Mum of serial offender: “我捡回了一个儿子” (I’ve gotten my son back)
At his most desperate, serial drug abuser and compulsive gambler Glenn Zhang, now 38, was chased out of his home by his father and had to sleep on the streets. His mother, Madam Loi, was harassed by money lenders (loan sharks) day in and day out for debts that Glenn had accumulated, while he survived by borrowing money from strangers at bus stops to satisfy his drug craving and stealing from provision shops when hungry. His mother had already given him all her life savings to help with the debts, but still it was not enough.
He was in his mid-twenties then, and had already been in and out of prison three times at that point.
“My parents accepted me back home every time I came out of prison,” says Glenn. “When in prison, I told my Mum I would change when I got out, but when I got released, I forgot about my promise and actually became worse. So my father chased me out.”
Seeing no hope, Glenn went up 17 storeys of a HDB flat in Toa Payoh, and wanted to end his life. But sitting on the parapet and looking down, fear overtook him. “It takes courage to jump,” he says.
How did he get to this point of being addicted to drugs, gambling and even wanting to end his life? Glenn says it started from young because of low self-esteem, due to his slight facial deformity. “I was laughed at a lot since young, due to my looks. So I wanted to protect myself,” he shares.
Glenn joined a street gang when he was in secondary school. It gave him a sense of belonging, he says.
At 17, he inked his entire back and upper arms with tattoos to look fierce.
“In the street gang, there were a lot of drug abusers. I knew taking drugs was wrong, and I told myself I wouldn’t take it,” Glenn recalls. But joining them at clubs and discotheques and watching his buddies get high while he was the only sober person proved too great a temptation. He started taking ecstasy, ketamine and methamphetamine. Eventually, he “upgraded” to heroin, a highly addictive drug.
All in all, Glenn spent 10 years addicted to drugs.
Glenn’s final arrest was at a clinic in Bukit Timah, where he was sent for a urine test during a routine check by the Central Narcotics Bureau when buying cough syrup. He tested positive for a controlled drug and was sent to Selarang Park Drug Rehabilitation Centre. Again.
“In prison, I had no intention to change. I joined the usual clique inside. But, I got to know another group of friends, who invited me to the Christian chapel service run by Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS). We spent 23 hours a day locked up, so the only chance to get out is to go for chapel, and I can meet my friends. So I didn’t really listen to the preacher,” says Glenn.
But when the PFS preacher and volunteers started singing worship songs during chapel, Glenn found himself being increasingly drawn to it. “I started looking forward to every Saturday. I was very moved by the worship songs. I could hear the cries of repentance and hear people crying out for God, though I didn’t really understand what the preachers said.”
漫漫长夜 遮盖眼前的路 The long dark night masks the path ahead
这是我必经的路 This is a path I must take
但祢是我的灯 我路上的光 You are the lamp unto my feet
祢把黑暗全给驱散 You dispel the darkness
不再怕黑暗 不再怕路途太长 I’m no longer afraid of the darkness, or the long journey ahead
不再有伤感 因我有耶稣作伴 No more sadness, because I have Jesus
(Lyrics词曲：林义忠 ; Translation: Sharon Lim)
During the last six months of his sentence, Glenn went to The Helping Hand (THH), a Christian halfway house for the rehabilitation of former drug abusers.
“It was a new start. I felt hope at The Helping Hand.” It provided Glenn with a very systematic environment that included daily chapel service, house-moving work in the day and counselling at night. For the manual labour of house-moving, Glenn received an allowance of $250 monthly –and it was the first time he gave his mother an allowance.
“I realised I can actually live like a normal person.”
It was then that he started to reflect on his life, read the bible and learn to pray.
“I thought very hard about why I ended up like that. How did I end up so immoral? Why did I live so meaninglessly? How did I end up being controlled by drugs and gambling? Was it because of my low self esteem? Was it the environment? Was it my parents?”
“From the bible, I found the answer. I am a sinner. I am utterly a sinner. From the bible I saw clearly that I needed the grace of God and the redemption of Christ.”
“After years and years of low self esteem, God’s word has affirmed me. God looks at our heart and not our appearance. I won’t waste time focusing on the people mocking me. I used to be concerned about how people look at me.”
“Now, I can finally say I’m comfortable in my own skin,” Glenn shares.
Once, Glenn’s father went to THH to listen to his testimony. After that, his father was convinced that he has changed for the better, for real, and allowed Glenn to return home.
At THH, Glenn started to lead others. Once, he had to accompany one of the brothers to court and he bumped into the ‘boss’ of his former gang just outside the court. To his surprise, the gang leader said to him: “好好做，’mai lai siao siao’” (loosely translated as “do things well, don’t mess around anymore”).
Feeling ready to venture out into society, Glenn left the safety of THH after five years and began to look for work. He was left with one power drill in his set of belongings, so he went door to door at new HDB flats to ask if anyone needed help to install television brackets. He had to deal with a lot of rejection, but knew he had to start somewhere to earn a living by himself. Being resourceful, he even designed his own flyers and pasted them in the lifts, and sales improved. That was in 2013.
Now, Glenn owns a business with four staff, not just installing televisions, but selling his house brand of TV brackets and providing commercial display solutions.
His mother Madam Loi, who is now 71 years old, never thought her son who had given her so much heartache and anguish would one day run his own business. “我捡回了一个儿子 (loosely translated as ‘I’ve gotten my son back’),” she now says to her friends.
In fact, Madam Loi has gotten more than just a son back – she has also been blessed with a daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
“Even after knowing Christ, I never thought I would have my own family. I’m not good looking, got tattoo, got criminal records. But thank God, through church I met my wife, a teacher from Klang, Malaysia,” shares Glenn. His wife moved to Singapore and married him in 2015, and they now have an 18-month-old and a second one is on the way.
Now, Glenn also volunteers with Prison Fellowship Singapore regularly, and meets his former buddies who are incarcerated. “We need to share the gospel when they are in prison. It gives hope and life lessons. When they come out from prison, we need to follow up because the real challenge is after they step out of prison. How do we continue the journey with them?”
On top of running his own business, attending to young children and counselling inmates in prison, Glenn is also now a deacon in his church.
“One day I asked myself, if God didn’t give me this career, family, a stable life, would I still trust him? And love him? Do I trust him because of all the blessings? But I know deep down that even without these blessings I must and will still trust Him. Because Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Like Glenn, you can also volunteer with PFS to share hope with inmates and their families. Find out more here.
You can also support PFS’ work to enable us to continue reaching out to inmates and their families. Make a financial contribution to PFS here.