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Man takes 7 years to finish NS (Guess the race)

Scrooball (clone)

Singapore 9: Singapore ex-con turns over new leaf to win back children



Azman (not his real name) has been in and out of jail so many times, he’s lost count.

After spending nearly a quarter of his life in prison, the 38-year-old decided enough was enough.

During his most recent stint, the former drug addict watched from behind bars as his two children, aged eight and seven, grew up and went to primary school. When he finally went home after three years in lock-up, it was not quite the welcome he expected.

“They were scared of me, like I wasn’t their father. There was a distance between us,” recalled Azman, who is married to a 35-year-old clerk.

It was sufficient motivation for him to quit the drug habit that had led to his repeated incarcerations.

“If I didn’t leave that life behind, my next sentence would have been a minimum seven years,” he said, his easy-going nature belying a steely motivation. “I won’t be that stupid.”

Azman also grew determined to do better than the S$1,000 salary he was earning as a port worker – if only to give his family the “good life” he never had.

Chequered beginnings

The oldest of seven siblings, Azman had barely started secondary school when he took on part-time work on weekends as a golf caddy, for S$40 a day.

The cash was a welcome boost to the measly 50 cents daily pocket money he received. With a monthly salary of S$800, his father, the sole breadwinner, struggled to provide for their family of nine.

It was then that Azman, who was in the Express stream at Bukit View Secondary, had his first brush with narcotic abuse – through Erimin, a relaxant also known as “Five”. He rapidly lost interest in studying and promptly dropped out in Secondary 3.

With little else to do, Azman stuck with the group of boys that got him hooked on Five -- and before long, they were leading him deeper into the abyss with the hottest, most potent drug on the streets: heroin.

At S$20 a straw (he used to inhale or “chase” the opiate), it quickly became an expensive hobby.

It was also a dangerous one – the penalty for possession of over 15g heroin is death.

Undeterred, Azman looked for odd jobs to fund the habit, first working as a window cleaner and later, a store clerk before he was packed off to National Service (NS).

Road to ‘havoc’

Upon enlisting in 1993, he was deployed as a pipe fitter in the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s decommissioned Construction Brigade, and put through grueling work on buildings and roads.

It was here that Azman went AWOL (absent without leave) a total of 13 times – to avoid the urine tests that would expose his heroin addiction.

Quitting was never on his mind because quite simply, he "didn't care".

In each instance, the law caught up with him: from 1995 to 2000, Azman flitted in and out of year-long terms that took him from the detention barracks in Jalan Bahar to jail in Selarang Park and the now-defunct Tampines and Queenstown Remand Prisons.

Azman was done with NS only after seven long years -- five more than the typical duration.

“I didn’t have anyone. I didn’t think about family,” he said. “Plus a sentence of one to two years, for me, was nothing… That’s why I went havoc with drugs (sic).”

Addicted again

Fresh out of jail, Azman had his first taste of the difficulties faced by ex-convicts in securing stable employment.

For the next three years, he drifted along as a dispatch rider, until he chanced upon a vacancy for lashing specialists at a PSA port. Friends warned that the gig – securing vessel containers – was tough, but Azman had his eye on the healthy salary that came with the work’s high-risk nature.

“Imagine walking along the edge of a structure 15-storeys high, with just a pole for support,” he described. It was worth it, said Azman, because he made nearly S$4,000 a month. It helped him save up for his marriage a year later.

The pay was also dependent on the amount of work put in – and he was clocking 36-hour shifts, over five days a week, with no sleep.

Azman pulled off this incredible feat with help from an addiction to Yaba, known as the “madness drug” for its mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine.

“It made me ‘hyper’ and full of energy. Yaba didn’t let me sleep,” he recalled. “It helped with the job.”

Azman insisted he would skip the drug on his days off – because he was taking it “not for pleasure, but for work”. But it was an addiction nonetheless – one that he always knew would get him in trouble with the law if caught.


Inmates exercise inside a Changi Prison hall November 24, 2005 in Singapore (Photo by Jonathan Drake/Getty Images) …

Back in jail

He kept up the abuse over the next five years -- even as his son and daughter were born -- and evaded detection, he claimed, by buying from Thai and Burmese drug dealers only.

Then, in 2008, a friend asked Azman to help procure “ice” (pure methamphetamine) and to make the transaction through an associate of his – who turned out to be an undercover cop.

This time, the sentence was severe: eight strokes of the cane plus five and a half years in Changi Prison.

But “worst” of all, he said, was missing out on his kids growing up.

As he moved to clean up his act once and for all, Azman saw the need to self-improve to better provide for his family. That was when he found the Industrial & Services Co-operative Society Ltd (ISCOS).

The organisation, which was established in 1989, helps ex-convicts reintegrate into society through job placements, subsidised skills training, support groups and other initiatives.

“ISCOS held a recruitment talk at the prison, telling us how they help offenders when released,” he said, proudly adding that he signed up for a membership on the spot.

If not for the assistance he later received from ISCOS, Azman insisted, he would have never been able to get his life in order.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done," he said.

On the mend

Azman was released in 2011 after three years and eight months for good behaviour. After sniffing around on his own, the only work he could find was as a delivery attendant earning over S$1,000 a month.

He decided to approach ISCOS for help in upgrading, and was interviewed by the organisation’s executive director Phang Seok Sieng.

Phang approved his application for a subsidised forklift driving course, and in May this year, backed another career move by him – this time to a tower crane operator position, which comes with a basic pay of S$4,000.

It was Azman’s new-found resolve that impressed her most. “Since I first met him, Azman has become more confident and motivated. He is (always) looking to improve himself,” said Phang. “And he has made good strides… with his many goals spurring him on.”

“After the tower crane course, I won’t stop,” Azman insisted. “I’m taking crawler crane, then roofing tower crane… I’ve got a goal every year. And I’m saving up for all the courses now.”

License to dream

The fruits of his big changes are already taking shape.

Come 2016, the family of four will leave their two-room flat in Telok Blangah for a build-to-order four-room in Choa Chu Kang. But first, after he completes his tower crane course, Azman plans to get a family car – and a few more kids to boot.

“That’s why I’m taking all these courses,” he laughed. “Two more, make it four!”

No matter how many children he ends up with, it’s safe to say he is actively working towards a better future for them – one free of the struggles he went through when he was younger.

“I want my boy to become a marine pilot,” said Azman. “We (port workers) wait hours for them to walk in like some big boss and go steer the ship (sic).”

“I want my son to have people waiting for him. Without him, the ship cannot go out.”

How you can help

Each year, ISCOS helps about 2,000 ex-offenders and up to 500 child dependants. Volunteering opportunities are available for all – from mentoring young adult ex-offenders to helping out with ISCOS events. Interested parties can contact Vani at 6471 7570 or email [email protected].

Other charities for ex-offenders include Yellow Ribbon Project, Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises and Singapore After-Care Association.

Yahoo! Singapore 9

Singapore 9 is Yahoo! Singapore's annual National Day honours project. Back for the third time running this year, we are honouring nine charities in Singapore in the lead-up to the nation's birthday on August 9. Join us to Change A Life!


Alfrescian (Inf)
Wow congrats to azman sia. Actually decides to make up his mind not to go to jail any longer. Wow amazing. While a normal sinkie chinese do didn't even go to jail or takes drugs or commits crimes but didn't really do well in school or get a good job gets treated worse.