Home is a tiny cell for drug offenders

SINGAPORE - The walls were grey. And the tiny cell was smelly and stuffy all the time.

It took only seven steps for her to get from one end of the cell to the other.

For six months, home to Judy (not her real name), was a tiny cell shared with three other women who had abused drugs, just like she did.

She declined to give her real name for fear of drug traffickers looking for her.

Last year, Judy, 20, was sentenced to one year in a drug rehabilitation centre (DRC) after she was arrested and had tested positive for drug consumption. She spent six months in the DRC and the remaining six months at home, tagged and under curfew.

Judy was among the 225 women admitted to the DRC last year.

In 2010, only 134 women were admitted, and it was just 100 in 2009.

Judy told The Straits Times that she was introduced to heroin at the age of 14, when she was studying in Secondary 2.

She remembered watching a group of friends taking heroin after school one day, and one of them had offered her a straw.

She took it, and got hooked.

"I started with just one straw of heroin a day. Within a week or two, I was smoking two to three straws a day," Judy confessed.

To avoid her parents' suspicion over her fast money-spending habits, Judy, who is the only child in her family, took up part-time waitressing jobs at pubs in Geylang.

It was in Geylang that Judy saw many innocent teens like herself being introduced to drugs and getting hooked.

She said in a mixture of Mandarin and English: "The 'druggies' would get their friends hooked so that they could in turn sell the drugs to their friends and get free supplies for themselves."

She had also seen how some teenage girls would prostitute themselves for money to feed their drug addictions.

Drug traffickers could earn as much as between $7,000 and $10,000 a month, said Judy.

Some of them operated from budget hotels in Geylang and used unregistered mobile phone lines.

"These traffickers live in fear. They will not take public transport and will stay away from their homes. They know of the tough penalties if they are caught," said Judy.

"I knew one day I would be caught for consumption, and I am actually glad that it came sooner rather than later.

"I remember walking out of prison and telling myself that I would never set foot in there ever again. There are only bad memories."

For six months in the DRC, her bed was a thin and dirty straw mat, with a blanket that was folded to be used as a pillow.

There was also a squat toilet inside the cell and a short wall to protect what little modesty she had.

Judy spent all her time sleeping in her cell, waking up only to have her meals, she said.

Everything was rationed in the centre.

"I was given two bars of soap a month. And I would use the soap to wash my hair, my body, my face, my clothes, my disposable plastic spoon and cup, the cell and the toilet," said Judy.

"I cleaned the floor with my bare hands and washed my hands with the flushing water in the squat toilet."

Even though Judy has regained her freedom, memories of her time spent in the DRC continue to haunt her.

But it is also those bad memories that are keeping her away from drugs, she said.

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