Breaking free from vice's grip

Breaking free from vice's grip
Mr Ang Kim Song spent nearly 20 years in jail for various offences. But a re-evaluation of his life during his last stint made him resolve to turn over a new leaf. He took his exams - from PSLE to A levels - while in jail and is now project director of a social enterprise.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Ang Kim Song took just five years to clear the PSLE, N levels, O levels and A levels, scoring a clutch of distinctions along the way.

He is no wonder kid blessed with exceptional smarts, though, but someone who came into the study game relatively late in life, when he was 31 years old. He sat and passed all those exams while in prison.

He had frittered away his teenage years and 20s taking and selling drugs, stealing and working for loan sharks, among other nefarious activities. "I regret I didn't study when I was younger.

Knowledge and education really opened my mind," says Mr Ang, now 37 and working in a social enterprise while pursuing a degree in mathematics at UniSIM.

His T-shirt and shorts spotted with wood dust, he leads the way to a canteen opposite Aestiwood - a woodworks company which hires former offenders and the marginalised - where he is project director.

His behaviour and mannerisms hint at an interesting past.

He uses a lot of Singlish, walks with a slight swagger and fields questions with a fearless albeit earnest candour, the mark of a man who has made peace with his past and feels he has nothing to hide.

His mother, a former Hokkien opera singer, is a hawker's assistant; his father was a drug addict who died in prison nearly 20 years ago. The couple divorced before their son was born.

Of his childhood, he says: "I saw my mother only three or four times a year. She was performing all over Malaysia with her opera troupe. My maternal grandfather brought me up. He sold fishballs in the market and we lived in a one-room rental flat in Bendemeer."

He was in kindergarten when his mother gave up performing and took a job at a hawker stall so she could look after him.

He was 10 when he first met his father, a hardcore drug addict who spent a lot of time in prison.

"When he was released, he contacted a friend and asked how he could reach my mother. My mother told me, 'You have a dad, you know. He wants to see you. Do you want to see him?' I was curious so I agreed. He took me out, bought me something and I never saw him again until I was 15, when I had already become bad.

He tried to give me advice but I said, 'So many years you never took care of me, now you want to talk to me? If you have money, we talk. If not, no talk'."

A former pupil of Beng Wan Primary, he was, he says, a good kid until Primary 3, when a classmate kept pestering him to play truant.

"I tried to avoid him but he was always waiting for me. He told me no one would know. And that was how I started playing truant to catch guppies in the drain," he says.

Things became worse when he got to know this friend's elder brother, a secret society member, and the latter's friends.

At 10, he picked up smoking. By 12, he was a glue sniffer who pretty much stayed away from school, only turning up during exams. "I was sent to the monolingual stream," he says, referring to the now defunct scheme which sent weak students to the then Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB) for technical training after Primary 8.

His behaviour so frustrated his mother that she sat him down and asked if he wanted to stay in school.

"I had a lot of older friends who were in VITB and they were all gangsters. I reckoned I'd probably end up a gangster as well so I decided to quit school in Primary 7."

For pocket money, he worked at McDonald's and other restaurants but these stints never lasted long. He was more interested in getting high by inhaling glue.

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