SINGAPORE - He was convicted of drug trafficking at the tender age of 12 and would go on to serve more than 28 years of jail time for crime and drug-related offences.
Released from prison in 2010, Mr Tan Han Lay was determined to change and help other ex-offenders to turn over a new leaf and ease back into society.
He started working as a cleaner but in 2015, he seized the opportunity and started his own business where he now hires 30 ex-offenders out of 80 employees.
Said Mr Tan, now 47: "I always tell ex-offenders to take (each day) step by step. I've been drug free for seven years."
Along with his wife, whom he had met in church, they volunteer as prison counsellors.
On Saturday (Nov 4), Mr Tan and other volunteers and ex-offenders were recognised at the Yellow Ribbon Celebrating Second Chances Awards Ceremony 2017.
The awards seek to honour people who play an active part in giving others a second chance in life, as well as ex-offenders who have seized these second chances, to turn their lives around.
Mr Amrin Amin, Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health, said the volunteers' efforts have given others hope and optimism.
Mr Amrin, the guest of honour at the event, said: "I hope that your passion continues to encourage more to unlock the second prison and make full use of the second chances offered to them."
He told 197 ex-offenders and their families at the event to take ownership of their rehabilitative journeys.
Mr Amrin highlighted Mr Tan's experience and that of two other men - a father and son - who were former drug offenders but now help counsel offenders.
Since 2000, the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders Network has been bringing the public and non-governmental agencies together to engage the community and improve rehabilitation efforts and programmes for ex-offenders.
The families of offenders also go through their personal challenges and need support in what Mr Amrin had described as "not a sprint but truly a marathon".
On the job front, about 5,000 employers have partnered the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (Score) to offer jobs to former offenders.
But more can be done, given the rapidly changing socio-economic landscape, said Mr Amrin.
The authorities hope to look at non-traditional partners and voluntary welfare organisations with unique capabilities and skill sets who may be keen to contribute to offenders' rehabilitation and reintegration.
Mr Amrin urged those who go through the rehabilitation and reintegration programmes to give feedback and "speak frankly" so that improvements can be made.