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Beyond Maximum Security: Inmates walk a tightrope as they taste the sweetness, and perils, of life outside prison

SINGAPORE: Two weeks from completing his prison term, Graceson Ang found himself handcuffed and taken back to the Singapore Prison Service’s (SPS) Selarang Park Complex.

He had broken the rules of a community-based programme that allowed him to spend the tail-end of his sentence at a halfway house – not once, but seven times between September and November.

The 37-year-old had taken leave and sick days off from work without informing the halfway house and his reintegration officer Ponnarasi Gopal Chandra.

For these breaches, he landed back in a cell last month.

Inmates are only allowed to access specific websites for their assignments. If they access unauthorised sites, the privilege of using the device could be taken away. They could also be expelled from their course.

Iskandar landed in hot soup for generating a QR code without permission.

“We saw the QR code on Iskandar’s project work. We did a scan and found out that it was his prison number,” said Paruk Kothari, vice-principal of the Prison School. 

One’s prison number is “equivalent to the identity card number of a person (and) can be abused”, he explained. If it falls into the hands of other inmates, they can log in to access his electronic letters to his loved ones and impersonate him, among other things.

During investigation into the matter, Iskandar was segregated from other inmates. His lessons were suspended.

Isolated in his cell, Iskandar regretted the “stupid mistake”. “I’m the type of person who’s very cautious. I won’t do stupid things. But that day, I don’t know why I (went and did that),” he said. “This QR code, I (didn’t) even need it… I just wanted to act clever.”


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Throughout his 18 months behind bars, Khai, 32, had been wondering how his mother was faring.

He last had contact with her last year and had been deeply worried – to the extent he wanted to end it all. According to him, his stepbrother took his mother away after his father died in December 2020. Soon after, Khai started serving his sentence of 29 months’ jail and two strokes of the cane for extortion, blackmail and voluntarily causing hurt.

While in prison, he tried without success to call his mother. He wrote to his cousin but did not receive a reply. He then called his daughter to check in on her and pass her some money.

He also hopes his daughter will stop playing truant, focus on her studies and have a better life than him. “I always tell my daughter (to) be better than who I am,” he said. “My highest qualification is only Primary Two, and I don’t want (her) to study until secondary (school) and that’s it.”

WATCH: Counting down to a life beyond bars | Part 2/3 (47:54)

For Boon Keng, things are bittersweet on the family front.

With help from his reintegration officer Simon Lee, he has managed to reconnect with his sister, whose home he is now living in.

“Thank God that my sister gave me this place to stay,” said Boon Keng. “At least I have a roof (over my head).”

The 35-year-old was released into the community in July under a remission order and the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme, which gives more intervention and support to higher-risk ex-offenders.

This enabled him to reunite with his fiancée Gabrielle.

They visited Mandai Columbarium the first chance he had to pay his respects to his late mother, who died while he was in prison. Sobbing as he pondered his failings as a son, Boon Keng said: “I don’t dare to say I love her because up to her last day, I did nothing.

Graceson quit as a mover with the halfway house after two months for the same reason. The S$500 he earned a month was not enough for his family’s expenses, he said. “It’s not that I am unhappy, it’s just that the pay is too low for me.”

His next role as a procurement assistant at flower and gift company Xpressflower came with initial struggles. Although a colleague showed him the procurement process, it took time to absorb the information and he fumbled when searching for the right basket for a floral arrangement.


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He feels confident about not falling back into drugs, but acknowledged he needs to work on his anger management skills.

“I’m still trying my best to change. We all have anger … I want to try to control my anger,” he said.

Then, picking up his items, he bid his cellmate goodbye. “Take care, five more days.”

Catch the three episodes of Beyond Maximum Security here, and the four episodes of Inside Maximum Security here.

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