Ex-offender finds hope at centre for recovering drug addicts

Former drug abuser Henry (as he prefers to be known) felt lost and struggled with everyday tasks, such as settling his meals and bills, after his release from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre.

"When we were in (the rehabilitation centre), we wanted to come out, to start a new life," he said.

"But after being released, the struggle was real. Even simple things like choosing what to eat, settling bills and reinstating a phone line can be very stressful," said Henry, who is in his 30s.

He had received an eight-month sentence in 2019 for his offence.

"I wouldn't deny that there is (a temptation to go back to drugs). I believe a lot of people have a relapse because of the stress level, how the community looks at them and the stigma," he said.

Henry was able to turn his back on drugs and regain his footing in life after he joined a support group at Step-Up@Northwest, a centre for recovering drug addicts operated by voluntary organisation Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana).

The centre in Woodlands, which has been in operation since July 2020, was launched yesterday.

Speaking to the media at a briefing session on Wednesday ahead of the launch, Henry said that he had joined the support programme in July 2020.

Over about 10 support sessions, recovering drug addicts were able to share their struggles and seek solace in one another.

The sessions were conducted virtually then because of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, and were facilitated by Sana and Path I Choose, a grassroots initiative under the Yellow Ribbon Community Project.

The Yellow Ribbon links trained grassroots volunteers with families of newly incarcerated offenders to offer them support and assistance.

Said Henry: "I realised that I was not the only one facing these issues. That really helped a lot, knowing that there are other people who also going through the same thing as me. We learnt from one another."

Through the programme, Henry was also encouraged to pick up a hobby. As he enjoys singing and was a member of the choir in his secondary school, he decided to join a community choir.

Henry also learnt to tap the skills he already had. Before his incarceration, he had worked in a customer service role. He has now found a job in the same field with a different company.

Besides support programmes, Sana's newest centre also provides free counselling and employment assistance, as well as heavily subsidised tattoo removal services.

Sana has two other such centres: Step-Up@Sengkang and Step-Up@Taman Jurong.

Ms Lim Shi Mei, a 29-year-old recovering drug addict, decided to remove her tattoo at Step-Up@Sengkang following her release from incarceration in 2017.

She now assists others who are looking to remove their tattoos.

Ms Lim, who works in the e-commerce sector, said: "The tattoo removal programme helps people who feel like they are stigmatised because of their tattoos, perhaps when they are looking for a job. Some tattoos are gang-related.

"Removing tattoos is one of the ways to give them their confidence back," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2022, with the headline Ex-offender finds hope at centre for recovering drug addicts. Subscribe