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My efforts paid off - by M.A.

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If I could stop… time… would I?

'A' Level student-inmate from institution TM1 1st Prize

Coming from a relatively well-off family, there were not many of my material needs and wants that were not met. I never once had to miss meals and all means were at my disposal to attain the “standard” life through the well-worn path of “proper” education. To make sure we treaded this Singaporean notion of success, my dad was an uncompromising disciplinarian. My large home, although filled with love, was also filled with rules and regulations. Any breach was met swiftly and severely. This is when the late rebellious spark in me began to burn.

My dad was often away and busy with work and mother was distracted in tending to the household to really notice my subtly encroaching wayward ways. My rebellion had a concrete and identifiable source: I hated the house with the soul of my being. I despised its power over my independence and freedom, its iron grip over the choices I made. I felt that my parents wanted everything their way. Every aspect of my life they wanted to exert control, to the extent that they proceeded to choose for me my educational, and thus career, pathway they were adamant I must pursue. I had exactly zero interest in aerospace electronics and had always gravitated towards business management

My parents were, at that time, heavily influenced by peers of their own social standing (my father is a successful business man and we live in a private residential area) where one-upmanship is rife when it comes to children and their achievements in certain socially-acceptable careers in a class-conscious society. To my young eyes, all this posturing was something to elevate my parents’ social standing with nary a thought reserved for us children and our desires. I hated this and I started to hate home.

I was drifting away when I was as young as 14. In my family, I was the proverbial “black sheep”. My sister diligently followed the dictates of my parents and ended up as a scientist with A*star laboratories. My brother too followed every whim of my parents. The one who did not fit in was me.

I stopped academic studies at ‘O’ levels and went on to the polytechnic where I promptly dropped out less than a year later. I was bringing shame and disrepute to my family. Family dinners were unpleasant affairs and I avoided them studiously as much as I could. In fact, I avoided home altogether.

Feeling ostracized by my own family, I found myself in a similar company where I could feel belonged and welcomed. Naturally, this motley group of “lackeys'' from all walks of life received me with open arms and almost crushed me in their vice-like embrace from which it took me courage and determination to eventually escape.

But, it was an interesting and eye-opening life though: gangs and their ideas of honour and code of conduct, sultry girls who came out at night, clubs and karaoke bars that I was too young to enter, the apprehension and excitement of gambling and finally, the inescapable siren-call of drugs.

I was not even 18 then and I am ashamed to say that there is little in the way of vices that I had not indulged in before. How long could such a life last? Not long in, it turned out when the tentacles of law and order caught up with me.

By this time, I had gotten seriously involved in the trafficking of drugs and at the age of 21, was arrested for possessing more than 500 grams of cannabis: the amount that carries the death penalty. When I was told this, my head swam and I felt faint. I could not believe that my life was going to end so soon at such a young age. My girlfriend then, who is my wife now, was just 2 months pregnant with our daughter. My parents were devastated to say the least. None in my extended family or relatives have ever stepped foot into prison. Another blow landed on them when they discovered that I was going to father a child. I was prepared to face their wrath, even their disowning me, but it was their sudden about-turn that completely took me by surprise and made me regret the error of my ways.

Throughout all this drama and chaos, my parents stoically stood by me and my wife. I know what it must have cost them to do that. When I was facing the gallows, they came to visit me in prison without fail. I could only imagine what it must have felt like for them to see me in that state. And when the drugs were sent for processing and dilution, to sieve out only the core, pure form of the substance, the total net-weight now, was less than half of what I was caught with. Bail was offered and my parents bailed me out and arranged for me to get married to my wife. Another pivotal memory was, when I personally witnessed the birth of my daughter and the pain and struggle my young wife went through.

I was sentenced to 8 years in prison and 6 strokes of the cane. To my young mind, and my parents' aging ones, it seemed like a lifetime.

Most importantly, I did not know how my wife and I were going to face the obstacles that were sure to come our way. But, wonder of wonders, during the initial difficult period, my parents were the source of our strength. They never wavered in encouraging and motivating us. They never ceased in reminding me that everything will become better, that all of them were still there for me no matter what I had done. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but never shall the ties that bind, for better or for worse.

Crushing remorse played into my slow, lethargic days, and sleepless nights. I did not know what I could do to make things right, until my parents encouraged me to study in prison. I had no idea if I could do it but I did not want to let my family down after they had been with me every step along the way. I threw all doubts and anxieties aside [what if I failed? How will my parents feel if I do?] and took the plunge by enrolling into the prison school. I was offered the ‘A’ levels and I grabbed it without a moment’s hesitation. Whatever it is, however tough it may be, I was single-minded and determined to work hard and make my parents proud and change my life for the better. I understood the gravity of my responsibilities, now that I have a wife and daughter to care for.

My efforts paid off.

For the academic year 2018, I emerged the top ‘A’ level student in prison school with 5As and 1B. The national papers came to interview me and devoted a section to celebrate this achievement. The experience felt surreal. Above all else, when we were given the opportunity to share our academic results with our family during a special unobstructed open visitation session, the look of utter pride and joy on the face of my loved ones is difficult for me to describe. Suffice to say that it was worth every waking hour I spent studying like a madman.

Now that I have a daughter, I realise how much I want to give the best to her, how much I want to help her make the best out of her life.

I understand now, with clarity of being a parent myself, how my own parents felt. The experiences that I have gone through, the lessons that I have learnt, have shaped me to who I am today. Whatever that has happened to me in the past - including the prison sentence that I am currently serving - is indeed a blessing in disguise. I can confidently say that I have improved my inner self and polished my knowledge in this most unfavourable environment. I believe I am a better person now and will continue to be a better person that I was before for the rest of my life.

So now to the question…

If I could stop… time… would I?

The answer is most certainly, a NO. I am who I am today because of my unique past.

P.S. I hope this true story of mine would inspire others like me – who have detoured towards the wrong path, and give them a glimmer of hope that there is still light in the end of the tunnel

Thank you.

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