Mum's threat a wake-up call for repeat offender

He has been in and out of prison three times, spending about a decade of his life behind bars.

And history would have repeated itself, were it not for his mother's threat to never see him again.

In a letter to him in jail, Mr Mirwazy Adam's mother, 50, wrote: "If you end up in jail again, I will no longer visit you... this is the last time."

He said he does not interact with his father or sister.

Eyes welling with tears, the 33-year-old recounted yesterday how it made him feel.

"I never thought about it before, but (the letter) was a reminder for me to do something useful with my life," said the drug offender.

Towards the end of his six-and-a-half-year term, Mr Mirwazy found employment with the help of the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (Score).

Three months before his release in February, he enrolled in Score's Hope Cafe.

Hope Cafe, which was officially launched at Changi Prison Complex yesterday, trains inmates with skills in the food-and-beverage (F&B) industry.

The programme also helped Mr Mirwazy bag his current job as a trainee manager at Burger King shortly after his release.

He said: "Now my mother tells me that she is proud of me. She's proud that I can even hold on to this kind of position in a company."

But his new lease of life almost didn't happen.

He served only six-and-a-half years of his nine-year jail sentence due to a two-thirds remission scheme.

After he was released in 2004 for his second offence, he went to more than 50 job interviews. All of them turned him down.

Referring to his criminal record, Mr Mirwazy said: "I think it's obvious why I was rejected so many times."


So when he was thrown into jail once again in 2007, he lost hope for his future.

"I was quite naughty. I was just shocked that I was convicted for nine years. I thought that was it," he said.

"With my previous convictions, I didn't have much confidence in getting a job. I have a chequered past."

His turning point was the letter from his mother, who lives in Malaysia and made it a point to visit him once every three months.

He acted on this new resolve by indicating his interest in job placement during a Score briefing.

At the Hope Cafe, he pursued the Workforce Skills Qualifications Certificate in F&B Operations, which required him to put in up to 132 hours of training while in jail.

For the three months before his release, he learnt skills in service, food and drinks preparation, safety and hygiene.

When his current superior, Ms Leong Su Ching, 45, interviewed him in prison, he jumped at the opportunity to impress.

Ms Leong, a business manager at Burger King, said: "I had my apprehensions at first, but I was looking at whether he had the sincerity, the commitment and the skills for the job. He did."

Within three months of starting work, Mr Mirwazy was put in charge of 11 kitchen crew at the Burger King outlet at Marina Square.

But getting used again to life as a free man has not been without its challenges.

"I struggled with managing people at first. That's because in jail, I had been programmed to think like a prisoner," he said.

"On my job, I had to learn to be the one giving instructions instead.

"I even have to re-learn how to use the phone as it's very different now."

His subordinates don't know that he is an ex-offender - only those at the management level know about it because that is company policy.

Mr Mirwazy said he does not mind if the crew finds out as "that part of my life is over".

"I hope my story will inspire them."

Hope Cafe helps man uncover passion

Before joining Hope Cafe, he had never stepped foot into a professional kitchen.

But in the course of earning his Workforce Skills Qualifications Certificate in Culinary Arts, Mr Noor Azhar Surani grew passionate about making food for others.

To earn the certificate, the 41-year-old had to put in up to 148 training hours at the cafe.

"Since joining (the programme), I went to the workshop almost every day to learn and spent eight hours each time.

"I did this for almost one year - that's when my passion grew," said Mr Azhar, who was taught the basics of culinary arts, making pastry, cakes and muffins.

He was interviewed by staff from supermarket chain Giant two weeks before his release.

At the end of his seven-year jail term in January, he joined Giant as a trainee baker, mixing ingredients to make bread.

While most of his skills were gained on the job and not from the cafe, Mr Azhar said the cafe gave him a golden opportunity.

Said Mr Azhar: "Without Hope Cafe, I would have to find a job myself after my release. I also would have to find a place to learn these skills on my own."

His employer, Giant's assistant manager of human capital Cerina Tan Siew Poh, commended his attitude.


"He came with basic skills and hands-on experience. Although he did not learn how to make the same type of bread that we do, I know he is passionate and keen on learning all he can."

Earning $1,300 per month, Mr Azhar is thankful for having been a part of Hope Cafe.

"They selected me because I was eligible, and I took it up because I knew I can benefit from it. And because of that, I gained a passion," he said.

Preparing inmates for post-prison

The Hope Cafe, a training kitchen and restaurant for prisoners, equips offenders with skills in food-and-beverage operations and culinary arts, and places them in relevant jobs after their release. It is a joint initiative between the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, Singapore Prison Service and Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (Score).

Located in the heart of the prison complex, it started operating last November and has trained 154 offenders since. Of these, 109 have secured jobs and the rest will attend placement exercises nearer to their release dates.

All inmates in the programme will be given jobs when released, said Score's chief executive officer Mr Stanley Tang.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower Dr Amy Khor, who attended Hope Cafe's opening ceremony yesterday, said: "Each year, about 9,000 offenders are released from prison and many of them face difficulty reintegrating into society. Helping offenders prepare for, find and keep their jobs, is therefore critical for their reintegration journey."

By the numbers

Size of Hope Cafe: 360 sq m

Number of offenders trained by Hope Cafe so far: 154

Targeted number of offenders to be trained by end of the year: 350

Number of F&B and hospitality companies partnered with Score: 791

This article was first published on June 25, 2014.
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