Every day is still part of a recovery journey for me.
My name is Mohamed Azhar. I am going to be 46 years old this year and am married with one child. I was brought up in a bad environment. The area that I used to stay in was sometimes called “Chicago Town” because of all the gang activities and drugs. We were all brought up in this kind of environment. It was not just me. My father and late uncle were also drug addicts because of the exposure.
Growing up, I was not so close with my dad as he was constantly in and out of prison. I mixed with bad company and started smoking at the age of 11 years old. The addiction wasn’t enough for me, so I eventually got hooked on more potent drugs and got involved in secret societies and gang in my teenage years.
I was eventually caught in the year of 1997. I still remember the date – it was 27 September. That was the first time I knew how it feels to be like an addict without the drug. It was really hell. Following my release, I went back in again as a second timer within 28 days. Relapse was fast as I was mixing with the wrong friends and took drugs again. I had to spend a total of four Hari Raya occasions inside prison during both my admissions, and wasn’t able to celebrate them with my loved ones. But I think the saddest part was that I truly broke my mom’s heart. My mom never missed any chance to visit me even though I went in twice.
Seeing my mom suffer like that was the turning point for me. I did not want to waste her time, to have her constantly come and visit me in prison. When I got caught, I wasted my peak years. I wanted to catch up with people who matter and settle down in a good environment. I also wanted to get married and have my own family.
After my last release, finding employment was a big challenge. As once you have a record, it will have to be declared on many job application forms. The second challenge I had was learning how to stay away from the bad company, and learning how to react the right one when I see them. When I came out, my old friends were actually waiting for me. They came even though my parents were there to fetch me. I actually told my mom to let me settle with them first, and I will return home after settling them. I assured my mom and told her that I will be safe. I told my old friends that I wanted to be out of the system. That I did not want to do this anymore. I told them it was up to them if they want to accept. But for me, enough was enough. Even though I said all that, I knew it was easy for me to fall again. I told myself that I wanted to give myself a chance to do something good instead.
Today, I am a soccer coach and a sports trainer. For many ex-offenders like me, we are ready to re-enter the community – but is the community ready for us? Are they ready for people like us? Even if we have changed, will their mindset and perception towards us change too? It needs to be a 2-way channel for common understanding. Our feelings can be easily hurt too. I hope the community will try to understand and look at us through a different perspective, and not just see us as ex-addicts or ex-offenders.
Even though it has been 19 years 2 months, every day is still part of a recovery journey for me. Immediate family support is very important. In 2017, I got an Outstanding
Achievement award during the Yellow Ribbon Celebrating Second Chances Award Ceremony. When they asked me to give my thoughts, I told them that the award wasn’t for me. It’s for the family members who visited me – they are the heroes. My daughter is also a big part of what keeps me going today. I want to cultivate a healthy lifestyle in her and make sure she walks on the right pathway. I’ve told many people that I want to be the stopper for all the negative. If I am the person who needs to change the family culture, I will do it – even if it takes my life. Hence, I will start with my own family first and to tell my daughter all about the good and the bad.
Moving forward, I would like to explore opportunities overseas or stay here and set up my own company in the sports industry to help other ex-offenders. Why not use my own experiences to help others? I feel that it would be a win-win situation if we can build a good society out of the experiences we have. I also hope to see a more peaceful, more understanding culture in the world. There needs to be understanding from people to live together as a community.
At the end of the day, I just want to play my part and help the people around me to change and be happy too.