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A Mother’s Plea for Change
If there’s one thing we can learn from Mr Ramli Bin Abdullah, it’s that ex-offenders deserve a second chance, and can transform their lives for the better.

Can a leopard change its spots? 

This was the challenge put to Mr Ramli Bin Abdullah, an ex-offender who spent much of his life involved in criminal activities. Now 44, he shared his story on the side lines of the CARE (Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders) Network Workplan Seminar, demonstrating how any journey of change begins with a first step.
 CARE Network - Ramli 01
Ramli credits his mother and his work as a volunteer as the inspiration for him to change for the better. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Drugs at 12, Gangs as a Teenager, Prison at 18
“I came from a broken family, which led me to do drugs and take part in gang activities,” recalled Ramli, who started smoking at the age of 12 before moving on to glue sniffing, recreational drugs and cannabis. “I was taking and selling drugs to provide for my daily drug needs. I was also involved in secret societies.” 

It was a bleak childhood. “I had no family supervision; I didn’t care about others and I wasn’t worried about getting caught,” he continued.

At 18, Ramli enlisted for National Service (NS) with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), and was arrested for taking drugs. He was sentenced to the SAF Detention Barracks, where he served 24 months.

“After two years, I thought I’d try drugs again; I didn’t care,” said Ramli. “So I was sentenced to 36 months for my second drug offence.” 

But after he was released, Ramli continued to offend, and served a third sentence for being Absent Without Official Leave while fulfilling his NS obligations. His run-ins with the law continued even after he completed NS, resulting in him spending approximately nine years behind bars for offences such as theft and rioting. 

“Please Change”
The thought of  change didn’t occur to Ramli until 2012, when he was transferred to the Jamiyah Halfway House (Darul Islah). By then, he was in his late 30s. 

“On my second day at the halfway house, my mother came to visit me,” he recalled. “That was when I really regretted everything I’d done because, from the way she looked and the way she walked, I knew she was getting older.”

It dawned on Ramli that during the years he spent in prison, his mother had never failed to visit him, even though he had “disappointed her so many times.” Asked what was the one thing his mother constantly said to him over the years, Ramli replied without hesitation: “Please change.”

In December 2014, four years after Ramli completed his final prison sentence, he finally did change. “It was time for me to pay back society, and my mother,” he said. 

Making Up for Lost Time
Determined to make something of himself, Ramli attained Workforce Skills Qualifications and studied hard to receive certifications in medical support and pre-hospital emergency services. “There were people who told me that a leopard can never change its spots,” he recalled. “So I took it as a challenge, to prove that I could change.”

Ramli is now an Operations Officer at the Jamiya Halfway House, the same organisation where he served his final sentence. Besides work, another priority for him is to rebuild his relationship with his family. 

Ramli also volunteers with the Central Narcotics Bureau, the Singapore Police Force and the Singapore Prison Service (SPS). 

“I believe ex-offenders deserve a second chance,” said Ramli, who now returns to prison not as an offender, but as a volunteer befriender. “I’ve been through what the ex-offenders are going through. So I come back to give them moral support and to tell them they’re not alone, and that change is possible.”


CARE Network
Find out how the CARE Network is bridging barriers with ex-offenders through the use of technology.

Read the speech by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Mr Amrin Amin at the CARE Network Workplan Seminar 2018.

  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 06 July 2018
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