“When I joined the Secret Society in 1987, it was mainly for protection. Back then, there were a lot of fights and gang activities in the area where I lived. The only way to get to work was by walking over to the interchange – whenever I did so, I’d have to cross these gang territories. I got battered so many times.
Everyone knows that there’s nothing good in the Secret Society. Once I was in the ring, I was exposed to all kinds of vices. Somehow, one thing led to another, and I learnt how to get drugs, take drugs and earn a living from transporting drugs.
Choosing that path led me to jail many times. In 2006, I was sentenced to eight years in prison for housebreaking. I needed money for drugs because I was juggling many odd jobs and doing lots of night shifts.
The drugs would help keep my energy level high at work at first; over time it backfired as I became dependant on them.
My friends provided those drugs in the beginning, but once they knew I had become hooked, they stopped supplying and started asking me for money. That’s how things work in the drug supply line.
Going to jail in 2006 felt different compared to the previous times I went in – having a son really impacted me. He was only eight then, and when he visited me one day, he said that the other kids’ parents showed up at his school on Children’s Day. He asked, “Why are you not there for me?”
That moment really saddened me. It made me reflect on how much I had lost because I had spent 16 years of my life in prison. What have I gained from committing crimes? I decided then that enough is enough; it’s time to turn over a new leaf.
The first thing I did was leave the Secret Society while still in prison, but that was not easy. There were many objections from other members, especially those also inside. But at the end of the day, it’s my life and I needed to make the right choice. After overcoming a lot of hindrances, I managed to get myself out.
I then joined an in-care programme that helps inmates understand what leads to violence. It teaches people to fade away their violent thoughts and connects people to their true selves. I learnt a lot of about myself through that programme and from there, the psychologist appointed me as a peer facilitator.
I think the biggest challenge I faced was negativity from the people around me. I wanted to change and become a better person, but the remarks I got while still in prison were demoralising at times. Even my family didn’t fully trust me after my release in 2014.
There were days where I felt stressed, depressed and really broken down. Why was I still being labelled? Why were they still thinking of me in a negative way?
That was a real struggle for me, but I used their words as inspiration to turn over a new leaf. Whenever they said I couldn’t make it, I took it as a challenge to become a better person. If I didn’t reflect upon their words, I’d still be the same person today, so I have to thank them.
Today, I work as a freelance delivery driver. I’ve also been with ISCOS for four years now. They recently recognised me as an ISCOS Titan, which is a title given to ex-offenders who have properly reintegrated into society and are now actively helping others.
Thanks to my experience as a peer facilitator, Mr Elvis – the Deputy Director at ISCOS – visited me just before my release from prison and encouraged me to join the ISCOS support group. He needed someone to motivate other ex-offenders, so I took that opportunity.
My wife and I also do overseas missionary work that’s organised by a Christian halfway house called The Helping Hand. We visit Malaysia once a month to talk to troubled youths who were sent to homes for corrective training.
They’re mostly juvenile boys who committed various crimes, so I try to keep them out of trouble by guiding them spiritually. Not everyone will take in what I share, but amongst them, at least one or two will use the chance to turn over a new leaf.
Some of these boys were abandoned and have no one in their lives, and I know what it’s like to be in their shoes when I was young.
That’s why I want to help them. I can’t undo the past, and I don’t know when I’ll draw my last breath, but now that age is catching up with me, I want to help others as much as I can.” – Muru, 45
Interview by: Arman Shah
Murugason S/O Mutthiah is a member of ISCOS.
Humans of ISCOS is a collaboration between The Everyday People and ISCOS, a co-operative that helps ex-offenders in Singapore. Read more here.