SINGAPORE - Inmate Ahmad would not have looked a likely candidate for a youth award a few years ago but his determination to turn his life around has made plenty of people sit up and take notice.
His journey has been a tough one, starting four years ago when at age 17 he saw his mother suffer a stroke in front of his eyes.
"I was very shocked," said Ahmad (not his real name). "I called my brother (over) and asked what was happening to my mum, why was she mumbling (because) I didn't know she had a stroke. I started to (get) stunned."
The family called an ambulance and his mother was taken to hospital where they learnt that she had just suffered a stroke.
Things started to deteriorate for Ahmad after that and two years later, in 2017, he was sentenced to the Reformative Training Centre for 18 months for rioting and breach of probation.
The shock of being behind bars proved a life-changer, one that led to Ahmad, now 21 , being one of only two inmates to receive the National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA) 2019 Gold award at a ceremony held at Institution Tanah Merah 1 on Wednesday (April 3).
Awards - of bronze, silver and gold - were handed out to 128 inmates from Institution Tanah Merah 1 and Institution A4 this year based on the time they spent within each of the three components: service learning, healthy living and outdoor appreciation.
The process had special resonance for Ahmad, who will be released soon, as he learnt first aid as part of the award's outdoor appreciation component.
"In the future, at least I can act fast (rather) than being stunned and not knowing what to do," he said.
This skill was taught to him by his personal supervisor, Sergeant Sandeep Amrick, 30, as part of a new approach called Train-the-Trainers that was introduced by the Singapore Prison Service.
It involves prison officers getting trained by the Singapore Adventurers' Club to impart outdoor survival skills to inmates participating in the NYAA.
Sgt Amrick was one of 13 officers who went through about five months of training to pick up skills like rope tying, first aid and compass navigation.
He said the model allowed for a stronger rapport to be built between officers and inmates.
Sgt Amrick also noted that as his relationship with the inmates developed, some of them started opening up to him about their aspirations for the future.
Going through the component with the inmates also allowed him to see a different side of them that did not come through as strongly before.
"I realised that the boys never wanted to give up," he said, adding that they were very determined to master the skills being taught and would help one another during the lessons as well.
He hopes they carry this grit with them into the next phase of their lives: "I always give my boys motivation by telling them that if they want to start over... once they get onto a certain path and focus on it, definitely they can get to their end-goal.
"They may not have a clear plan now but go out, adapt, and slowly they will start to know where they want to go."