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Drugs, Cash, and Prison. When Does Enough Become Enough?

Drugs, Cash, and Prison. When Does Enough Become Enough?

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Images: Zachary Tang.

This is the second in a series of stories told to us by Singaporeans from varying walks of life. The process was simple: meet someone on the street and spend time with them talking about life. Singaporeans often think other Singaporeans are boring, but everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes, you just have to ask.

Moon, 36. At the bus stop along Republic Avenue. 1:03 PM

Dude, you know what the fucked up part is? Before it’s your turn to get caned, they make you watch someone else. You’ll see this guy bending forward, strapped down, and whipped right in front of you. It’s definitely a mental thing.

As soon as that first stroke landed, I saw a cloud of powder around his ass and I was like fuck, did they powder my butt too?! It only clicked after a moment: that ‘powder’ was actually skin! Next, you’ll see that strip of flesh turn white before it splits and blood starts trickling out. The sound will change after that. Instead of a ‘wham’, it’ll be a ‘piak’ because of the wet blood. I got 11 strokes of the rotan, all at one go. 

I have a pretty dark past la, to be honest. I used to be part of a syndicate and I was involved in trafficking drugs big time—ice, heroin, whatever I could get my hands on. As you would expect, the money was good. And I mean really good. It was so ridiculous to the extent that I could’ve bought supercars. I didn’t of course. I had to be on my toes so I rented cars in order to remain unrecognisable, regularly swapping them out. You can’t be flashy and have to be able to keep quiet about stuff.

It’s not so much about being fearless. To be able to survive and truly be successful in that job, you have to be a heartless bastard. Let’s not even talk about friends. If shit hits the fan, you have to be ruthless enough to be okay with sending your own blood ties to prison just to save your own ass. But trust me, the money definitely clouds your judgement.

Hmmm? Trust? There is trust but of course, to a limited extent. Before going down to pick up the bricks [of drugs], you got your boys whom you’ve already briefed. These are the guys on your payroll that will survey the ground and scope everything out. You definitely trust them but you also know for a fact that if the worst happens, they’re gonna go down first and they’ll get less time for ratting you out. As long as there’s something in it for them, you’re screwed.

There is honestly no reason for them to sell you out until it gets to that point though. These kids—so to speak—are in their early 20s. They’re young punks who already don’t have much money and just lepak all day. Suddenly out of the blue I give them $200 – $300 just to call me if they see anything? Why not, right? They can afford to buy their favourite G-Star clothes or whatever nonsense they like. On top of that, after I distributed my stuff and got the cash, I used to bring them to places like 1 Altitude to have a good time. It’s a whole other lifestyle than the one they’re used to and they’ll devote their lives to you.

But like I said, once shit hits the fan right dude, don’t even dream. You can consider yourself lucky if you get so much as a postcard from them on the outside. Asking whether my family is okay, or actually taking care of them while I’m in prison? They won’t bother la. End of the day, it’s just dollars and cents.

I had ill feelings towards them for sure but then again, they had to do their job. Everything was entirely my fault anyway.

I’m not trying to show off or whatever. That’s just the way it is. If sharing my 2 cents worth can keep any aspiring so-called Singaporean Pablo Escobar from doing what I did, then good. I want my story to tell them not to do it la.

Subconsciously, I knew I’d get caught sooner or later. People always say that once you tell your friends or even yourself that ‘eh, this is going to be my last shipment’, that’s when you go down. That’s exactly what happened to me. 

It was on the third day of my Hari Raya celebrations a few years ago. The main bulk of my shipment was distributed save for one of my runner’s share which I still had on me. Call it fate, bad luck or whatever but he didn’t pick up my call. Anyway, I chose to go back to my parents’ place since it had been a while since I went back to my old neighbourhood.

Me being an idiot, I kept it in my Mum’s storeroom before I went to have lontong at the coffee shop nearby. Eat already, happy happy went to take and leave. The second I reached the void deck, however, kena hantam already. The CNB officers were waiting.

When they approached me I denied everything. Just deny, deny deny. But then they showed me this big file of photos taken from the opposite block and all that. I think they had been doing surveillance on me for about a month or so and finally had enough evidence to convict me. This was crunch time. 

