For social service worker Ravan Kumar, 2021 has been a hectic year. Having taken the plunge with his ex-girlfriend (and now wife) and moving into his new home, he is still buzzing about at local co-operative Industrial and Services Co-operative Society Limited (ISCOS), where he plans reformative programmes for inmates and ex-offenders.
“I do a lot of coordination work on my end,” says the 33-year-old candidly in a Zoom meeting from his apartment. “The pandemic has made running programmes a little tricky.”
For the uninitiated, ISCOS is one of many agencies that helps ex-offenders reintegrate and improve their employability in society. Established in 1989, ISCOS is the only co-operative in Singapore that actively engages the community to help ex-offenders gain a foothold in society. Beyond offering training and employment services, ISCOS also proffers pro-social support and referral services to ex-offenders and their families. It is also one of the founding members of Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network which is fronted by the Yellow Ribbon Project.
Next year, Ravan will be marking his fifth anniversary at ISCOS, his second job after departing from the recruitment industry. On what he loves most about his job, he adds: “I feel empowered and good knowing that I can change lives and enact positive changes in others too.”
Currently still dedicating his time to be a changemaker at ISCOS, SNCF caught up with Ravan who shared more about his responsibilities at the co-operative and what he feels empowered by at his workplace.
SNCF: What are your duties as a senior social service executive at ISCOS?
Ravan Kumar: I work in the support and guidance department. There, I coordinate several support group programmes, which we run in prisons or for ex-offenders after they have finished serving their term. One of the lead programmes I am running now is the ISCOS Titans programmes, where we dispatch positively reformed ex-offenders—whom we call “Titans”—to schools or other institutions to share about their experiences or give motivational talks to prison inmates.
These support group programmes are avenues for ex-offenders to share about their challenges, work with fellow inmates, and help them come to an understanding of how they can manage difficult situations after serving their sentence.
At present, how many ISCOS Titans are there?
Ravan: We have got about 16 active Titans with us at the moment. We are quite selective with how we choose them. The Titans need to have to be positively reformed—that is, to be clean for at least three years. So, no fines or pending cases. They will undergo an interview with our directors too.
It’s been close to five years since you joined the team at ISCOS. What spurred you on to join the co-operative?
Ravan: I joined because I had a special interest in this particular group of people. Many people tend to look down on ex-offenders, ostracising them and are unwilling to give them second chances. But they are also people too. In my time here, I realised no one ex-offender is the same. Each ex-offender has their own set of challenges that he must overcome. There is this lapse of understanding in the community. I figured if I could play a part to create awareness to the public and help these people to move positively in their lives.
So, like healthcare, working in social service requires a calling?
Ravan: I believe it is. Because firstly, you need to have the desire to help people as well as be in the position to help them. Secondly, you also need a lot of patience, commitment and willpower. There will be times when you are presented with unpleasant and challenging situations. You need both patience and mental resilience to deal with the different scenarios brought about by different ex-offenders.
Yeah, you need to want to do it. And it can be extremely rewarding to do so.
What is one misconception people have of your job?
Ravan: I have often been mistaken as a Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) employee. Many do not know that there are many organisations and agencies out there that helps ex-offenders reintegrate back to society.
Could you recount a memorable incident you have had at ISCOS?
Ravan: This happened earlier this year. A lady who had just been released from prison, contacted ISCOS for assistance. With limited support then, she approached ISCOS for financial aid and we provided her with some funding to tide her through for a bit. I remember verbally encouraging her, giving her motivation and providing as much guidance as possible. Nine to 10 months down the road, she still follows up with me and she even managed to secure a well-paying job too!
It was reported in 2019 that 40% of ex-offenders return to prison. Why do you think are the reasons for this statistic?
Ravan: When ex-offenders are freshly released from prison, many of them are motivated to change. We know this because we speak to many of them before they finished serving their term. But the reality is life can be challenging.
When you are serving your sentence, the issues, whether they are debts to pay or other familial burdens, will not be resolved overnight. When things become insurmountable, many may be inclined to run away. The pandemic adds an extra layer to things as well. Although there are many support platforms like ISCOS, ultimately, it depends on the ex-offenders’ own motivation and drive to change for the better.
You mentioned that there is plenty of stigma and ostracisation towards ex-offenders. What can we do to address this issue?
Ravan: Awareness. Whenever we have an ex-offender and or a Titan share their own stories, their personal challenges, and how they overcame them, we create awareness. These are the things that let people know ex-offenders are just like us; it's just that, unfortunately, some of them were put in certain positions or life situations that were not that favourable and wrong choices or decisions were made. If people can see and understand that, then there is a better possibility for stigma and perceptions of ex-offenders to change in the community.
What empowers you at work?
Ravan: I have very good colleagues. The co-operative has a very positive working environment; the people support one another, and we can always talk openly within ourselves. There is also that feel-good feeling where you know you can change lives and enact positive changes in others too.
By Sng Ler Jun