Ex hard-core criminal helps addicts stay drug free
Vision in jail cell helps gangster turn over a new leaf
This National Day, we celebrate with 16 stories of people who overcame adversity to give back to society. Read their stories and watch the videos at tnp.sg/ndp2016
Mr Francis Santhanam was a hardened criminal.
For 23 years, he had been in and out of prison for robbery, gang fights, housebreaking and drugs.
"I have been to prison nine times and given 26 strokes of the cane," the 55-year-old said.
Mr Francis did not know much besides crime. He had grown up with a gangster for a father.
"He would bring his friends to our home and from them I learnt bad habits. I thought that was a good life," he said.
He was 13 then.
"I wanted to be like them so it was no wonder my studies went haywire. I got involved in a gang and we fought (other gangs). Then I progressed to robbery," Mr Francis said.
Soon, he got hooked on drugs.
"I was selling drugs and importing them from Malaysia when I got nabbed. I was sentenced to jail for the first time," he said.
Despite getting five years' jail and five strokes of the cane at 21, he continued with crime.
"I was told that a gangster will always be a gangster, that I would never change. I became resigned to that fact," he said.
But in 2002, a vision turned his life around. He had been sentenced to about seven years' jail for drugs two years before.
Mr Francis said: "It was lights out at around 9pm. Everything was pitch black.
Then a light came in from a small opening at the top of the cell and shone at me.
"I heard a voice telling me to change my ways. That was when I prayed."
The next morning, he felt that everyone - from inmates to prison officers - noticed a change in him.
"In jail, everything was about face value. When I was baited, I would fight," said Mr Francis.
"But after the light, I refused to take the bait. It was a struggle, but I stopped fighting.
"For the one year before the vision, I would tell (my mother) I could not be changed, that I was a waste of her time and she should stop visiting.
"But she kept saying, one day, God would change me".
A few days after his vision, his mother visited and noticed the change in his demeanour.
"I was speaking to her politely and with respect. She asked what happened and I related the story of seeing the light.
"That was when she said, 'Would you like me to get someone to call IMH (Institute of Mental Health)?'" he said, laughing.
He was released early in 2005 for good behaviour and went to the Christian Care Services, a halfway house to help addicts stay drug-free through counselling, rehabilitation and aftercare programmes.
Mr Francis started working as a cleaner.
Then he learnt how to drive and got his Class 5 licence, going on to work as a heavy vehicle driver for a construction firm.
To prevent others from following his footsteps, he returned to Christian Care Services as a volunteer.
Its executive director Gabrieyel Guna, 60, said: "It took a lot for Francis to turn over a new leaf and start again. He is a shining example of someone who could make something of himself despite his past.
"The home is fortunate to have someone like him to come and befriend those who are trying to get back on their feet."
For his efforts, Mr Francis received the Yellow Ribbon Celebrating Second Chances (C2C) Award Ceremony last year.
The Tote Board supports the Yellow Ribbon movement, which seeks to engage the community in giving ex-offenders a second chance and to inspire a ripple effect of concerted community action to support ex-offenders and their families.
"I was told that a gangster will always be a gangster, that I would never change. I became resigned to that fact." - Mr Francis Santhanam on life before he finally changed
TNP SPIRIT OF 16 GIVINGBACK
The beneficiary is Christian Care Services