They gave me the key to freedom.
For over 20 years of my life, I was in-and-out of prison for all sorts of vices. I committed a lot of crime like fighting, using drugs, gambling and even human trafficking. Each time I got released, I always wanted to make things right. However, I was not able to do so as the urges to go back to my old ways would come almost immediately.
Growing up, I was rebellious and stubborn. I started smoking when I was Primary 6. My studies were also very poor. I don’t know even how but I managed to make it to Secondary school, but that’s when I started to take drugs. I played truant and was never in class due to my frequent trips to Malaysia. I was also always getting into fights and even joined a gang in Secondary 2.
When I was 18 and in NS, I was heavily on drugs and also started to rebel even more. I had beaten up officers and was sent to detention for assault and drugs offences. After which, the army discharged me. From then on, I got worse and worse, and started to take all sorts of drugs. When I was in prison, I met a friend who told me there wasn’t any point in taking drugs to earn money. That’s when I stopped doing drugs, took alcohol and started the human trafficking business for sex workers. I eventually got caught for that too.
When my father passed away, I went back to doing drugs. But this time, I was taking more potent drugs as my old group of friends had come to attend the wake. This resulted in my intestines bursting.
Eventually I hit my lowest point in 1999. I had taken a different kind of drug and it made me hallucinate. I felt like I was hopeless, nobody trusted me, and I could not trust anybody. I felt like a failure and tried to end my life. If my mom did not come over to my place to look for me, I would have died on that very day.
It was at this point that I had met a friend who told me to go IMH or a halfway house to seek help. I did and also told myself that I would give myself another chance. That’s where I got introduced to HighPoint, which provided me a 1-year program to get better.
Over at HighPoint Halfway House, I met a lot of ex-drug users and saw how their lives had changed, especially the director-in-charge, and they quickly became my role models. Back then, I asked God, “give me a year to change”. I really made the effort to change myself in that year. I even went to help out in Turkey when there was a big earthquake in 1999. I stayed there for 6 months and got involved in community work. This made me realize that I actually like to do community work.
After coming back, I decided to do community work back at the halfway house. I was working with elderly, doing home visits and teaching children. Slowly I rose up to become a staff and became a leader over there. I started to get involved with the schools and gave advice to children to stay away from drugs. I told them that the choices they make are very important, because every choice has its consequences.
I’m very thankful for my mother’s and family ‘s support. I feel that it is very important to have support. Otherwise, you will feel like nobody’s behind you and can easily fall back into your old lifestyle. I’m very blessed as I also met my wife in the process in 2010. My wife works in Touch Community and we both have the same passion to serve people. She knows all about my past yet still accepts and supports me. My church work has also helped me to work on myself. Since 2000, the community church has been supporting me and my passions in community work. My family, mother, wife and all the church staff have really helped me and mentor me.
This is why I feel that support is very important. My family accepted me back into their lives after they saw how much I changed and slowly invited me back into their homes. They gave me the key to freedom. And that is what Yellow Ribbon is all about too – second chances. Nowadays people still shy away and close the door when it comes to employing ex-offenders. People should not do that. It’s important to give them second chances.
Today, I have a lot of happy moments. I am 61 years old and currently a Coordinator for Community Services at Community of Praise Baptist Church. I oversee 4 Outreach Ministries and conduct Praise Dance exercises for the public at 3 locations – Yew Tee Hard Court, Chua Chu Kang Park and Yew Mei Green Condo. I also run a Reading Club, in partnership with Shine Children and Youth Services, teaching English to Primary school students with volunteers from NUS High School and NUS, as well as a Hobby Club for 70 elderly with about 25 volunteers helping out – both at Clementi CC under People’s Association Interest Group. Additionally, I am also involved in Friends Club, taking care of 50 adopted families in the rental flats at Clementi Ave 2.
My dream is to eventually open a centre that can fully engage the elderly, children and family, and the youths-at-risk. I feel that it’s very important to reach out to the youths-at-risk as they don’t often have a place to go. I also hope to see a society that will give a helping hand to those who are down – including the lonely and ex-prisoners. If everyone can just play their small part, we will be giving them something to look forward to in their lives.
I am still on the road to recovery. Every day is a challenge. I won’t say that I am successful now, but I am thankful that I am where I am, and I still have a long way to go.