When her husband was jailed for drug offences in March 2012, Robiah Lia Caniago found herself having to find a way to feed herself and her two young children.
The 40-year-old, who has a son, nine, and a daughter, seven, started making curry puffs to sell from her two-room rental flat at Lengkok Bahru.
But the law soon caught up with her when the Housing Development Board (HDB) called her on May 2 last year to ask her about her illegal business.
Last Wednesday, she was fined $3,000 for selling curry puffs without a licence.
But as she was unable to pay the fine, she served a five-day default jail sentence instead.
Robiah, a long-term visit pass holder, was released early yesterday morning.
The Indonesian national used to run a small business trading in perfume and bed sheets.
She met her Singaporean husband about 10 years ago when she stopped over in Singapore on her way to Kuala Lumpur.
She told The New Paper: "I was eating at Seah Im Food Centre (in HarbourFront) and he asked to join my table. He thought I was a man and so I said 'look at me carefully'," she recalled with a laugh.
The pair started dating soon after and were married here.
Robiah, who was from the Batak tribe in northern Sumatra, said she was on public assistance after her husband was jailed.
But as a self-professed "proud Batak woman", she said she did not want to just take money from the Government. "I thought I'll find some other way to get money," she said.
Having only a short-term visit pass at that time, she was not allowed to work in Singapore.
MAKING ENDS MEET
She started making about 100 curry puffs a day from her flat, selling them to nasi padang stalls.
This made her about $20 a day, just enough to make ends meet.
Her curry puffs were a hit.
In October 2013, she met a man during her rounds and he offered to go into business with her. He bought cooking pots and pans for her kitchen.
According to her mitigation in court, she started a curry puff "factory" in her home.
She doubled her curry puff production, selling the pastries to stalls and private customers.
Robiah was charged in court in June last year. She was represented in court by Ms Sujatha Selvakumar and Ms Alice Tan, lawyers under the Law Society's Criminal Legal Aid Scheme Fellowship.
She initially did not tell her husband, who will be released from prison at the end of next year, about her legal problems.
"What's the point? If I go there and tell him, how can he help? It's as useful as crying in front of him, which will only make him sad," she said.
In late April, she was diagnosed with depressive symptoms at the Institute of Mental Health and was given medication to help her sleep.
Around this time, she finally told her husband about her legal troubles during one of her visits to Changi Prison.
Robiah told TNP that a distant relative flew in to take care of her two children while she was in prison.
To explain her absence, she told her daughter that she was going to Batam for five days.
"I know I did wrong... I can't run away from it.
"But I just want all this to be over so I can find work again and stop depending on handouts," she said.
This article was first published on June 01, 2015.
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