I was brought up to my parents’ house and they searched the entire place. I had ill feelings towards them for sure but then again, they had to do their job. Everything was entirely my fault anyway. And that was it, man. I was sentenced to 11 strokes of the cane and 7 years in prison—of which I served close to 5 because of remission. Honestly, I was very lucky that the quantity and purity of what I was dealing didn’t exceed the limit otherwise it would’ve been the gallows.

As soon as the sentence was handed down, I saw my Mum crying. I was given 5 minutes to talk to them and after that, I thought to myself what the fuck am I going to do sia! I never spent such time on my own before. Those first few months were very depressing. The true ‘turning point’ only came later, when I saw my Dad in a wheelchair. 

Seeing my Dad in that state was a huge shock. I was like ‘eh what the fuck! What’s wrong with you?!’ I thought he kena hantam or something! But he said it was only a stroke. ‘Lucky I didn’t die, boy!’ he told me. Jialat sia.

My Dad and I, we’re close. We often used to sit at the coffee shop and just talk about life. We boxed together too. It was always super chill. My Dad is my go-to guy la. He knew what was going on in my life and did what any parent would do in that situation: he sat me down for a talk. I still remember exactly what he said: 

“Once you have a son then you will know how I feel and will be facing the same predicament I’m in now. Because I don’t know whether to call the fucking cops on you. If I call the cops, you’re going to hate me for the rest of your life but it’s for your own good. Yet I don’t know what kind of quantity you’re dealing with. What if I call and indirectly send you to die? So please stop this rubbish. If you don’t think of me, think of your mum.”

Not listening to my parents is definitely my biggest regret in life. There’s this Malay saying which literally translates to eat salt: makan garam. Meaning to say that your parents have been around the block and know what’s good for you. But us being young idiots, we choose not to listen. And at the end of the day, you pay the price la.

There will be this wall of denial that you have to slowly chip away at, layer by layer until you just get it.

Everything just clicked after that visit. Before she retired, my mom was a civil servant whom people listened to and looked up to. And yet here was her son who constantly smeared a lump of coal on her face, tarnishing her reputation. I realised how badly I fucked up and once I accepted that, I found peace; I got my answers. 

Your answers aren’t found anywhere except inside you. You know yourself best. It’s just whether you want to accept it or not. ‘What’s wrong with me?, ‘What was I thinking?’—you can ask yourself these questions for months and months. There will be this wall of denial that you have to slowly chip away at, layer by layer until you just get it. Life is actually quite simple la. We just complicate it ourselves. Or maybe the strokes connected some of the synapses in my brain! 

I came up with a plan since I had so much time. I told myself I should read more so I read a shitload of books. I wanted to learn Arabic so I learnt Arabic. Bro! Now I can read the Quran! Power one! Champion. When I was a kid, kena rotan also cannot learn one but when I had peace of mind, it was easy.

The smartest thing I did in prison was take the A’ levels. No shit, brother! GP, Econs, Accounting. Wah, I tell you, classes were like a zoo. You share the class with boys from the reformative training centre and some of them can be quite rowdy, getting into fights, jumping around and shit. But when you’re in a controlled environment without television, a phone, and all that, you can score, man!

My results were alright la, Bs and Cs—decent enough for me to do a part-time degree in SUSS that’ll propel me into a better position in the industry I’m currently in. I used to study graphic design in Lasalle back when we were still at the Mountbatten campus. Now I’m construction so you can imagine how much of a drastic change that was.

Basically, I had to go through a lot of shit la when I was released. I was what, 33/34 and didn’t have much savings because CNB took everything. And I couldn’t do shit about it. There was no way to prove that the money was clean and not ill-gotten gains so to speak. My options were pretty limited so start from scratch lor, what to do.

She told me that she wouldn’t tolerate this shit. If I had to work, work. If I needed to go to school, go to school. ‘I’m supporting you,’ she told me.

Of course, I was tempted to go back to my old life, bro! A couple of phone calls and money would be coming in. I wouldn’t have had to go through the shit any longer. But it wasn’t right la. Besides, there’s a lot of negative energy in that world that sucks you in and keeps you there. 

