Ex-convict turns to win back children

ex convict

Azman (not his real name) has been in and out of jail and spending nearly a quarter of his life in prison. Then the 38-year-old decided it was enough. 

During his most recent stint, Azman watched from behind bars as his two children, aged 8 and 7, grew up and went to primary school. When he finally went home after 3 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.

Chequered beginnings

The oldest of 7 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 – a welcome boost to the measly 50 cents daily pocket money. With a monthly salary of S$800, his father, the sole breadwinner, struggled to provide for their family of 9.

It was then that Azman had his first brush with narcotic abuse. He rapidly lost interest in studying and dropped out in Secondary 3. With little else to do, Azman stuck with friends that got him hooked on the drug “Five” — and was led deeper into “heroin”. At S$20 a straw, it quickly became an expensive hobby.

Road to ‘havoc’
Azman looked for odd jobs to fund the habit, as a window cleaner and a store clerk before he was packed off to National Service (NS). In NS, Azman went AWOL (absent without leave) a total of 13 times – to avoid the urine tests that would expose his heroin addiction. 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 to jail and prisons. Azman completed NS only after 7 long years — 5 more than the typical duration. Quitting was never on his mind because quite simply, he “didn’t care”. “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…”

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 3 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.

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. 

Back in Jail
He kept up the abuse over the next 5 years — even as his son and daughter were born — and evaded detection 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 5 1/2 years in 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), an organisation which 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 3 years and 8 months for good behaviour. 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 took up a subsidised forklift driving course and moved on to become a tower crane operator this year with a basic pay of S$4,000.

It was Azman’s new-found resolve that most impressed Ms. Phang of ISCOS who interviewed Azman and approved his course application.  “Since I first met him, Azman has become more confident and motivated. He is (always) looking to improve himself. 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

Come 2016, the family of four will leave their 2-room flat in for a build-to-order 4-room flat. 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.




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