Family, Meaning of Life, Relationships

After his mum’s death, he spiralled into a life of crime

By Christine Leow , 22 August 2022

The youngest in a family of five girls and three boys, Jed Lim was pampered as a child. His mother, a housewife, would reserve the best part of the chicken – the drumstick – for him. And for Chinese New Year, she would make him extra sets of clothes.

“My mum treated me like a king and spoiled me,” Jed, now 55, recalled.

His family was also well-to-do. Jed’s father owned a company supplying oil to fishing boats, and they had a car – no mean feat for a Singapore family in the 1960s.

Harmless football games soon opened the door for dangerous ties with a gang that operated in his estate.

Everything was going well … until his mother fell ill.

Jed remembers accompanying her to the clinic for check-ups. She couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without needing to rest for a few minutes, her face turning deathly pale.

For a year, Jed’s mum was in and out of hospital. His sisters stepped up to do the household chores and look after him. But Jed continued to have the time of his life.

“I didn’t care about my mum. Instead, I only cared about playing. I would go out and play with my neighbours,” he said.

But the harmless football games among the boys soon opened the door for dangerous ties with a gang that operated in his estate.

The lost boy

Jed’s happy childhood was shattered at age 13 when his mum passed away in 1980. Now without the anchor of her love, he was left feeling adrift.

His father worked long hours and was often too tired for anything else when he came home. Jed’s siblings, who were two to 12 years older than him, were too busy with their own lives.

“I tried to find another type of love to replace my mother’s love after she died. That’s why I fell in with the secret society,” said Jed.

Around that time, Jed dropped out of school. He had no interest in studying.

“I still have my primary school record book. All red. I read my teacher’s comments – ‘very talkative’. I keep it to remember how naughty I was.”

He believes that it was then that his life “started to rot”.

“I still have my primary school record book. All red. I read my teacher’s comments – ‘very talkative’”.

To earn money, Jed got a job at an unlicensed stall operated by a gang. They sold fruits like durians, all kinds of imitation goods, and whatever they could get their hands on.

“Sometimes, we had to run away from the teh goo (licensing authorities). At first it was quite fun. I quite enjoyed earning my own pocket money.”

Young Jed also picked up smoking. His fourth sister, then just 20 years old, tried to discipline him.

“She would smell my mouth and fingers when I got home. She tried to cane me until I snatched the cane from her and caned her back.”

12 times in prison

Glue sniffing came next, followed by theft. Jed and his gang brothers stole material from a construction site to re-sell.

He was eventually arrested and sent to a boys’ home when he was only 16 years old.

But Jed’s first brush with the law did little to stop his involvement with the gang. Before he knew it, someone introduced him to drugs.

Jed, out cold, after consuming drugs. “They say, ‘You won’t get addicted.’ But you will,” warned Jed. “And when you’re addicted, it’s mental torture. You just want to chase that intense feeling.”

He became addicted and his life quickly went downhill. He was in and out of prison 12 times because of drug use, fights, and threats against the police. 

“My life was full of darkness,” Jed confessed. 

“When your gang brother calls you to join in a fight, you can’t say ‘no’, even if it’s not your problem,” he said. “That was part of being in a secret society”.

This cycle of involvement gave Jed neither peace nor freedom.

Jed (left) in his days of darkness.

In all, Jed spent about 20 years behind bars and was caned three times.

“One stroke of the cane will make you bleed; it was really, really painful. Second time, get phobia.”

But such punishment was not enough to make Jed turn away from gang life. 

“We are stiff-necked, stubborn people. We know it’s bad but we still do it.

“Back then, I never thought of leaving the gang. I was so deep into everything,” Jed shared. “My father also didn’t say much because he was afraid that I would say he was lor soh (naggy).”

A year of change

Jed continued to fall onto the wrong side of the law for a long time.

Then in 2010, after being in prison for five years, Jed managed to secure a place at The Helping Hand (THH), a Christian halfway house for former drug addicts.

There, he saw something that changed his life.

“I saw quite a number of addicts turn over a new leaf,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘How come they can do it?’. They had a worse record than mine. Yet, they still can be so good.

“They explained to me that it was not by their own strength. It was God.

Jed also saw many former addicts putting in the effort to help society, serve others and tell others about Jesus.

Witnessing such things finally inspired Jed to try to start his life anew – this time with God’s help.

