S. Sarbir Singh is a shining example of how there is always a way out of a life of crime, even when circumstances such as a broken family make it hard.
As a 15-year-old in 2004, he was sent to the Singapore Boys' Home for a series of 10 offences, including rioting, and the years that followed saw him go in for snatch theft and criminal intimidation .
It was during his second jail stint - in reformative training in 2007 - that he resolved to change. Behind bars at the Kaki Bukit Centre prison school, he studied for his O levels and scored 4As and 1B to qualify for entry to Temasek Polytechnic to do a law and management course.
Even there, he got into trouble with the law and went to jail for four months, disrupting his studies.
However, he pulled himself up again and was featured in the media - and last year's National Day Parade - as a poster boy for a bad-guy-makes-good story. He graduated recently with a diploma, in the top 40 per cent of the cohort.
But even people who turn over a new leaf must still pay for their past sins. Yesterday, he was in court to be sentenced for two offences he committed as a student. He pleaded guilty to them a month ago. The court had heard how Sarbir, now 26 and a banquet waiter, had assaulted taxi driver Woo Teng Fatt, 56, near a carpark of the Singapore Flyer in Raffles Avenue on Oct 24, 2012.
Sarbir was in a taxi queue with his wife when they approached Mr Woo's taxi and asked if he would accept payment via Nets. The cabby said no and Sarbir, thinking that the manner in which he replied was rude, kicked the taxi and later pushed him to the ground. When Mr Woo - who called the police - followed Sarbir to prevent him from leaving, he further assaulted the cabby. Mr Woo suffered abrasions, bruising, tenderness and spasm.
Sarbir's second offence was on Oct 24, 2013, when he went to his cousin Mary Lynn Ramos' flat in Shunfu Road to look for his wife. When Ms Ramos, then 29, said she was not there, he tried to enter the flat and she tried to block him. Sarbir pulled her into the corridor and assaulted her, causing injuries that included multiple facial fractures.
His lawyer, N. Sudha Nair, had told District Judge Michelle Yap that Sarbir came from a broken home - his parents were divorced.
Judge Yap noted his good grades, how he had given tuition to needy students, mentored youth at risk and conducted motivational training workshops during his time at the polytechnic, as well as his role in last year's National Day Parade.
She noted Sarbir's efforts to turn his life around from the time he was first charged to the present.
She said: "I am persuaded that he genuinely wants to change for the better, and will accordingly give some weight to this."
However, in sentencing him to two months in jail for assaulting the cabby and 18 months for hurting his cousin, she said: "The accused had done wrong, and it is now the time for him to face the music and be punished for the offences." The jail terms will run consecutively.
She said in oral grounds of judgment that this was not the typical case of assault on a public transport worker as the victim then was "no longer discharging his duty as a taxi driver'', having "got out of his taxi to confront the accused for kicking his taxi door''. She noted that the cabby pursued Sarbir "relentlessly, exchanging vulgarities with him''.
"This could be distinguished from cases where the victim was assaulted in the midst of carrying out his duty - like asking passengers to pay the due fares, or while driving the public transport vehicle.''
The maximum punishment for causing hurt is two years in jail and a $5,000 fine. For causing grievous hurt, it is 10 years plus a fine or caning.
This article was first published on July 11, 2015.
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