Halfway house helps him get back on his feet

The Helping Hand liaison and training manager Vincent Tan (left) and Mr Tan Chin Nam, a former offender who underwent a rehabilitation programme there and now helps to run the halfway house. With Mr Tan is one of his pet songbirds, which helped him w
The Helping Hand liaison and training manager Vincent Tan (left) and Mr Tan Chin Nam, a former offender who underwent a rehabilitation programme there and now helps to run the halfway house. With Mr Tan is one of his pet songbirds, which helped him win prizes at two recent bird singing competitions.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In his free time during the day, Mr Tan Chin Nam tends to his four songbirds. Later in the evening, he looks after The Helping Hand's premises in Upper Serangoon Road.

At 62, he is starting to mend his life, after four decades of abusing heroin, and going in and out of jail 12 times.

Last year, he was placed under the Singapore Prison Service's halfway house scheme at the tail end of his most recent prison stint, in which he served five years.

At The Helping Hand, he went through a structured rehabilitation programme, where he received regular counselling and learnt skills to fight the temptation to return to drugs.

Mr Tan, an only child whose parents died about 20 years ago, said: "I am old. I got tired of my old life. It's time to put it behind me."

He recalled how, when his mother died in 1998 and left a four-room flat to him, he sold it for $245,000 and spent all the money on drugs within a few years.

But now, he is happy to be earning his keep, with a salary of about $1,000 a month. He started out as a cleaner at the halfway house, but now helps to run it.

Since he completed the halfway house programme six months ago, and his prison sentence, he has chosen to stay on until he is able to find a job on his own. In the future, he hopes to be able to afford a rental flat.

"Here, if I have any issues, I can talk to the counsellors and they would also encourage me."

Instead of turning to drugs out of boredom, he cares for and trains the songbirds given to him by a friend. One has even won him prizes at two recent bird singing contests.

He said: "It's a healthy hobby. No more drugs for me."

Ng Huiwen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'Halfway house helps him get back on his feet'. Print Edition | Subscribe