Sentenced to prison for 10 years at the age of 21 for drug-related offences, John (not his real name) felt lost until he was given a chance to work towards a National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA).
Under the programme, he had to stage music and dance performances for senior citizens from the CARElderly Senior Activity Centre.
Inspired by the difference he could make for others, he now hopes to pursue social work for youth at risk after his release.
John, now 26, was one of 115 inmates from Tanah Merah Prison and Institution A4 (formerly Changi Women's Prison) to receive NYAA awards yesterday.
The awards were bronze, silver or gold based on how much time they spent within each of the four components of community service, sports, adventure journeys and skill workshops.
Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin said at the award ceremony that the programme aims to encourage young people to develop qualities of self-reliance, perseverance, and responsibility to both themselves and the community.
More than 1,800 inmates, aged between 16 and 25, have participated since it was introduced by the Singapore Prison Service in 2000.
John, who received the silver award, was 12 when his parents divorced. He dropped out of secondary school in his first week, turning to drug trafficking and gang-related activities, and was eventually arrested.
"When I was young, I was just looking for the best way to have fun and earn money quickly, but I had no direction," he said.
"After going into prison, religious counselling, the NYAA programme and my family's support have helped me find something to look forward to in my life."
He is currently pursuing his A-level certificate at Tanah Merah Prison.
This year's NYAA theme, "Catch your dreams, change your destiny", encourages young inmates to identify and achieve their ambitions.
Mr Amrin emphasised the importance of the NYAA programme for inmates. "Through the experiences provided by NYAA, youth offenders can become more self-aware of what they are good at, what they like to do, and how they can do it better," he said.
"I encourage all NYAA participants to 'catch' your dreams, translate them into actions, and to change your destiny."
Mr Amrin also announced that the NYAA programme cut-off age will now increase to 30, from the original age of 25, to open up the programme to more youth.
The skill component will also be removed as participants are already picking up new skills in other components of the programme.
Former drug offender David (not his real name), 25, currently a salesman in the financial sector, who was awarded the NYAA bronze during his incarceration, values his experience during the programme.
"Through my NYAA journey, I have gained values of resilience and determination, which help me in my current job. It taught me to be fearless and have the courage to take the first step forward to achieve my goals."