Drug-free after more than 30 years

Drug-free after more than 30 years

SINGAPORE - He has been incarcerated a total of seven times since 1977 for drug-related offences. He has spent nearly 20 years of his life either in jail or in a drug rehabilitation centre (DRC).

Mr Lim Kok Eng, 58, was last released from prison in 2010.

Determined to change for the better, the former heroin addict is now one of the 25 residents at the Watchman's Home halfway house at Upper Changi Road North. He is also its houseman, earning $1,500 a month.

The private halfway house for men was set up in 1999 and three-quarters of its residents are former drug addicts.

"I've been drug-free since my release," he said proudly.

Unlike Mr Lim, some former inmates continue to abuse drugs and end up behind bars repeatedly.

Figures released by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) on Tuesday showed a rise in the recidivism or reoffending rate among inmates released from its DRCs.

The rate for its 2011 release cohort was 31.1 per cent while it was 27.5 per cent in 2010.

The overall recividism rate has also gone up.

The SPS recognises the increase and said that it will continue monitoring the situation closely.

It said that repeat offenders made up more than 80 per cent of the prison population last year and many of them have drug antecedents.

It said: "Recidivism rates fluctuate on a yearly basis and are dependent on various factors, such as the willingness of the inmate to change, and community and family support."

Agreeing, Mr Lim said that he has turned over a new leaf thanks to the support he received at the Watchman's Home.

Counselling support

He said: "I received counselling and spiritual support here. Aftercare support had been very important to ensure that I didn't go back to my old ways."

Speaking from experience, he told The New Paper on Tuesday that quitting the drug habit had been difficult.

A childhood friend first introduced him to heroin about 37 years ago. He was soon hooked and arrested for the first time in 1977.

He had to spend six months in a DRC. But that stint did little to curb his habit.

He was caught for the second time in 1978 and had to stay in a DRC for 15 months.

Mr Lim said that he tried to turn over a new leaf shortly after his fifth release in 1988. He tied the knot the following year and got a job as an electrician earning about $600 a month.

But married life did not stop him from taking drugs. He started mixing around with old friends who were addicts and started taking drugs again. His addiction cost him his marriage in 2003.

He was finally caught for consuming and trafficking drugs and was sentenced to 9½ years in 2004. He said he served about six years and was released on remission.

Heaving a sigh, he said: "I always came home high on drugs. I have two daughters in their 20s, but I'm not in much contact with them. Drugs have destroyed my life and that's why I want to change."

Founder and director of the Watchman's Home Chua Chin Seng, 54, said that he first met Mr Lim during one of his monthly prison visits in 2007.

Mr Lim was told about the halfway house and became one of its residents soon after his 2010 release.

Mr Chua said that a structured environment like the one at the Home is important in rehabilitating former inmates. For instance, it conducts regular urine tests on its residents. Residents will be asked to leave if illicit drugs are detected in their urine.

"We will give the residents all the support and care they need. But I believe that the former offenders must help themselves first. It is difficult for them to turn over a new leaf if they themselves are not determined to change," said Mr Chua.

ashaffiq@sph.com.sg


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