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Heroin, Hubris, and Healing: An Ex-Drug Dealer’s Story

Heroin, Hubris, and Healing: An Ex-Drug Dealer’s Story

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Images by Dennis Khung.

“It was a lifestyle la.”

For most drug dealers, past or present, the allure of cold, hard cash presented to you in the fastest way possible was too good to be true. The more drugs you dealt, the more extravagant your lifestyle became. From getting into every party in town, to just being able to spend freely on a new car or branded clothing, the temptations are rather hard to look past. 

Such was a life led by 36-year-old Moon, before he fell from grace some years back. After getting caught for possession of drugs—he even had some traces of drugs in him when they’d brought him in—he served a total of 7 years in jail and got 11 strokes of the cane.

Now, the site manager recounts the very humble beginnings of his unusual rise in a drug syndicate and how the events following that made him the man he is today.

THE PUFF THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING

It all started with my circle of friends. I was only sixteen at the time, and we were casually smoking when someone came up to us with a different cigarette. He said that it would make us relax, and we wanted to give it a try. I was in the arts stream back then, and I was quite stressed about my O-Levels. I remember taking it during the O-Levels study period, and I started coming to school a bit stoned even. To me, that puff of weed was a gateway to other drugs.

From there, we started experimenting with ecstasy and started going to clubs too. That was how we got deeper in the drug scene. I was heavily addicted to drugs. Initially, it was just something that was very different to me, it made me feel euphoric actually. 

I was pursuing graphic design in school and I just felt like it helped me with my creativity. It made me more laidback. But after some time, you reach a peak and then it plateaus – you don’t find it interesting anymore. That’s when you start mixing it up with other drugs, and going for higher doses for the kick. That’s how things got out of hand for me.

Once you start taking drugs, you tend to mix around with a specific circle of people. From this circle, you start scoring your own shit and you get acquainted with the people who are supplying these drugs to you. Initially, it was just a quick transaction, we’d say our hi and bye, grab the stuff and leave. But then you start to smoke a couple of joints and have more conversations with them because of how frequently you’re meeting, and then they offer you the opportunity to deal too. “Since you’re a regular, why don’t you take a bulk first? Then I won’t have to deal with so many of your friends,” they said.

That’s how I started mini-peddling for some of my close friends. The upside to this was that I no longer had to fork out money for my share of the drugs, you see? That’s how it began. As you get sucked into this, you start to see the monetary gain in it. My circle of friends were already part of a drug syndicate, so the narcissist within me wanted in. The fame, the money, the fact that you become the ‘go-to guy’– these were things I wanted as a 17-year-old.

THE RIDE TO THE TOP

It was the time when a popular nightclub had made its debut in Singapore, that was when business started getting really good. I had only been selling weed up until then, so I started asking for other drugs like Ecstasy, Erimin-5, and then Ice when it came in. There were a lot of drug parties, and my friends and I started socialising at the nightclub. The number of clients we had quickly became overwhelming to the point where my pusher started to panic – ”Eh, too many people, too soon,” he said.

We started with about 50 to 100 bags and then we had to start chopping them up to meet the demand. From there, I started getting about 50 to 100 tabs of Ecstacy. The cost price would be about 8 bucks per tab, and we were selling it for 20 bucks to close friends, and 25 to strangers. 

You can definitely see the financial gain there. We’d get the stuff at dirt-cheap prices from Malaysia, so that’s how we rolled back then.

But I was at my peak, and I was hungry for more. Once you get a taste of the kind of money drug dealers can make, it opens doors to a hunger for more that you can gain in this world with time and experience. I had my own business to run, and was leading a different lifestyle, one that was all about the nightlife. I was part of this syndicate since my late teens and throughout my twenties, I was heavily involved in it. I lost my twenties to all of this. 

Even at my peak, I had a set of ‘personal ethics’ I abided by when dealing. I didn’t deal to secondary school kids, man. Even when it came to those in the tertiary level, I would reconsider. The main thing for me wasn’t about them fucking their lives up, I didn’t give a shit, to be very honest. Kids just don’t know how to keep their mouths shut, you know what I mean? That was just it. I’d be surprised if they even had my number in the first place. I’d say that it’s a wrong number and change my SIM card to another one. Those who know me would get my new number.

I’ve had clients who are working professionals, anyone from lawyers to teachers who used to score stuff from me, but are occasional users. I have said no to people, especially if I know them. If I see him fucking his life up, quitting work, his marriage on the rocks with kids on the line, I’d leave them with one last bag and say it’s on me. I’d tell them to sober up and not take this anymore, but to find some other drug or coping mechanism that won’t affect them as much. These are the last things I’d want to see happen to them, you see? I know it’s fucked up that I still gave them drugs, but my intention then was to wean them off it.

A DIVE INTO DARKNESS

The worst thing I’ve seen? I’ve seen mothers come to me with their newborn babies and they start removing their watches, giving you their wedding rings and personal jewellery just to score drugs. Heroin, especially, that’s a really bad one. Sometimes, they’d offer themselves as well. In the worst cases, they are even willing to rat you out to the authorities for the sake of drugs, they’re ready to throw just about anyone under the bus for it. They want you to trust them enough to accept other forms of payment, be it through their possessions or their bodies.

That’s the fucked up part about this, there is no sense of moral values and all.  It’s sad to see that they are going through this, and that their addiction makes them willing to give up everything just for a joint or two. There’s honestly only so much we can do to help, especially when we know they are regular customers who are willing to pay in any way possible. We’ve got to remember that we can’t lose out financially and keep the business running, right?

