Former gang member tells at-risk youth gangs are not worth it
Police's Secret Societies Branch holds annual anti-gang camp for at-risk youth
When he was 16, Mr Michael Teoh and four gang members killed a man during a robbery.
Growing up in a broken family, he was physically and mentally abused at home and was suicidal when he was 12.
Mr Teoh had joined a gang to escape being bullied and to have a sense of belonging.
But when his murder charge in 1982 was reduced and he had turned to religion, he took it as a sign that society had given him a second chance and he took it.
Today, Mr Teoh, 52, is a swimming coach and volunteer counsellor for the Singapore Prison Service. He is married and has two adult children.
He was the guest speaker at the 10th Camp ACE (All Can Escape) at Pulau Ubin, an annual 1½-day event organised by the police's Secret Societies Branch (SSB). It helps at-risk youth stay away from gangs. This year's 19 participants took part in team-building activities.
Mr Teoh warned them to not be seduced by the false promises that gangs make about brotherhood. He said they are not worth his prison sentence and the 12 cane strokes he had received.
He said: "Every day I did a lot of illegal things. At night, I couldn't sleep because I was scared of the police and my gang enemies. There was no peace in my soul at all."
He told the youth the best way to pull themselves up is to let go of past pains, make amends with loved ones and study hard.
After leaving prison in 1988, Mr Teoh reconciled with his family, took his N levels and obtained an advanced diploma in business administration from the Institute of Technical Education.
He asked the youth: "Would you want your daughter to marry a gang leader? No way. So, family is really important. Help your family and build a good family in the future."
One participant, who wanted to be known only as Ah Boi, 15, was noticed by the police after an image of a gang insignia was posted on his social media account last year. The secondary school student found the speech inspiring. He wants to spend more time with his family after the camp.
Superintendent Bernard Wee of SSB said the message to participants has always been to say no to gangs. He added: "(The) youth have the misconception they will not be committing any offence if they were to join a gang or chant gang poems and slogans since they did not participate in any violent or confrontational incidents."
He said they are wrong because under the Societies Act, getting involved in gangs or taking part in gang-related activities is already an offence.
Adam (not his real name), 15, a Secondary 3 student, had joined a gang to get to know people. But Mr Teoh's story made him realise it was a mistake.
He said: "If you get into trouble, they won't care. The only people who will care are your family members."
If you are in a gang or suspect someone is in a gang, contact SSB on 6435-0000.