SINGAPORE – As a teenager, Mr. Kelvin Quak was a gang member who tried heroin to gain acceptance from his gang colleagues.
But he became addicted to drugs and spent almost a decade behind bars for drug-related offenses between 1977 and 1990.
Only after his last stay in prison did Mr. Quak decide to give up his habit while staying in The Helping Hand, a house halfway.
The now 60-year-old Quak has been drug and crime free for almost three decades and is a social worker at the Methodist Mission Society committed to keeping others away from them.
He was one of five people who received the Outstanding Achievement Award on Saturday (September 12) at the biennial Yellow Ribbon Celebrating Second Chances Awards.
The award is the highest award for outstanding former offenders who have been unpunished for more than 15 years and have made outstanding contributions.
Mr. Quak said his life was far from that of his early days.
Like his two older brothers, he became a gang member at secondary school and adopted a drug habit, Quak said.
He was soon arrested and detained for drug offenses. "But the moment I came out, I forgot everything I had learned inside and went to my (gang) brothers to use drugs again," he said.
It was half the house that opened his eyes to a new way of life, he said. Waking up every morning was "very painful" because he was worried about how he would get to his next fix.
"But there was a fresh new day every morning. We woke up at 5:00 am, did our exercises, and then worked hard to renovate and move furniture," he said.
"I felt a strong sense of success that I had never felt before," he said.
He found particular importance in helping other former drug offenders like him while remaining in The Helping Hand, he added.
This spurred him to become a social worker after leaving half the house, and he often traveled to similar facilities in East Asia to work on anti-drug movements and rehabilitation initiatives for former offenders.
The married father of two other volunteers at The Helping Hand, where he conducts Bible studies and advises former drug addicts.
"Quitting is not easy. Those who try often feel very discouraged when they return to society," he said.
"I hope that the ex-perpetrators have the determination and consider that there are no quick ways to success. Everything has to be done step by step."