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From Gangster to Mentor of Troubled Youth
He used to be a teenage gangster. But today, Mr Albert Silvaraj is married, helps youth-at-risk and plans to pursue his studies in criminology.

Mr Albert Silvaraj set foot on prison compounds once again on 17 September 2017, 12 years after leaving it. Only this time, he was supported by his wife and 5-month old son – he was attending the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, which aims to generate awareness of giving second chances to ex-offenders.

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Mr Albert Silvaraj and Ms Shanthi Nila with their son at the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run. PHOTO: Aizil A. Rahim

Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the event, Mr Silvaraj and his wife, Ms Shanthi Nila, 33, apologised for being late for the post-event interview, candidly admitting to walking the whole distance as they were pushing 5-month-old Jeron Mervin, their only son, on a pram.

“Looking around, I think we were the only ones pushing a pram during the 5km Fun Walk. Maybe this will encourage other parents to bring their young ones along next year – who knows!” he quipped.

A Life of Drugs, Booze and Gangs

At age 13, Mr Silvaraj started mixing with bad company, often playing truant. He dropped out of school the following year. By age 17, he had started sniffing glue, taking drugs and drinking alcohol – it was also around that time when he started getting involved in gang-related activities.

“Back then, I enjoyed what I was doing and I didn’t want to change – when you’re in gangs, you earn much more than what you can earn outside. I didn’t care how the money came in, as long as it did,” he said.

Mr Silvaraj was in and out of prison for various offences, ranging from traffic offences to more violent crimes – in 2004 he was charged with voluntarily causing hurt for hitting his brother-in-law on the head with a beer bottle while at a coffee shop.

“My brother in-law would be drunk and hit my sister… I was affected because my father was also a drunkard and would hit my mother – it was a vicious cycle that I wanted to stop,” he said.

Sobering Up to a Hard Reality

But the turning point only came in 2006: his mother was murdered by his own father.

“Being the only son, she would dote on me. Seeing me in prison made her very sad. But I told her I would change multiple times, and I didn’t,” he shared, knowing at that point he needed to change his ways.

“But people said it wasn’t too late – I didn’t change when she was alive, but I could still do it for her,” he added.

The loss didn’t end there – soon after, the family home was sold off, leaving him without a roof over his head. He would sometimes spend the night at his sister’s house, but never for extended periods of time. Park benches and void decks became his makeshift home.

Learning to Love the Enemy

Things started to take a turn for the better in 2008 when his friend introduced him to the Teen Challenge Halfway House, which offers faith-based programmes to troubled youth like him. Said the ex-offender, “The Bible says to “love your enemy” but I couldn’t even love myself, so how do I love my enemies?”

It was at the halfway house that he learnt how to manage his anger, and let go of feelings of hatred. There, he learnt the value of self-worth and loving himself through various counselling sessions that eventually sparked his interest in the field of counselling.

He’s Changed, and Now He’s Helping Others Do the Same

Now 35, he has made positive strides in his life. A husband and a father, Mr Silvaraj has picked up where he left off by pursuing further studies. The father of one has since completed his diploma in counselling and psychology and plans to pursue a local degree in criminology.

He is currently a counsellor for youth at-risk who, just like him, have troubled backgrounds.

“They look up to me because I was just like them – I think I give them hope that they can change,” he said.

He hopes that with more events like the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, people would be more accepting of ex-offenders.

“The first impressions of me are always formed based on my tattoos – David Beckham has more tattoos than me but he’s not judged for it. People see him as an idol. So am I a bad person if I have tattoos? Not everyone who have tattoos are bad people,” he quipped.

Tattooed on Mr Silvaraj’s neck is the popular slogan “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, an anthem that reminds us that unity can triumph over adversity – all we need is to do take the first step towards acceptance.

Click here to read an article about the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, which was held on 17 September 2017.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Muhamad Khair
  2. 28 September 2017
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