Ex-gang member and heroin addict now finds joy helping others as social worker

Mr Kelvin Quak, pictured with his wife Khoo Lay Hwa, said his life now is a far cry from that of his early days when he used to be a gang member.
Mr Kelvin Quak, pictured with his wife Khoo Lay Hwa, said his life now is a far cry from that of his early days when he used to be a gang member.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - As a teenager, Mr Kelvin Quak was a gang member who tried heroin to "gain the acceptance" of his fellow gang members.

But he got addicted to the drug and spent almost a decade behind bars for drug-related offences between 1977 and 1990.

It was only after his last stint in prison, that Mr Quak finally found the resolve to kick his habit while staying at The Helping Hand, a halfway house.

Now 60, Mr Quak has remained free of drugs - and crime- for close to three decades, and is committed to helping others steer clear of them as a social worker with the Methodist Mission Society.

He was one of five people who received the Outstanding Achievement Award on Saturday (Sept 12) at the biennial Yellow Ribbon Celebrating Second Chances Awards Ceremony.

The award is the highest honour presented to outstanding ex-offenders who have remained crime-free for more than 15 years and have made distinguished contributions.

Mr Quak said his life now is a far cry from that of his early days.

Like his two older brothers, he became a gang member when he was in secondary school and picked up a drug habit, said Mr Quak.

He was soon caught and jailed for drug-related offences. "But the moment I came out, I forgot about everything I had learnt inside and I went to join my (gang) brothers again in taking drugs," he said.

 

It was the halfway house that opened his eyes to a new way of living, he said. Waking up every morning used to be "very painful" as he would worry about how he would get his next fix.

"But there, every morning was a fresh new day. We would wake up at 5am, do our exercise and then work hard at refurbishing and moving furniture" he said.

"I felt a strong sense of accomplishment that I had never felt before," he said.

He found special meaning in helping other former drug offenders like him while staying in The Helping Hand, he added.

That spurred him on to become a social worker after he left the halfway house, and he often travelled to similar facilities in East Asia to work on anti-drug movements and rehabilitation initiatives for ex-offenders.

The married father of two also volunteers with The Helping Hand, where he conducts bible studies and counsels former drug addicts.

"Quitting is not easy. Those who try may often feel very disheartened when they go back to society," he said.

"I hope the ex-offenders will have the determination and keep it in mind that there are no quick paths to success. Everything must be done step by step."