A mixture of bad company and playfulness saw him drop out of secondary school after just two months.
All 13-year-old Lim Chin Heng wanted to do was to hang out with his friends, who would constantly run afoul of the law.
The bad company eventually led to his downfall, when he was arrested for vehicle theft in 2010.
His turning point came when he was serving time in a boys' home.
He joined the Delta League, a month-long youth engagement programme in which youths play football and also learn about crime awareness, held during the June and December school holidays.
Today, Mr Lim, now 18, is a proud advocate of the Home Ministry's initiative that got him back on track, even promoting it to his troubled peers.
Colonel Roland Ng, director of the Defence Ministry unit Nexus, applauded Mr Lim for his contribution to Singapore's Total Defence in this 30th year of total defence.
"Mr Lim Chin Heng plays a part by engaging youths through the Delta League.
"Through volunteering, he sets a good example for others with similar past experience, and helps Delta League in actively engaging youth about crime awareness," he said.
On Thursday, Mr Lim told The New Paper about his transformation, which began after he was packed off to a boys' home for 4.5 months for vehicle theft in August 2010.
He said his parents, whom he had rarely seen as he usually stayed out all night, broke down on hearing his conviction.
"I was saddened and guilty seeing them cry. From then on, I told myself I would strive to be a better man," he said.
He said he heard of the Delta League in 2011 and decided to sign up.
"It was very fun. I got to enjoy playing football with friends I met there and we bonded very well over the sport.
"It also kept us away from crime as we were too tired after playing to stay up and do crazy things at night," he said.
The centre-back said he also roped his peers, forming his own 11-a-side team because he thought it would help them, too. "Plus the prize money - $1,000 for the champions - was very good," he said.
He also had a tattoo removed since the Delta League also provided a free service.
"I thought the programme was a very meaningful one," he said.
A friend, who wanted to be known only as Shaffiq, was one of those Mr Lim had cajoled to join him.
"Playing for the league kept us occupied and not doing stupid things outside," Mr Shaffiq said.
Mr Lim is now too old for the Under-18 league, but he is determined to keep his slate clean and said he is looking to take courses to upgrade himself.
"I'm hoping to take and pass the crane operator course," he said. In the meantime, he hopes to get a job as a waiter.
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