Tay Lee Leng

There's always hope.

I grew up in a single-parent family after my parents divorced when I was 3 years old. I was brought up by my mother, grandmother and sister. My childhood was a difficult time for me as my mother was always busy working while my grandmother took care of us. I grew up very bitter and angry.  
I first ended up in prison at the age of 17. I didn’t do well in my O Level examinations and had gone to my dad and asked him if he could sponsor another year of school to retake the examinations. My dad turned me down and I got really angry. In my anger and spite, I ended up mixing with bad company and got into drugs. I went to jail for 3 months.  
I was caught again shortly after my first release. This time, I was sentenced for 15 months.  
After the second release, I stayed out of prison for about 5 years before ending up in there once more for the third time – sentenced to 24 months in jail. Each time I was in jail, the inmates would always go for religious counselling. I attended the chapel services and bible study sessions led by volunteers and eventually learnt about the bible and God
But after I was released the third time, I realised that the longer I was in prison, the more difficult it was for me to adapt outside. Back in those days, ex-offenders did not have many support programmes to turn to like today. When I was released, I ended up feeling very lost.  
While my mom and sister were always there to support me emotionally, I had difficulties in finding a job as there were no employment support services for ex-offenders back then which led to my financial difficulties. And after 2 years of struggling, I was back in prison for the fourth time.  
This time, I told myself that I really had to do something about my life. The change really started when I totally surrendered to God, in whatever changes I was willing to make. I even started to study for my O Level examinations again during my time in prison. Before my release, my husband actually asked for my hand in marriage. It was the first time in the prisons that they had to approve a request for an offender to get married while still serving their sentence. The matron actually asked me, “Are you sure you really want to get married when you are still serving your sentence?” I had only served 8 months of my sentence with 20 months to go before release, but we went ahead and got married.
After I was released from my last incarceration, we moved into our new flat, and shortly after I was pregnant. Financially, it was very difficult. During those days we didn’t have things like Social Service Offices where we could get support. My husband had to work really hard to support the family. With the arrival of my oldest son, it was even tougher for him as he had to work harder while I took on the role as a full-time housewife.  
Another big challenge was that both of us were ex-addicts. Because of the people we mixed with, it was always easy to quickly relapse. That’s why we had to cut ties with many old friends whom we have known for many years and start all over again – start life anew.
There’s where the support of our loved ones really helped to keep us stable. People like my sister and mother supported me where they could – both financially and emotionally in that sense. My family became my reminder that I was no longer alone, and that I must persevere. God has also helped me through during those difficult years. I’m a Christian and having faith helped me in my recovery. It has actually changed the way I think and the way I want to live. Having positive friends from church have also helped me find the support I need.
As of today, I’ve been working in The Turning Point for 6 years. My role is to aid the women with finding employment and using my past experience to encourage them.
I also do follow-ups after they leave the program and meet up with them to see how they are coping. My work keeps me going. Working here is a miracle, because this is something I wanted to do for many years.
My family is doing very well now too. Now my older son is 28, while my younger one is 26. My older son has completed University and is working and the other one is pursuing his studies overseas. I think my proudest moment so far has been seeing my children growing up. I am also very thankful for my husband, who has been a very strong support to me. We used to take drugs together. But now, we have a healthy family of our own together, all glory to God for his grace and mercy upon my life.  
At the end of the day, I just feel that there’s hope for us – even with backgrounds like ours. I always tell the girls I work with that there’s always hope and not to see themselves as hopeless or useless. If you are sincere in wanting to work on your recovery, there’s still hope no matter how old you are. No matter what kind of environment you grew up in or where you are at this point, there’s always hope.  
Tay Lee Leng