He used to peddle drugs, now he counsels ex-junkies

 He used to peddle drugs, now he counsels ex-junkies
Ex-drug trafficker Jabez Koh, pictured with his company van on March 9, 2015.

Mr Jabez Koh remembers just how close he came to being hanged nearly 20 years ago.

When he was caught trafficking 2.5kg of heroin, the purity of the drug came up to 13.15g.

Another 1.85g - around the weight of a five-cent coin - and he would have faced the death penalty, which is mandatory for trafficking 15g or more.

Instead, he was sentenced to 20 strokes of the cane and 24 years in prison in 1997.

He was 21. The narrow escape did not lift him. "My life had no meaning. I thought I had no future," said Mr Koh, now 40, in an interview with The Straits Times.

But prison changed him, weaning him off his eight-year drug habit and gangland ties. After 16 years, he was released on remission in February 2013.

Mr Koh, who has a girlfriend, now runs a four-vehicle logistics company, Infinite Transport, which he set up with three others last July.

He is also a volunteer with the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana), where he is being trained as a peer leader to help counsel and support ex-abusers.

"What most ex-abusers need is people to give them a chance. If they cannot find a job, they will go back to their old friends," said Mr Koh.

"When I came out, my old friends came to look for me, but I told them I wanted to try being independent first.

"But you have to make a conscious decision to stay away. I had no more youth left."

Mr Koh had wasted much of his youth on drugs. He started taking drugs when he was just 13.

He had dropped out of school and fallen into bad company. He started smoking cannabis and then moved on to harder drugs - methamphetamines and heroin.

"I tried everything. I was like a guinea pig," he said. He later joined a gang and started peddling drugs.

When he was 18 and serving national service, he was sent to the detention barracks for 18 months after being caught for organising a drug party for his army mates.

Instead of being deterred, the cocky teen wore the experience like a badge of honour. He began importing heroin and cannabis every week from Malaysia.

"I thought if you wanted to do this, do it big. (My friends and I), we wanted to be like Khun Sa," he said, referring to the Burmese drug lord known as the King of the Golden Triangle.

But he was nabbed in 1997. His accomplice was caught with 7.5kg of heroin and sentenced to death in 1998.

Mr Koh's time in prison forced him to grapple with his problems - his dad had walked out on the family when he was just 10.

"In the past, I was thinking that drugs could help me run away from my problems. But I told myself, 'How long can you last taking drugs? How long can you keep making fast money from people?'" said Mr Koh, who converted to Christianity in prison.

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. This verse helped me a lot in prison."

He chose his new name, Jabez, as a reminder of his past life, and hope for a better future. The name means sorrow but the biblical Jabez became a well-respected man who was blessed.

"I hurt my mother and a lot of people around me," said Mr Koh.

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