Generation Grit: Gangster turned youth mentor

Creative agency owner Kenneth Tan opens up about his past as a gangster and tells us how his passion for art and design put him on the right path.
Mr Kenneth Tan has committed gang-related crimes such as drug peddling, loan sharking and selling bootleg VCDs. At 15, he chopped off a rival gang member's left hand with a parang during a fight. When he was 19, he was sentenced to three years' jail
Mr Kenneth Tan has committed gang-related crimes such as drug peddling, loan sharking and selling bootleg VCDs. At 15, he chopped off a rival gang member's left hand with a parang during a fight. When he was 19, he was sentenced to three years' jail and three strokes of the cane. Now 32 and a father of two daughters, he is an entrepreneur who is active in church and a mentor to troubled youth.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Once a hardcore gangster involved in drug peddling and loan sharking, Kenneth Tan was always spoiling for a fight. But the 32-year-old has turned his life around - he runs two firms and mentors troubled youth. This is part of a series on resilient millennials who overcame adversity - and their troubled past - to make a life for themselves.

Name any crime associated with gangs, and, chances are, Mr Kenneth Tan would have committed it. Drug peddling, doing the dirty work for loan sharks, selling bootleg VCDs and fighting were all in a day's work.

The only crime he shied away from was pimping. "I'm scared of karma. I'm scared that my daughters would be pimped by others when they grow up," said Mr Tan, now 32 and a father of two daughters.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2019, with the headline 'Gangster turned youth mentor'. Print Edition | Subscribe