home number or address, though buying a meal for the client is fine for her.
While Madam Bernard describes the work as “challenging”, she said she has learnt to be “patient and humble” with ex-offenders.
She added that she has also learnt much from the ex-offenders themselves. From their stories and experience, she is able to help others.
RCPM also runs an RCPM Ambassador Programme.
The RCPM Ambassador is the contact point for ex-offenders wanting to attend Mass and be integrated into church and parish life.
There are currently ambassadors at the Church of Divine Mercy, Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. RCPM hopes to have one ambassador in each of the church districts in Singapore.
Ms Sng said that the ambassador can help familiarise clients with the activities in the parish, and also attend Mass with them initially.
By Darren Boon