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Tue, Jun 22, 2010
The Straits Times
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From jailbird to superhero, for the sake of his children
by Teh Joo Lin

WHEN Mr Osman Sani was sentenced to more than five years' jail for serial theft, the youngest of his six children had just been born.

Having to miss out on his children's growing-up years woke him up to how he had been a letdown as a father and helped him resolve to stay away from crime on his release from prison in December 2006.

These days, the 47-year-old storekeeper cares so much for his children he spends just $4 a week on lunch, eating only bread, so he can channel most of his $1,000 income to them.

Mr Osman said: 'Even though I have six children, I never thought about family at all. But when I was in prison, I saw how they suffered. I pledged in my heart that when I was released, I would look after them.'

In all, Mr Osman has been in prison three times. On the first occasion, he was still single and his second stint inside, for just a month, did not keep him away from his family long enough for him to feel the loss.

But the third time he was locked up, the 51/2-year sentence was so stiff it acted as his 'wake-up call', he said.

Mr Osman and his family were among 400 participants at Pasir Ris Park yesterday for a family day carnival organised by the Industrial and Services Cooperative Society (Iscos), as part of Father's Day celebrations.

Iscos was set up in 1989 to help former convicts regain their footing in society. The organisation staged its first family day event yesterday, as it wanted to emphasise the need to strengthen bonds between former convicts and their children.

Executive director Freda Tham said when a parent goes to prison, his family undergoes an ordeal too.

'They are stigmatised in some way. It's tough for the kids when they have friends with both parents going for family sessions in school, but they only have one,' she said.

The theme of the event, Be My Superhero, also served to remind former convicts that children treat their parents as their role models.

Ms Tham said: 'It's important they become good role models and be good influences on their children.'

To underscore the impact that parents have on their children, Mr Michael Palmer, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, told the gathering about his father, broadcast veteran Vernon Palmer, who died last year at the age of 84.

Among other things, his father taught him to devote himself fully to a task once he had decided to do it.

He said: 'I realise that the values and principles he took pains to teach me and inculcate in me have influenced me greatly.'

Another parent keen to make amends for the past was Mr Anthony Ng, 55, who was released last year after serving an eight-year jail term for drug use.

While he was in jail, his wife had to raise their two sons, who are now 21 and 18, alone. He felt they resented him at first, although they are now on speaking terms.

The factory worker said: 'I can't help but feel guilty. I keep thinking about not being able to be there for them as they grew up. Now I will try to do what I can.'


This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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