Once a prodigal son, now a father of hope
Someone once asked me, what is the one thing that I regret the most.
This question made me open my heart and scrutinise my thoughts.
I grew up like other children from a big family. Being the youngest, I never failed to gain attention from my parents and siblings. When I was in my teens, instead of putting effort in my studies, I went astray, hanging out with friends in the neighbourhood and started to smoke and stay out late at night. All the advice from my family members fell on deaf ears.
It was not long before I picked up the habit of drug abuse and I went in and out of rehabilitation centres, halfway houses and prison. I had never held a full-time job to feed myself.
Yet, my family did not give up hope on me and believed that I would change one day. Sadly, that day didn’t come soon enough.
I remember there were occasions when I needed money badly to sustain my drug habit; I had to seek my mother for help. In one of those instances, my mother told me that she was penniless, and if I insisted, I could take her jewelry.
Despite tears in her eyes, I paid no attention to her and really took her jewelry to satisfy my drug addiction. Subsequently, instead of changing for the better, I became worse and even resorted to drug trafficking to redeem my mother’s jewelry and to be able to pay for more drugs.
In 2002, my Mum had a stroke. But even then, in her heart, it was not her health that mattered to her. She was worried for me. Despite her ailment and her disabilities, she made it a must to will the house to me so that I will not end up homeless when she passed on. At that time, she already knew that I was back to my addiction again.
One night, as she was lying on her bed, she asked me a question which I did not even take to heart.
She asked me, would I ever change my bad habits or would I only do it after she has died.
I brushed her off abruptly and thought nothing of it. Each time, when she wanted to start a conversation with me, I would rudely turn my back to her and leave the house. I didn’t even spare a thought for her weak and sickly body. All I cared about was maintaining my addictions.
I remember asking my brothers to take her to their homes as I had no capacity to look after her. I tried to avoid visiting or answering her calls. Many times, she wanted to talk to me, but I would react with much frustration. She would just keep quiet even when I behaved so rudely.
Two years later, my Mum passed on. In order to support my addiction, I resorted to selling the house she had given me. I used all the sale proceeds on drugs. I gave myself a lot of excuses – that I was unable to endure the stress, so I turned back to drugs.
I only felt remorseful for what I have done when I was caught by the authorities again and sent for rehabilitation. At that time, I finally realised that I have hurt someone who loved me so deeply and unconditionally. I did not fulfill my filial piety duty and did not even take care of her when she was ill.
Looking back, I really feel a sense of loss and I am shameful of what I have done. My Mum brought me up with all her tender loving care, but what I have given her in return was only pain and sorrow. This is my greatest regret.
I dreaded the time that I was alone in prison, because I would think of her. I could not comprehend why I did all that I did. But I knew for sure that no matter what, I would not be able to bring her back to life. I would not be able to hug her dearly and tell her gently how much I have loved her too.
The feeling of letting my family members down again was something hard for me to cope with.
Would my siblings be able to forgive me?
How would I let them know that I was indeed remorseful for my wrongdoings and sincerely wanted to change for the better? What would the days after my release be like? Could I adjust back to society? Would I truly be regarded as part of the family again? Would I be able to gain their trust and respect?
I was despondent and downcast. This had to be my last detention by the authorities. I had to keep to my promises and achieve this seemingly impossible resolution. My mind was overwhelmed with anxiety and pressure.
During this time of imprisonment, I came to know Jesus. I redirected my attention to learning the Bible and taking up courses. Gradually, I learnt more about myself, my addiction and the need to break free. I reflected with deep remorse on my shameful deeds. I was truly sorry for being unfilial to my mum. Unlike the previous times, I was determined to make a complete change. I had wasted too much time going in and out of prison.
I wrote a few letters during my prison stay to all my brothers to tell them how deeply sorry I was to have let everyone down, but I was so touched that they never at any point of time made me feel worthless.
By God’s grace, I managed to reconcile with my siblings. When their children learnt the truth about their uncle, not only did they not ostracise me, they gave me the much-needed respect and support, even visiting me in prison to offer words of encouragement.
On the day of my release in 2010, my sister, pastors, counsellor, brothers, sisters-in-law and nephew waited outside the prison gate for me. Never before had so many people welcomed and anticipated my release. I felt loved and accepted.
One reason for being able to stay out of prison is: PFS helped me a lot during my time in prison. They have helped to correct my way of thinking, and I know that I need to stay close to the right people.
I was helped in my journey of faith when I was incarcerated, through the love of Christians who served faithfully in prison ministry. Likewise, I want to love and help others who are going through similar experiences. My conviction to work in Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS) comes from Luke 22:32b: “…and when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
God blessed me with a life partner in 2015, and in 2017 my daughter Natalie was born. I lost my mother, who never knew how much I loved her. So I promised myself that now, I will let Natalie know each day how much she means to me.
For those who are facing similar challenges, my word of advice is:
In life, everyone makes mistakes, but what is important is the willingness to learn from the mistake, to be determined to live on and change for the better.
Equally important is the love and support from family and friends. Therefore, never condemn your loved ones. When you, as family members, open your hearts to give your loved ones a second chance to live life right, as I was given by my family, there will always be hope for change.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
By Jensen Lee