“I prayed to God, ‘If You want to use me, I will let You use me.’”

“I asked myself, ‘Why they can? Their record was worse than mine. Yet, they still can be so good.’”

Jed became a Christian and took active steps to get his life right.

He earned Class 3, 4 and 5 driver’s licences. This allowed him to drive cars and heavy vehicles such as lorries, tractors, and public buses. He also got his taxi driver’s licence.

All of this was achieved within just one year. 

“Not that I was smart. But I just learn to put God first and The Helping Hand also helped me.”

Jed also became a project staff member at THH.

Rock bottom … again

But then Jed decided to leave the halfway house against the advice of THH’s staff. He wanted to be a taxi driver on his own.

“I thought I could make it and didn’t need God,” Jed confessed. “I believed I could use my own strength and ability.”

Jed avoided drugs for four years. But he worked nights, which left him with no opportunity to attend church or join a Christian community.

“When you drive at night, you don’t know how to spend your money. Morning you sleep, at night no shopping. Only thing open is makan (eat). So what else can entertain you?”

Jed felt the old temptation to do drugs creep back in.

Soon, he was spending more time using drugs in public bathrooms and at parking lots than looking for customers. 

“My real mistake is arrogance and pride.”

In 2017, he got into a fight with a store owner who said that Jed could not afford to buy anything from the store.

Jed was arrested and tested positive for drugs. He received a 70-day sentence for the fight. But because of the drug offence, he was given seven years in prison and five strokes of the cane.

Hitting rock bottom, Jed thought of ending his life.

“My father had just passed away and now my silly mistake. I couldn’t cope, I couldn’t sleep, I had no more encouragement for living.

“My real mistake was my arrogance and pride. I thought I can do things on my own, not putting God first.”

Truly humbled

Jed had be thrown into prison many times before, but on his 12th stay, something finally changed. He decided to truly try to follow God’s wisdom as found in the Bible.

“It made me more humble, more responsible. This time, no wrongdoing, no fighting, no arguing.”

Jed decided to follow God’s wisdom in the Bible … This time, no wrong, no fighting, no arguing.”

He also told God that he wanted to surrender his life to bring others to Christ, “so we can all meet up in heaven”.

As Jed devoted himself more to Bible studies and weekly worship services, Jed found “a sweetness in a God who blesses me.”

By the time Jed’s caning was to be carried out, he had just turned 50, putting him above the age limit for the punishment. Jed saw this as God’s mercy that he was spared.

(Left to right) Jed with his supervisor from THH and spiritual mentor Jason Goh.

While Jed was in prison, he worried about finishing the paperwork for his new Build-to-Order (BTO) flat that he had booked before his arrest.

“I thought, ‘What will happen when I come out?’ I’ll be homeless, my life is gone.’

“So I prayed, ‘Lord, please help me. If You help me, I will commit to You.'”

With help from his siblings, Jed managed to settle the outstanding amount on his BTO flat. He paid for it in full with his savings, CPF and share of the money from the sale of his father’s home.

Then came another miracle. Usually, those who are convicted of crimes with a violent element are not placed at halfway houses. However, against the odds, Jed would find himself back at THH.

With God’s help, Jed was also able to quit smoking overnight.

“I told God, ‘I don’t want to touch cigarettes.’

“Now, when I see cigarettes, I don’t have any urge. I can’t stand the smell.”

Jed works on the urban farming project at The Helping Hand, which involves partnering vendors to set up urban farming systems on rooftops in Singapore.

Today, Jed remains grateful for God’s love and His hand over his life.

“I am a black sheep but the Lord still accepted me and gave me a second chance to come to The Helping Hand to serve.

“God gave me a new life. Miracles happened over and over until I know that there is a God I can trust.”

“When you dwell in God’s love, every day is sweet.”

Instead of darkness, Jed’s days are now spent in sunlight, both figuratively and literally. He completed a Digital Agriculture Operation Manager course and works on THH’s urban farming project. It is one of several platforms at THH that empowers residents to be employable when they reintegrate into society. It also helps to improve their self-esteem, which is necessary for rehabilitation. 

Jed has also been attending Adam Road Presbyterian Church and is looking forward to serving there.

“Now, I have peace. I can see the road ahead. I have a future and a hope because when you dwell in God’s love, every day is sweet.”

This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in Salt&Light.

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