Former juvenile delinquents make the most of second chances to become highflyers

Three former youth offenders share how they escaped a life of crime to achieve their dreams.

Marielle Descalsota
Marielle Descalsota

Published: 3 August 2021, 5:25 PM

At 15, most youths would be busy with exams and co-curricular activities. Some may even be focused on chasing school crushes. 

Jasper Yap, however, found himself in the Singapore Boys’ Home. He was caught stealing motorcycles and mugging a cab driver, and was also involved in a gang and abused drugs. 

Now 27, Jasper managed to overcome the odds and turn his life around. He is now the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of online marketplace and a much-changed man from his teenage years. 

Speaking at Lawful Assembly of Ex-Offenders, a virtual event organized by Architects of Life, a non-profit that helps at-risk youth and disadvantaged persons, Jasper shared about how he made the most of his second chance in life. 

Joining him were food entrepreneur Hung Zhen Long and law student Jadyn Ng at the event last Saturday (Jul 24). Both were also former juvenile offenders. 

More than 100 people, many whom were youths looking for guidance in their own journeys through teenagerhood, had attended the event. 

Zhen Long, who co-founded Beng Who Cooks, a hawker stall turned restaurant, recounted the moment he decided to leave his life of crime. 

“When I was in the Boys’ Home, I got beat up because of one of my friends,” said the 28-year-old. “He didn’t show me any concern. When [offenders] get caught we don’t want to snitch — but while they were enjoying [outside prison], I’m here suffering.” 

He credits his parents as instrumental in his rehabilitation. 

“They were there for me through thick and thin. I would hold back the tears when I spoke to them but I cried like a baby in my cell. That was my wakeup call.”

Meanwhile, it took five years of incarceration and rehabilitative detention before Jadyn could break free from his life of delinquency. The former secret society member was 28 when he received the Irene Tan Liang Kheng scholarship to pursue law at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) two years ago. 

When he was in prison, Jadyn took an interest in jurisprudence and aspired to a career in law. He hopes that people will be more open-minded towards ex-offenders.

“[My interest began] when my cell mate handed me a book of criminal judgements. I told people I wanted to be a lawyer but many just ridiculed me,” he said. “It was my Yellow Ribbon mentor who encouraged me in my dreams and desires.”

“When people are not wary of me because I’m an ex-offender, that’s when I know they’ve accepted me.”

Like Jadyn, tech wizard Jasper also found success after being discharged from the Home. He graduated valedictorian at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and completed his degree at a local university. 

“I started to believe I’m a bad person. It wasn’t easy but my faith helped me escape [the cycle of delinquency],” he said. “The mentors I met enabled me to see many ways to run a business. I thought, ‘I could make [an e-commerce] website too.’”

Jasper believes his experiences has helped him become the person and businessman he is today.

“Singapore has gone a long way. I’ve never had an issue with my credibility in the financial aspects of my business. They see my past as a testament to my perseverance,” he said.

Guest of Honour Eric Chua, who is Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, was encouraged by their stories.  

He is adamant that despite these strides in assimilating ex-inmates into society, Singapore has still a long way to go. 

“As humans, we need to be understood. Stories of unconventional success need to be told more,” he said. 

“We can do much more in [improving] how the system reintegrates ex-offenders. As a society, we need to be better. Today was a lesson on being human, on dealing with our demons and insecurities.”

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