From streetwalker to street dancer

From streetwalker to street dancer
DOING GOOD: Former gangster Milah, 34, started Plus Point, an informal dance group that keeps teens off the streets.

For more than two decades, she led a life of gangsterism, drugs and prostitution.

But when her then 14-year-old son pleaded with her in 2008 to mend her ways during her second jail term, she knew she had to listen.

After getting out in 2010, Ms Milah, 34, started Plus Point. It is an informal dance group that keeps teens off the streets by giving them a sense of belonging and family, as well as a healthy way to spend their time.

The group is in the running for the top spot in the Step Up All In Dance Competition, organised by Shaw Theatres.

Ms Milah, who goes by a single name as she does not know who her father is, said she started the group so she would be too busy to let her mind wander, which would tempt her to return to her old ways.

Dancing, which has been her passion since her teenage years, was also her way of dealing with stress, she said.

Speaking to The New Paper in her one-room rental flat in Ang Mo Kio, Ms Milah peppered her sentences with laughter. But behind that cheerful facade is a woman still haunted by her past.

Ms Milah was raised by her grandparents, but her grandmother died when she was just 10 and she moved in with an aunt. At 13, she joined a secret society.

Having dropped out of school at Primary 5, she spent her teenage years doing drugs and "many other illegal money-making activities".

She got into a relationship with an abusive man, with whom she had seven children out of wedlock, between 1996 and 2004. In 2001, she spent 10 months in jail for a cannabis-related offence.

Her drug abuse habit became a coping mechanism, mostly to endure her boyfriend's abuse, she said.

With a huge chunk of her savings spent on narcotics, Ms Milah had to scrimp and save to make ends meet. Her savings quickly ran out and when her children's father was jailed for drugs, she was left to support the family.

To earn money, Ms Milah, who was then in her 20s, became a streetwalker on her friend's recommendation.

She said: "I was very popular then, with my 24-inch waist. I made quite a bit of money.

"But working in this line is not easy. You don't even know who's the man you are going to sleep with."

The turning point came in 2008, when Ms Milah was jailed 19 months for heroin abuse. When her firstborn, then 14, visited her, he said in tears: "Mummy, don't do any more. Change, lah."

Those words kept replaying in her head and made her want to start on a clean slate.

Since her release in 2010, she has been investing her time and effort on Plus Point.

The dance group's expenses have burned a big hole in her pocket. Once, she had to sell her DVD player because she was $50 short of the $550 she had to pay for dance costumes.

It is tiring balancing her day job as a customer service officer and Plus Point rehearsals, but Ms Milah is determined to soldier on.

Four of her seven children now live with her.

"What to do? I'm just extra strong because I know I have many people depending on me," she said.

This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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