CAPTAINS
OF LIVES

A conversation between two children
whose parents had been incarcerated
strengthened Superintendent (SUPT)
Matthew Wee’s resolve to help offenders
stay crime-free and lead useful lives.

SUPT Wee was drifting off to sleep when he overheard a whispered conversation between two boys aged eight and 10. They were attending a camp run by the Salvation Army as part of an outreach programme for children of incarcerated parents. Then a young officer, SUPT Wee was one of the volunteers.

The eight-year-old boy asked the older boy,“Do you know when your daddy will come home?”

The older boy replied, “When my daddy comes home, I’ll be serving army already.”

The younger boy said, “Aiyoh, when my daddy and mummy come home, I’ll be a big boy already.”

The words struck SUPT Wee to the core. He thought, these kids are innocent. Will they fall prey to crime too? As a Prison Officer, how can I help them and many others in the same situation?

SUPT Wee turned these questions over and over in his mind. That night, he hardly slept a wink. In the morning, he had the answer: do his job, and do it well; help offenders become law abiding citizens again. That was the best thing he could do for the children. “That conversation was a defining moment for me,” recalls SUPT Wee. “It strengthened my resolve to do all I can to help offenders stay crime-free, for their families and a safer society.”

SUPT Wee’s passion for helping offenders comes from a deeply personal experience. “Three of my uncles were drug addicts, and one of them took his own life in prison in the 1980s,” he says. “So I joined the Prison Service, wanting to do good to others.”

SUPT Wee signed on with the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) in 1998. Over the course of his career, he has served at the Jalan Awan Prison/Drug Rehabilitation Centre, SPS Headquarters, Tanah Merah Prison and the Changi Prison Complex. At 41, SUPT Wee is now the Director of SPS’ Community Corrections Command (COMC).

Established in 2014, COMC ensures that offenders released under supervision stay crime-free and reintegrate successfully into society. COMC officers manage some 1,500 ex-offenders daily. “By working with our community partners and volunteers, we want to effect a profound and lasting change in offenders’ lives, and offer them a future of opportunity and hope,” says SUPT Wee. “However, they too have to take charge of their lives and stay crime-free, to turn their lives around.”

According to SUPT Wee, a Prison Officer has to strike a balance between an “iron fist” and a “helping hand” – achieving the right mix of discipline and compassion at every encounter, and having the steel within to deal with difficult situations. When he was a rookie, SUPT Wee put up a disciplinary report on an inmate who’d broken a prison rule, even though he knew the inmate was trying to cope with his own problems. The inmate was disciplined and had his privileges withdrawn.

After this incident, SUPT Wee went the extra mile to go through the lessons learnt with the inmate. The inmate acknowledged his mistake but was disappointed that SUPT Wee wasn’t empathetic to his problems.

A few years later, a man called out to SUPT Wee at a hawker centre. It was that former inmate. He proudly introduced his wife and children to SUPT Wee, and said to them, “He was a good officer. He was honest with me.”

This exchange touched SUPT Wee. “When we meet ex-offenders and learn that they’ve made good and become contributing citizens – that’s the best feeling, and that’s what keeps us going,” he says.