CID holds anti-gang camp on Pulau Ubin for at-risk teenagers

Former inmate Michael Teoh shared the story of how he rebuilt his relationships with his stepfather and biological father after he was released from prison in 1988. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - One of the first things Ah Boi 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, came home late or disturbed my younger brother," said Ah Boi, 15, using a pseudonym. .

He described himself as someone who would stay out late with some of his friends from a gang, about 10 to 15 of them.

They would "lepak" at places such as Sentosa, shopping centres and coffeeshops, he said, using a colloquial term used for loitering aimlessly.

On Wednesday (Nov 29), Ah Boi completed a 1½ day camp at Pulau Ubin, organised by the Criminal Investigation Department's Secret Societies Branch to teach at-risk teenagers the dangers of joining gangs.

A talk during the camp, called All Can Escape (Ace), motivated him to mend his relationship with his father.

He heard former inmate Michael Teoh, 52, who shared the story of how he rebuilt his relationships with his stepfather and biological father after he was released from prison in 1988.

Mr Teoh said that his stepfather had kneeled down and asked him for forgiveness for abusing him physically as a child.

He also tracked down his biological father who cried and apologised to him for neglecting him when he was a child.

Mr Teoh's descriptions left Ah Boi with powerful images.

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

He took part in the camp as part of a voluntary six-month rehabilitation process called the Streetwise Programme for youths associated with gangs or their activities.

The police identified him as a youth at-risk in May after an image of a gang insignia was posted on his social media account.

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

Ah Boi said that he wanted to join a gang because it was "step cool" - which refers to the act of pretending to be popular. "I was bored," he added.

Another participant, who wanted to be known only as Adam, said that he questioned the friendships he made in a gang after attending Camp Ace.

The Secondary 3 student said that he was not sure if they would support him if he ran into problems with the law.

He heard Mr Teoh recount how his former gang mates would cheat him of his share of a robbery that they had planned.

Adam said: "They will not care about you, they might betray you." He does not plan to contact the members of his former gang any more for fear that he might be drawn into their illicit activities such as running gambling dens.

Both teenagers found the camp's activities tiring but fun. Their favourite part was an obstacle course on the first day, saying it helped them build confidence to face their fears and how to work in a team.

Adam said: "In the past, I had never learnt how to help each other."

Mr Teoh, who is taking part in the camp for the first time, said that he is happy that his experience helped the two boys.

Currently a swim coach, 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 prison.

The father of two said that he has made it his mission to help youths "get back to the right track" after he was released from prison.

He said: "At their age, they are prone to gangs, illegal things that will hurt their future careers."

"I understand their struggles. I've been there. I want to help them understand life better and change their current perspective," he added.

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.

He reminded youths that they would be committing a crime whenever they are involved in gang-related activities such as chanting gang slogans and poems.

Those found guilty could be punished with a fine not exceeding $5,000 or be jailed for a period not exceeding three years or both.

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

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.