Ex-offender: Why won’t they let me lead a new life?

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It was an unpleasant day for ex-bird Soh Chin Chai, 38, as he found his photograph in The Straits Times yesterday. He was a key feature for an article about bogus marriages — a crime for which he had long paid his due.

Soh had served six months in jail and was released in March this year  for entering into a sham marriage for $2,700 with a Vietnamese.

Today, he is an assistant manager at Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh stall. His employer, Jabez Tan, described Soh as a diligent worker.

[PHOTO: Straits Times report on June 26]

Yet Soh finds his case – and reputation as an offender – being dragged to public attention now.Soh-Chin-Chai-Jabez-Tan

His life has never been easy to begin with.

He moved from one foster home to another as a child.

In his youth, he was arrested a number of times for glue sniffing. He poked an inmate in the eye with a toothpick, too.

When he was 25, he cleaned up his act with the support of his foster sister.

He began working as a dishwasher for Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh, and soon became close friends with the owner.

With Tan’s influence, he developed a keen interest in cooking. He enjoyed his work in the kitchen.

Last year, a friend introduced him to “San Pien”. He made Soh an offer that he could not resist, a sham marriage for quick cash.

Soh knew it was a crime to take the offer, he told The Independent Singapore. But the cash was too good for someone who never had much.

Last November, Soh was arrested for his crime. He pleaded guilty immediately and served his sentence.

Yet Tan and his colleagues did not give up on Soh. They took flowers and cards to the prison when he was released last March.

IMG_1365[PHOTO: Jabez Tan and Soh]

Today Soh continues to serve as an assistant manager at Soon Huat Bah Kut Teh. He is also doing his best to stay drug-free since his darker days.

But outside his workplace, he is no more than an ex-offender whose photograph made national news yesterday.

He said: “Even my friend in the Philippines called me to ask if I have done something wrong again. My sister went to work and everyone asked her about her brother.”

He says his family is “extremely stressed out” by the report that was also used by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) online site, STOMP.

“I am not a rapist. When I was caught, I confessed immediately. I went to jail for it.

“It is not right to publish my photo and let everyone know my past crime all over again.”

Soh’s employer also raised the issue on his Facebook page – the Straits Times article causes confusion and unnecessary distress for Soh’s family, he said.

“According to the report, there are 291 cases of such bogus marriages, why do they have to feature a person who has already paid the price for his offence so long ago?” he said in an interview with The Independent Singapore.

Tan has 10 ex-offenders working for him today. He says the greatest challenge for ex-offenders is getting basic necessities in life — food, shelter and job.

Soh said in a dejected tone: “What about the ex-offenders who cannot take it? What are they going to do? This report [by the Straits Times] defeats the purpose of the government-run Yellow Ribbon Project that wants to give ex-offender a new life after they have paid their price.”