SINGAPORE - Mr Ramli Abdullah first took drugs when he was just 12 years old. During his time in national service, he was held in the detention barracks several times because of drug-related offences.
After NS, the former gang member was in and out of prison for close to nine years.
In 2012, Mr Ramli finally decided to turn his life around for the sake of his mother, now 74, who had been the only one in the family who visited him in prison.
"She told me 'Please change'," said Mr Ramli. "I was guilty and wanted to make a change for her sake, and take care of her."
Today, Mr Ramli, 44, is an operations officer at Jamiyah Halfway House, which helps residents rehabilitate and reintegrate back to society.
He is also a preventive drug education speaker with Central Narcotics Bureau, a citizen on patrol with Singapore Police Force and a befriender with Singapore Prison Services (SPS).
He credited volunteers and staff at SPS and Jamiyah Halfway House for helping him mend his ways.
"The support they had given me, even though they knew that I was an offender, motivated me a lot. They trusted me and gave me a second chance at life," he said during an interview at the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders (Care) Network seminar on Tuesday (May 15).
The Care Network brings together more than 100 community partners to provide support to ex-offenders in their rehabilitation process.
Recognising the vital role played by volunteers and staff, the network has been taking steps to broaden their skill sets and enhance theircapabilities.
For example, starting this month, they can attend modules offered by the Social Service Institute (SSI), in addition to their current training. This gives them an opportunity to network with professionals in other social service sectors.
"This allows for extensive networking and knowledge sharing between sectors, and is crucial in equipping volunteers and professionals working in the offender rehabilitation sector with more holistic, broad-based skill sets," said SPS deputy superintendent Jonathan Lin, who is also assistant director (community policy) of the rehabilitation and reintegration division.
For example, they can learn from family care professionals better ways to engage the families of ex-offenders, who are also a crucial part of rehabilitation, he added.
This is a key change to the Development Framework for Offender Rehabilitation Personnel (Dorp), a structured training programme launched by SPS in 2014 and run by Singapore After-Care Association (Saca).
Another initiative targets the families of offenders. Under the family connect @ State Courts, Saca volunteers and staff provide assistance to families after the sentencing of their loved ones, including referrals to social agencies, legal assistance and even case management.
The initiative was started in January this year as part of a six-month pilot. It has helped close to 70 families as of April.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin praised the organisations under the Care Network for their "new approaches" towards assisting ex-offenders and offenders, as well as their families.
"Two decades ago, the two-year recidivism rate was over 40 per cent. Today, it is 25.9 per cent for the 2015 release cohort, low compared to many other places," noted Mr Amrin.
Yet, he reminded those present at the Care Network seminar not to be complacent with their achievement.
"We are not content to just pat ourselves on the back and say well done. There is after all still 26 per cent - or one in four ex-offenders who return to prison within two years of release," he said. "There is much more we can and should do."