Thankfully, a good friend came to me and said: ‘Dude, there’s this trade. You might not like it but the money is decent and can make a good living.’ Considering my ability to piece things together, I gave it a shot and here I am doing project management in a different form! I grew to quite like it. Where once I was coordinating illegal shipments and drop-offs, now I plan the delivery of materials, delivery, process claims and so on. Manpower too. ‘Eh, where’s my signaller, where’s my other guy?’ It’s like the same thing only in a more positive aspect. 

I have to give a lot of credit to my wife for pointing me in the right direction and keeping me on track. I met her through a friend while I was sorting my life out. It was an innocent thing because getting into a relationship wasn’t on my mind then. She’s 9 years younger than me but my wife is very mature. I see her as my anchor.

There was once I got a call from an acquaintance asking if I wanted to help peddle duty-unpaid cigarettes. My wife—who was doing her makeup—overheard the conversation and straightaway threw her lipstick at me. The thing hit me right smack in the middle of my forehead!

I was like ‘What!? These are cigarettes! Not drugs!’ to which she simply said: ‘So? Will you go to prison or not? Fuck you. You do that again, don’t say one year. One month you go in and you’re not gonna see me anymore. Fine? Then who’s going to pay? With our money ah? Fuck you.’ That was a huge wakeup call. She told me that she wouldn’t tolerate this shit. If I had to work, work. If I needed to go to school, go to school. ‘I’m supporting you,’ she told me.

We got married 3 years ago and it was the happiest day of my life! We’re building our nest. We just bought a flat but now comes the headache of putting aside money for renovation. I’m okay with whatever design my wife wants. She deserves it so I just leave it to her! The bulk of my pay after CPF goes to her to manage too. I’m shit at bills! 

My religion has also had a huge impact on me. Praying is the only time I seek solace; I just pour my heart out to God. You know, it’s funny. My religious teacher in prison shared with me that how much I used to earn— a few grand per day—would constantly never be enough. And he was right. I still cannot digest this. When I had so much back then, I pay and pay, still not enough. But it’s different now. Even though the money isn’t what it used to be, after paying for this and that, top-up my EZ link, I still have quite a lot leftover. Everything is in place now.

The solution is always there.

So yeah, I’m a happy man, dude! Don’t get me wrong, it’s always a challenge and problems do come. Every day I come here, I’m like fuck, it’s another day at work. But then again, I’m not confined to a desk so that’s a plus. We’re currently working on the North-South corridor project here so I check my area here then head off to another location if need be. If I get a call to attend a meeting in say Pasir Ris, just call a Grab and go. I like that I’m always on the move. I have that freedom.

When I have a bit more free time, I can drop in on my tattoo artist friends who have shops around the area. Say hi and chat for a bit. Later around 6 PM, my wife will call and we’ll meet before heading back together. We’ll either go makan at our parents’ house or pick something up on the way home. Spend time with each other, chill and watch Netflix then call it a day. The simple life. I’m good, man. Life is good.

There’s a solution to every problem la, I feel. Whether or not the solution is gonna be tough on you, never mind. Even if the worst happens, just take it one step at a time and follow through. It’s tough but you have to do it. Swallow whatever pride you have and do it.

End of the day, it involves one big choice only: whether you want to or not. In prison, I’ve seen people who kena cane and can turn to the officer and say ‘eh, you go and eat more la.’ How are they gonna change, you know what I mean? So everything depends entirely on you. The solution is always there.

Yes, the journey can be very, very difficult but don’t give me this bullshit that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Come on, even if it’s dead dark and you can’t see shit right, just put one foot in front of the other and walk through. Just power through. Find your way out. You suck thumb. No choice. Not dealt the right cards? Then do what? Bitch about it? Don’t give me that kind of lame-ass shit. It won’t help what. You make do with the cards you have and pull yourself out of the crap—that’s my approach to life la. 

I’m still learning, brother. People share their experiences with me and I ask questions. Good things, I take. Bad things, I let go. Just like me telling you all this now. If people learn something from my story, why not? Take it, learn from it, and do better.

Okay, dude. I’m nearing the end of my lunch break. My one hour of bliss; peace and quiet away from the pressure of work and the hustle and bustle of crowds. I gotta get back now. You take care yeah?

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Author

Justin Vanderstraaten Staff writer