Jail time on someone’s record can often mean black listing from employment, and while this has been a long-standing practice, it has also brought about an aggravating effect on someone’s hope for a new lease in life.
However, many countries have started taking stands on the outdated belief that a leopard can never change its spots, and Singapore is certainly not falling behind.
A Straits Times article published recently featured ex-convict James Giam, who proved that nothing can ever hold back a truly determined spirit. But he is not the only ex-convict who has managed to turn their life around despite a record mired in blackness.
1. Darren Tan
Ex-gangster and drug abuser Darren Tan spent 10 years behind bars from the age of 14 but at 25, he finally started turning his life around to become NUS’s first law student with a criminal past. Despite the challenges of re-adapting to school life and re-learning English, Tan graduated with a law degree with a position as a litigation lawyer waiting for him.
Today, Tan continues to contribute back to his old life by taking on pro bono cases and volunteering with Beacon of Life and the Yellow Ribbon Project.
2. Anil David
Having served prison time was the both the bane and turning point for Anil David. During his sentence, Anil worked in a call centre where he managed to rise up to become Manager. When he left the prison, he took with him the values learnt from his experience – perseverance and patience, and sought to set up his own call centre for prisoners.
Although he faced a major obstacle when his record dissuaded investors from funding him, he eventually managed to find people willing to support his vision. To date, Agape Connecting People has helped employ almost 100 people consisting of inmates and stroke patients, and Anil himself has been awarded SVCA Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2016.
3. So Weng Kei
A serial house burglar back in 1998, things seemed to have turned around for So Weng Kei when he turned over a new leaf to become a full-time economics student at NUS. However, his third and fourth year saw him relapse into burglary and facing 7.5 years in jail.
But So did not let that particular problem hold him down. Persisting in his studies even under the dim maintenance light in his cell after hours, So graduated with an economics degree and stode into a bright future as a marketing executive.
4. Jonathan Tan
Jonathan Tan’s 17 years of leaving and re-entering prison had left a very black mark on his record, and it was only after a particularly bad relapse did Tan finally manage to find his ground in religion and at The Helping Hand. Starting off as a gardener and later as a landscaper, Tan was only armed with the most basic of tools – an old creaky bicycle, a broom and a manual mower.
The rejection that he faced from others often left him in a self-effacing state but they didn’t last, and today Tan runs his own landscaping business where he employs other ex-offenders.
She ran away from home at the age of 13 and 2 years later joined a secret society. With a reputation of being a very violent person, Milah was trapped in a cycle of drugs, prostitution and prison time, all the while having to juggle 7 children by herself.
Today, Milah has found herself with a much better life as founder of Plus Point. As a hip-hop group of troubled teens, Plus Point performs for events while at the same time helps to keep rebellious teens off the street by giving them a place they belong.
6. Benny Se Teo
A former drug abuser who first came into contact with drugs through his father, Benny Se Teo became increasingly addicted to narcotics due to peer influence. After a near death experience during which he had his stomach pumped, Se Teo decided enough was enough. Joining a halfway house, he quickly learned that employment opportunities for convicts did not come easy.
Building on his lifelong passion for food, Se Teo founded Eighteen Chefs, where 35% of the staff are ex-offenders. And even despite the problems hiring ex-offenders, Se Teo persists in his efforts to help turn lives around.
7. Barry Yeow
Also an abuser of narcotics and ex-gang member, Barry Yeow was a former tattoo artist who was sent back to jail at the age of 41 for threatening and robbing a woman. His turning point came when he was sent to the prison hospital for withdrawal symptoms, and he saw other patients in worse conditions that he.
Picking up art during classes that lecturers from LaSalle and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts would teach, Yeow threw himself into art. His talent saw him winning Yellow Ribbon competitions, as well as being commissioned for pieces – something that he persists at even now.
8. Kathy Goh
As an attempt to challenge her then boyfriend to quit heroin, Kathy Goh took the drug herself. What started out as a attempt to help ended up being the worse decision she could make, and she soon found herself addicted. Over the next 15 years, Goh found herself in and out of jail, the first time being less than four months after she had given birth. It was only after multiple rehabilitation periods did she manage to break the vice.
Now, she is a frequent face at the halfway house that helped her – iCare, where she helps to encourage others about a new lease in life.
Shattering Misconceptions Of Others And Oneself
Being an ex-convict does not mean the end of the world, just like how one’s PSLE results will not condemn students to a bad future.
Just as how So had described his journey of self-redemption, it is always important to have hope, as “there is still someone out there who will be willing to give [you] this chance.”
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