John Tang: An ex-convict's story
For 12 years, he led a life of crime and vice that began at the age of 14 when he first joined a gang.
Kicked out of school, Mr John Tang became heavily involved in underworld activities like gambling, loan-sharking, fights and extortion.
His mounting debts from gambling pushed him towards drug trafficking - a heavy mistake that nearly cost him his life.
In 1988, then aged 26, Mr Tang was arrested at Woodlands Checkpoint for smuggling over 60g of heroin - four times the amount that could sentence him to capital punishment.
Facing the death penalty, life was bleak for Mr Tang and he "lost all hope".
Yet he was given a second chance with a reduced sentence, spending nearly 14 years in jail.
It was a narrow escape and a wake-up call that changed everything for him.
Mr Tang recounted those dark days, telling The New Paper: "I felt like my life ended there. I knew I was going to die. I knew when I was going to die. I knew how I would die. I don't know what punishment was worse than that. It was a feeling worst than fear."
He found life in prison was filled with despair and darkness.
"Every day, I woke up wishing it was all a dream. I lost everything I had," said Mr Tang, now 55.
The second shot at life was enough to make Mr Tang change his ways.
"Over the years, I saw many inmates going in and out of prison over and over again. I didn't want my life to be like that.
"I was 40 years old by the time I was released but I knew I had to change."
In prison, he attended religious counselling through which he found peace and direction.
He also attended prison school where he passed his N, O and A-level exams and obtained a diploma in accounting management.
Upon his release from prison, his fresh start was given a boost after a close friend offered him a job as a manager at furniture manufacturing company Zhaplin.
He went on to become a partner and worked there for 16 years until he left the company two months ago.
Mr Tang, who has been married to his wife of eight years, is also an active volunteer counsellor with the Prison Fellowship Singapore and The New Charis Mission for the past 12 years.
He actively visits inmates in prisons, both here and overseas, to share his stories with them and to lend them support.
In addition, he also speaks to those serving their sentences in the Singapore Armed Forces detention barracks to share the dangers of gangs and drugs.
Support, he stressed, is crucial for ex-convicts who want to turn over a new leaf.
"It's a long, trying process but I want to share with them that there is still hope and encourage them to not give up. I want to set the example and support them through their attempts to rebuild their lives," he said.
Mr Tang added: "My advice to fellow ex-prisoners would be this: be humble, persistent and patient. It takes time to gain back the trust and to prove ourselves to others."
"I once wanted the world and everything it had to offer. I wanted money and power and would use any means to get that.
"But (my actions) nearly destroyed my life as well as my family and loved ones," said Mr Tang. - additional reporting by Reni Chng