First time he's out of jail for over a year
After years in and out of prison, he now has $3,000 job, thanks to Sana's financial and counselling programme
He went to get a handout. He left with something much more precious - hope.
For most of his 27 years, Mohammad Ridzwan Abdol Latiff has been in and out of prison.
He first went in at 14 and chalked up more jail time for a slew of offences, including theft and harassment, but mostly for drug-related crimes.
Mr Ridzwan told The New Paper yesterday: "My parents would keep telling me, 'This is going to be your last time (in prison), otherwise we won't visit you again.'
"They would do that for the first few months, but they would visit me again."
Then, in 2008, when he was behind bars, his father died from a blood clot in his brain.
"My father had just visited me in prison a few days earlier. Then my mum told me he was in hospital. Officers later told me he had died. I was very sad," Mr Ridzwan said.
Never close to his family previously, he became closer to his mum after his dad's sudden death.
After serving his longest sentence of 2½ years last year, he vowed to turn his life around when he realised how his time in jail had taken a toll on his family.
He found a job as an administrative coordinator through the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (Score), which helps ex-offenders find employment.
But it paid only $1,600 a month, and he had barely any savings. He was not sure if he could fulfil his vow.
Mr Mohammad Ridzwan Abdol Latiff. TNP PHOTOS: PHYLLICIA WANG
The turning point came last October, four months after his release, when he went to a Step-Up Centre set up by the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana).
Mr Ridzwan said: "When I was in prison, Sana came and told us that it could help us."
He added candidly: "I went there for financial assistance. I never thought of counselling. I just thought of taking the $35 (cash voucher) and leaving."
The centre offers walk-in clients small sums of money, prepaid food vouchers and ez-link cards.
But after being assessed by a para-counsellor, Mr Ridzwan realised he could seek more avenues for help beyond the financial.
Para-counsellors are volunteers with relevant experience or background in psychology or social work. They assess Sana clients and offer them counselling.
It gave him a glimpse of a brighter future and a chance to get a fresh start.
Yesterday, Mr Ridzwan was presented as one of its success stories when Sana officially launched its Step-Up Centre programme, which aims to provide financial and emotional support as well as information to ex-offenders and their families.
He was one of the 339 cases handled by the centre in a year-long pilot test last year.
One of the things the counsellor showed him was a pamphlet on tattoo removal.
To Mr Ridzwan, this was an opportunity for a physical makeover.
When he was just 16, he had tattoos done on his arms, something he has since regretted.
Asked why he wanted his tattoos removed, he said: "It is because of the social stigma. People brand others with tattoos, and I am tired of it."
He started wearing clothes with long sleeves to hide his tattoos after coming out of prison because he was sick of strangers staring at him.
"I can feel the difference when I wear long-sleeved shirts instead of short-sleeved shirts out. (Removing my tattoos) will give me more confidence."
The Tattoo Removal Programme, jointly organised by Sana and the National Skin Centre, is heavily subsidised, often by up to 90 per cent, said Sana executive director Abdul Karim.
It is one of many programmes organised by Sana to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society and secure better jobs.
Mr Ridzwan said the counselling sessions also helped boost his self-esteem.
"The counselling sometimes triggers things I don't usually think about at home, like my self-esteem."
Mr Ridzwan speaking with para-counsellor Koh Joh Ting.
Ms Koh Joh Ting, a para-counsellor in her 40s, said: "There is always an element of guilt and blame that clients have to talk through. As para-counsellors, we try to help them feel the themes in their stories... like their triggers."
On helping ex-convicts find employment, she said: "Finding employment is another minefield. We must guide them to tell their stories in a dignified manner."
Ms Koh believes the real challenge is not in finding a job but in sustaining it.
Mr Ridzwan has shown clear progress since he sought help at the centre last year.
He has a new job as a clinical assistant with Access Medical, earning $3,000 a month, and a girlfriend.
He is also waiting for an appointment to remove his tattoos.
This month marks his 13th as a free man, the longest since his downward spiral began 13 years ago.
Mr Ridzwan, who describes his family as being very close now, said: "I think my mum is proud of me as I have never been out of prison for more than a year. She can see that I have learnt my lesson."
His mother, Madam Juraida Jais, told The New Paper: "I am happy about his change and proud that he has managed to turn his life around. He should maintain it because change is not a destination, it is a journey."
What revamped Step-Up Centre offers
A CUT ABOVE: Brother's Barber Holdings co-director Zen She Yikai demonstrating his hairstyling course. The barbershop is partnering with Sana's Step-Up Centre to provide skills training for ex-offenders.
The Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association's (Sana) Step-Up Centre offers financial and emotional support, employment opportunities, information and counselling for ex-offenders and their families.
This is in line with its holistic approach to rehabilitation, said Sana executive director Abdul Karim.
He said that the centre is open to all ex-offenders, but it is primarily for drug offenders.
The newly revamped premises on Level 5 of Sengkang Community Club boasts counselling rooms, a multi-purpose recreation space for workshops and skills training, and a children's playroom manned by staff.
Sana also collaborates with other organisations to offer special programmes. One such collaboration is with Brother's Barber Holdings, which is run by Noor Izwan Noor Jali and Zen She Yikai, both 28.
The two-year-old barbershop is partnering with Sana to offer basic hairdressing training at the centre.
Graduates from the free course can join Brother's Barber, which operates from a foreign workers' dormitory in Seletar North Link and is seeking to expand.
The trainees will receive a $45 weekly allowance during the course and a basic salary once they start work.
Mr Mohammad Fahmi Ahmad Abu Bakar, who heads the Step-Up Centre, said: "We want to give (ex-offenders) skills for them to be self-sufficient."
Correction: Mr Noor Izwan Noor Jali and Mr Zen She Yikai, the co-directors of Brother’s Barber Holdings, are not ex-offenders as reported in an earlier version of this story.
Number of new drug abusers up by 20%
The Central Narcotics Bureau reported that 3,343 drug abusers were arrested in 2015.
This is a 6 per cent increase from 2014.
The number of repeat abusers dropped from 2,065 in 2014 to 2,034 in 2015.
However, there was a 20 per cent increase in the number of new drug abusers arrested in 2015 - 1,309 new abusers were nabbed in 2015, compared to the 1,093 arrested in 2014.
Methamphetamine (or Ice) and heroin were the two most commonly abused drugs.
More than two-thirds of the new abusers arrested were below the age of 30.
Sana's centre receives about 30 walk-ins per month, and one to six clients on an average day.
The majority of their walk-ins are between 20 to 30 years old.