At-risk teens motivated to turn their lives around at CID camp

One of the first things Ah Boi, a Secondary 2 student, plans to do when he gets home is to apologise to his father and to spend more time with him.

"I used to fight with him whenever I did something wrong, return home late and irritate my younger brother," said the 15-year-old, using a pseudonym.

He described himself as someone who would stay out late with his friends from a gang, with about 10 to 15 members. He also had a gang insignia posted on his social media account by friends.

Sec 3 student Adam (not his real name), also 15, plans to cut himself off from his friends in a gang.

Both teens completed a 11/2-day camp on Pulau Ubin yesterday, organised by the Criminal Investigation Department's (CID) Secret Societies Branch to teach at-risk teenagers about the dangers of joining gangs.

Participants can join the camp as part of a voluntary six-month rehabilitation process called the Streetwise Programme, meant for young people associated with gangs or gang activities.

Under the Societies Act, it is illegal to join gangs, participate in their activities or pretend to be a gang member.

This is the 10th year that the camp is being held and, to date, 300 young people have taken part.

A talk during the camp, called All Can Escape or Ace, motivated Ah Boi to mend ties with his father.

Former inmate Michael Teoh, 52, shared the story of how he rebuilt relationships with his stepfather and biological father after being released from prison in 1988.

Mr Teoh said his stepfather had gone down on his knees to seek his forgiveness for physically abusing him as a child. He also tracked down his biological father, who cried and apologised to him for neglecting him when he was young.

Said Ah Boi: "I want to be a better person who spends more time with my family."

As for Adam, listening to Mr Teoh convinced him that his so-called friends might not stick around in times of trouble. He does not plan to contact members of his former gang for fear that he might be drawn into illicit activities, such as running gambling dens.

Both teenagers found the camp's activities, including an obstacle course, tiring but fun.

Mr Teoh, who took part in the camp for the first time, said he was happy his experience helped the two boys. Now a swim coach and a father of two, he was charged with first degree murder after a robbery he planned with his friends went awry. Eventually, the charge was reduced to robbery with hurt. He was 17 when he first went to jail.

Mr Teoh said he has since made it his mission to help young people "get back on the right track".

In a statement, a police spokesman urged parents and guardians to guide their children or wards to stay away from wrong company and be wary of negative influences on social media.

The statement also reminded young people that they would be committing a crime by getting involved in gang-related activities such as chanting gang slogans and poems. Those found guilty can be punished with a fine not exceeding $5,000 or jailed for a period not exceeding three years, or both.

Those who wish to leave gangs or suspect that someone might be in a gang can call the Secret Societies Branch on 6435-0000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'At-risk teens motivated to turn their lives around at CID camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe