Pastor Don Wong: An ex-convict's story
Today he is a respected pastor, yet he makes no secret of his chequered past.
Gang member. Heroin addict. Convict. It was a straight path to destruction that started when he was 13.
Pastor Don Wong openly shares his stories and struggles with fellow ex-offenders and youths-at-risk, providing them with the mentorship that they need.
The 57-year-old is the founder and executive director of non-profit organisation The New Charis Mission, which provides a rehabilitation programme for former convicts who hope to reintegrate back into society.
He knows only too well the importance of a strong support system and has been working closely with ex-criminals since 1993.
His own journey was a rough road.
At 14, he had his first taste of heroin, a move he said "ruined the next 20 years of his life".
From the age of 16, he became heavily involved in gang rioting which led to his first brush with the law - a two-year probation sentence with a 7pm curfew.
Things took a turn for the worst the following year when he went behind bars for the first time after his urine tested positive for heroin.
He recalled: "My parents came to visit me in tears. I lifted my hand and swore to them that I was done with drugs. But at 1pm I was released, by 3pm I was high on drugs again."
Within just three months, he was sentenced to a two-year jail term for the same crime.
So began a cycle which saw him going in and out of jail nine times (including a stint in the detention barracks) over two decades.
Pastor Wong made numerous attempts to change in the years that he spent running afoul of the law but he failed each time.
Discouraged, it came to a point where he contemplated taking his own life.
"I thought to myself, 'If I can't change, then why don't I end my life instead of hurting my loved ones?'," he recalled.
"But one day, when I attended chapel service, I felt God speaking to me through the words of the bible. I began to feel so ashamed of the life I took so much pride in."
In 1993, he received another wake-up call upon his last release from prison.
Pastor Wong said: "It was the sixth day of Chinese New Year and I wanted to apologise to my mother, who would visit me in jail, rain or shine.
"She said I didn't have to apologise. She then told me that she would cry every year while preparing food for Chinese New Year celebrations because I wasn't around.
"That hit me hard. I've been living such a selfish life and I didn't want to disappoint them anymore."
It was both religion and the support and guidance of three mentors that gave him a change of heart and made him determined to kick his old habits.
Pastor Wong shared: "The first two years were tough and there were many times when I wanted to go back to my old life again.
"But with the help of these mentors, something in me changed. As a mentor now myself, I do understand.
"When you believe in somebody and that person feels it, a miracle has already started in his heart. That's what happened to me and that motivated and inspired me, as my mentors helped me built a new, solid foundation."
Leaving his past behind, Pastor Wong then dedicated himself to giving back to society and providing ex-inmates with the support they badly need.
In 1995, he joined the Community of Praise Baptist Church as a pastoral intern and also co-founded The HighPoint Halfway House. In 2005, he was ordained as a pastor.
The New Charis Mission later was set up in 2006 and is made up of staff members and volunteers who are also ex-offenders like him.
The staff members have diplomas in counselling psychology and are certified behavioural consultants.
On top of rehabilitation programmes, their work also involves preventive programmes, giving motivational talks in schools as well as counselling inmates and giving chapel service in prison.
As a mentor now, he admitted it is often a journey filled with ups and downs.
Pastor Wong, who is married with two children, said: "Even though the process is filled with many frustrations and disappointments, it brings deep satisfaction that money cannot buy.
"What really encouraged me was not just the change in the individual, but the changes in their families as well.
"To me, it's not just a job. It's a passion and part of my life." - additional reporting by Reni Chng