My family didn’t know what I was doing, but slowly started catching hints later on. My parents actually caught me meddling with some drugs, but they had no idea how deeply involved I was by then. 

When I got caught, it felt like the end of the road. This was it, I’m screwed. Considering the amount I was dealing with then, they found half a pound of drugs with me. I didn’t know if the drugs were pure or a mixture, there were a lot of uncertainties about how severe my sentencing would be. I could get sentenced to death if I had more than what the law allowed. I felt like a disappointment to my parents. There are so many things you are thinking about at that point. You start thinking about how this will affect your life, and you just feel lost. It doesn’t hit you until you’re standing in court before the judge and the interpreter had to tell you what the judge had sentenced you to, in Malay.

I can speak English very well, but when they saw me staring at the judge at a loss for words, the interpreter jumped in to say ‘eh, awak faham tak? ’ (‘did you understand that?’). He told me in Malay that if the purity of the drugs they found in my possession exceeded the value stated, I would get sentenced to death. That’s the moment my legs gave way. I just went limp. It went downhill from there.

I had to go through six months of an electronic tagging programme after getting released from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre. But I couldn’t finish the tagging because I had been taking drugs while tagged, so I tested positive for Amphetamines after taking the urine test. I got recalled for an extension to my sentence, with an additional three strokes of the cane. 

In the end, my final sentence was six years and eight strokes of the cane. Man, the caning. I panicked when it was my first time, I was shit scared. But, after you get the first stroke of the cane, you just know how it feels, then everything else seems like a cakewalk to you. Bring it on, that’s the mindset. Since I’d already taken three strokes before serving my sentence, the following eight wasn’t that jialat

In jail, not to sound like I loved it, but it felt like revisiting a group of friends after some time apart. You start hearing stories of how everyone ended up there and share a space together, it can’t get closer than that. I’m a strong believer that incarceration alone is not the answer to prevent young people from getting into drugs. You have to find the will to cut off all ties with friends from the past, and any form of temptation. You need to find the drive to get out there and on the right track, like how my family made me want to become a better person once I got out. I went through cold turkey in jail, it even came to a point where they had to handcuff me to a bed as I became violent as a result of the withdrawal symptoms. I had to take shits and piss in a bucket man, it was bad.

After the caning, cellmates help you put the cream on your wounds and they make fun of you, but that’s where you build the bond with them. I mean, they’ve seen your ass, man. I’m still in contact with some of them who are now on the right track, not that I’ve forgotten the others, but I just can’t be in that same world anymore.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

When I got out, I realised I didn’t have any credentials. I only had my A-Levels certification that I did while in jail, I completed it in just one year because I couldn’t drag it out. My dad was in a wheelchair and my mom kept reminding me that I was getting older by the day and there was no time to waste. Jail isn’t a very conducive environment to study in, in my opinion. I was surrounded by a rowdy bunch of guys in class, so it only made me want to finish school as quickly as possible because I didn’t want to spend more time in classes with them. Then, I shut everyone out. I didn’t meet anyone. I went to work in some container company and realised this wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, I applied for school and took courses that let me work here. I had a goal, I was driven. That’s how I stayed away from drugs.

Not to sound cliche here, but given a choice, I wouldn’t have done this. But it was a hell of a life, I went through a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. Sometimes I do wonder if I hadn’t done this, how would my life have turned out? There’s a price to pay for the experiences I had, and I paid severely. A bulk of my life is gone. These are just lessons learnt in time.

I met my wife through a friend. We’d only known each other for about 6 to 7 months, and I decided that I didn’t have the luxury of time, so we got married. There was no engagement, nothing. Knowing my past, she bothers to check up on me, that’s something that made me realise that she’s the one. She made sure I got to work when I was trying to get my life on the right track. We’re waiting for me to finish my degree in Human Factors in Safety before we start trying for a kid, but she keeps reminding me that her biological clock is ticking as she’s about to hit 30.

A good thing that came out of my experiences was the organisational skills I used back then, and the ability to work under pressure. These came in handy when I started working in Safety on worksites. It benefited me big time. I’ve been promoted to a Site Manager now. It’s all good.

I’ve been clean the moment I stepped out of prison in 2016, but I can’t exactly remember when I got out. I’m happily married for close to three years now, and working towards building a good life for my wife and family. But all of this wasn’t just possible with my time in jail. It’s much more than just that.You need rehabilitation, and lots of therapy towards healing. If you just incarcerate someone, for example, they serve a year and then they’re back to the bullshit. They stop fearing the system, the punishment. I did go through rehabilitation programmes like counselling in prison right before my release. But it wasn’t the most helpful for me because the sessions back then were too generic and not very focused. I believe things have improved now. It’s a steady process you need to take with the help and support from friends and family, you need to know that you want to get on the right track and stay away from that world.

Incarceration and rehabilitation while in prison might work for some ex-drug addicts, but not for others–it’s completely dependent on the individual, as seen in Moon’s story. That being said, it is agreed overall that prevention is still the best measure one can take. Rehabilitation efforts have since been improved to ensure the mental and physical wellbeing of each and every individual who completes their sentence.

Prevention is best executed before one falls prey to a drug problem, and this is the main focus of the National Council Against Drug Abuse’s (NCADA) efforts. Beyond prevention, Singapore’s anti-drug agencies’ approach is holistic, to ensure that those who are already struggling with an addiction go through rehabilitation programmes and are supported with reintegration back to society, putting an end to the vicious cycle drugs pull people into.

This piece was sponsored by the National Council Against Drug Abuse.

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Author

Darishini Thiyagarajan Staff Writer