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I could not have come this far without them believing in me.

I first got into drugs because of my ex-husband from my first marriage. He did not work and constantly asked for cash to feed his drug habits. One day, I asked him, “You keep asking me money to buy this, what’s so good about it?” He replied, “If you never try, you won’t know”. Stupidly, I took 3 puffs. I didn’t really feel anything at first. But soon after, I felt it – that feeling of being in the air. But I didn’t realise that I would get hooked so easily, just like that.  

After some time, my husband and I got a divorce. At that point, I was still on drugs and my life was in haywire. I did not know where to go and had no one to talk to. Later on, I finally got caught for using drugs and had to serve 6 months in prison. After I was released, my ex-husband found me and continued giving me drugs. I got caught again for consuming and trafficking drug. This time I was given 6-year-long term. But I still did not change my ways.

After I was released in 2000, I met my current husband, who is also an ex-offender, and eventually got married. Unfortunately, not long after, we started using drugs and ended up back in prison again. When I went to prison this time, I had 2 children. By 2010, both my husband and I got arrested once more. This time we left 4 children behind, with the youngest being only 14 months old. However, this time I felt different. It felt like a very bad lesson that I was going through. It made me really stop to think, “where did I go wrong? Why did I continue this for so many times?” I realised that if I did not want to change, I would not be able to change.  This spurred me to truly think deeper about where I had gone wrong.

When I was in prison, I had to face the consequences. I begged to see my children but was told that I had to get back up on my two feet before I can do so. That’s when an organisation actually stepped in and selected me for a programme that helps inmates strengthen their bond with their family. Once, the programme even required me to read stories to my children via video recording. This made me feel so close to my children despite being physically apart. Another program with the Salvation Army also allowed me to have open visits with my family on Mother’s Day and Children’s day. During the visits, I only saw my 2 of my children, who told me that my youngest daughter had actually asked “Where’s mama, where’s mama?” I broke down. When my husband was released first, we had a tele-visit and I told him, “Please, I beg you, please look after the children.”

While I was at the release cell, I started to focus on the things that I can do moving forward. I worked with my counsellor to figure out how to face the world after my release. It wasn’t easy for me when I first got out. I had to go through a lot of hardships, financial difficulties and I had difficulties with walking. I had to tell myself to be strong as it was very easy to just fall back as there were triggers everywhere.

But my children, especially my son, pushed me and gave me encouraging words whenever I was down. I knew that society still holds some social stigmas regarding ex-offenders, but my son would tell me, “I know you have changed, you are positive now. Everybody makes mistakes.” Anytime I had doubts, my son would always reassure me by saying, “Don’t bother about what others say. It’s your reform, your promise.” I passed on this encouragement to others too. I started to advise my friends too and tried to guide them to think of their children and to acknowledge their own weaknesses.  

Even now, I still have a lot of hurdles to get through. I am still recovering; it’s not easy and I am still struggling. I also still face a lot of stigma and am unfit for work at the moment due to the compressed nerves at my back that require a major operation to fix. But no matter how difficult, I must try. I know going back to my old ways will just make me more miserable. What’s going to happen to my children if I do not keep trying?

I am very grateful for the help I receive from organisations and want to give back. I try help the old folks living around me who are alone and will accompany them if they need to go anywhere. For me, when I see them smile, I feel happy and better. I realise that helping others succeed gives me satisfaction. I’ve also recently taken a Leadership Management course to upgrade and occupy myself.

At the end of the day, seeing my children finding success in life and hopefully having a long enough life to see them get married one day brings out the best in me while driving me to be a better mother too. I could not have come this far without them believing in me. The same goes for my counsellors and my social worker at THK – they have all truly helped me when I was down. But at the same time, nothing can be done if you don’t want to work hard at it. I can never be where I am now, if I did not put in the effort. We are not alone. All it matters is if you try.

Salimah Binte Sukar