Life after prison: He aced his ‘N’ Levels in prison

Ex-offender, Art, was working on turning his life around when he got sent to jail again.

Christopher Parwani
Christopher Parwani

Published: 19 October 2016, 2:28 AM

While most students were collecting their ‘N’ level results in school, Art was collecting his in prison. Disbelief filled him when he learnt that he had obtained eight points and would be able to enrol in a polytechnic.

It looked like the silver lining for the secondary one dropout who studied for his N Levels in prison, where he was serving time for drug trafficking.

“I couldn’t believe that it was my result slip. I was so happy but shocked at the same time because I didn’t know I could produce such results,” recalled Art (not his real name).

However, his breakthrough was short lived. Within seven months of his release from prison, Art was arrested a second time for another drug related offence. He had to put his studies on hold as he headed to prison again.

His first arrest happened in 2011, when he was 22 years old. He had been working as a nightclub security guard when his peers introduced him to drug trafficking. It seemed a fast way to make money and Art found himself taking home close to $30,000 a month.

“It was easy money but because I didn’t work hard for it, I didn’t think much of it either. At the end of the month, I realised I spent it all and didn’t have much left,” said Art, recalling his baller days.

However, that lifestyle soon came to an end when he got arrested that year.

“[Prison] was a very restricted place and I didn’t have much freedom to do what I wanted. The only time we had to ourselves was when we were in our cells, and having nothing to do within four walls made me think a lot about life,” said Art.

It was in prison where he decided to turn his life around.

He said: “I decided that I wanted to move forward with life when I got out. So in 2014, I decided to sign up with the prison school and study for the GCE ‘N’ levels.”




Art worked on past exam papers daily. His hard work paid off when he scored one point (the highest achievable grade in ‘N’ levels) for maths and principles of accounts. This was the same person who had scored a D for maths in his Primary School Leaving Examination.

“I was in shock because I didn’t even finish secondary one. I dropped out after the first two weeks. So to be able to produce such results, I was thinking if this was really my results slip,” said Art, chuckling as he recalled his disbelief.

After his release in January 2015, Art knew he had to quickly adapt to life outside prison before he entered school. He had been accepted into Ngee Ann Polytechnic to pursue a diploma in audio visual technology in April that year.

“Everything had changed so drastically when I got out. A dollar in my ez-link card used to be enough to travel but now I need at least $3. Phones have gotten so advanced and there were so many new buildings that used to be empty plot of land before I went into prison,” recalled Art.

Entering polytechnic brought about the biggest change in his life. “I remember looking around me and thinking ‘wow is this really me? Is this really my life?’ when I first stepped into poly,” said the 27-year-old.




With his body covered with tattoos and looking much older than his peers, there was no hiding his past. Art shared openly about his past to his classmates and thankfully, they accepted him.

“I thought they were going to ostracise me, but they came up to me and were even interested to know how prison life was like. I shared many stories and I hope it deterred them from making the mistakes I did,” said Art, who worked as a club security guard on weekends to pay his school fees.

However, just four months into his new life, his dark past returned to haunt him one fateful night.

“I sold ice and ecstasy before I got into prison, but I never tried it. But that night, I felt so curious about the drugs I used to sell and I just somehow snapped. I asked my friend to give me a little so I would know what kind of ‘kick’ people get out of these drugs,” said Art, as he recalled what happened in July last year.

Art smoked a packet of contraband cigarettes that evening at Geylang and, as fate would have it, a civilian officer screened him. He was arrested and taken to a police station for a urine test, and was eventually charged with drug consumption.

“I was so agitated with myself and was thinking ‘how the hell did I end up here again?’ I knew this was the last straw and I couldn’t do this anymore. I told myself that I can’t fool around with the drugs and will never touch them again,” said Art, visibly disappointed with himself.

This time, he was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment and another nine months of rehabilitation at Pertapis Halfway house. He is currently serving his fifth month at the halfway house and is expected to resume his studies in April 2017.

Art is also motivated to change for the better because of the support shown by his family and school.

“Despite my mistakes, my parents have never failed to give me words of encouragement, even after knowing I got arrested again. I’m very thankful for their love and encouragement.

“My school’s director was also very supportive of my rehabilitation and reserved a place for me to resume where I left off,” said Art.




For now, Art is looking forward to completing his diploma and is hopeful about pursuing a degree if he can afford it. Otherwise, the ex-offender dreams of becoming a sound and visual engineer after graduating from polytechnic.

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