Family, Health, Meaning of Life, Relationships, Work & Money

She gave birth while in prison for drugs. Today, she helps others overcome their addiction

By Janice Tai , 11 December 2023

When Hannah Chun’s parents divorced, she felt rejected, abandoned and alone.

She went online to make friends.

The friends she met were older and they showed her how to have fun in billiard centres and at clubs.

Hannah (front left) with her two older sisters and parents.

At age 13, she dropped out of school and started drinking, smoking and taking drugs with her friends.

At 15, she sold drugs.

Hannah worked in a club when she was a teenager.

Soon, she started working as a nightclub hostess to earn more money.

During that time, Hannah fell out with her dad and moved in with her mum. 

Growing up fast

Hannah soon found herself caring for her mum, who was depressed and had stopped working.

“Slowly, I took on the responsibility of paying her bills and had to stop her from wanting to commit suicide whenever she drank,” recalled Hannah, who is now 38.

Hannah Chun

Young Hannah with her mother.

The teenager grew up quickly.

On the outside, she looked fierce, strong and independent.

On the inside, however, she felt broken and made many bad choices out of fear and confusion. 

On the inside, she felt broken and made many bad choices out of fear and confusion.

One day, worried that she was going to be nabbed for taking drugs, Hannah prayed to God for help.

She usually didn’t pray as she thought that “Christianity was about good behaviour and if we did not behave ourselves, God would punish us”. 

Shortly after, she was arrested at a roadblock. It added to her erroneous assumptions about God; she didn’t think it was the consequence of her own actions.

Hannah (extreme right) was part of the church choir when she was growing up. Later, she avoided praying even when she felt helpless. “I did not dare to face God. I thought that I was not good enough,” she recalled.

While out on bail, she continued using ketamine.

She was caught a second time, and her jail term was doubled to 18 months. She was just 17 when she went to prison.

Hannah feared the future, and planned to kick her drug habit and return to God when she was released.

“I thought it would be easy to start afresh by relying on my own determination and willpower,” she said.

But as bills mounted, she returned to her old nightclub job … and soon went back to smoking, drinking and drugs.

Jailed when five months pregnant 

Less than a year after she was released from prison, Hannah was again caught for taking drugs.

Then five months pregnant, she went to jail to serve a three-year sentence. 

Pregnant mothers then were only given two extra slices of bread with their dinner every night. She was perpetually hungry, and so broke the rules by hiding the bread so that she could eat it between meals. 

“During labour, my ankle was cuffed to the bed and two female prison wardens monitored me.”

Heavily pregnant and plagued by backaches, Hannah often did not sleep well on the straw mat placed on the cold floor.

Fortunately, other female inmates volunteered to help their pregnant peers with their daily work duties.

Hannah dreaded the medical checkups the most.

She had to go through security checks and sit on the floor for hours before a van picked her up to ferry her to the hospital.

She was faint from hunger when she finally returned to prison long after lunch time.

Once, she avoided talking to God out of fear that He would punish her.

Once, she avoided talking to God out of fear that He would punish her.

Now she found herself talking to Him every night before bedtime.

“I was already in prison so I felt safe to pray. After all, I was being punished, so it couldn’t get worse than that,” she reasoned.

“I expected that being forgiven would start from prison, not knowing that God had already forgiven me for the things I’ve done wrong.

“I prayed for my baby’s future and for God to help me change so that my baby would not end up like me,” Hannah recalled.

Giving birth while cuffed to the bed

On her expected due date, Hannah was taken to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital where labour was induced.

“I went through labour like any other person. But my ankle was cuffed to the bed and two female prison wardens monitored me,” she said.

When Hannah saw her baby for the first time, she felt a warmth in her heart that she had never felt before.

But when Hannah saw her baby for the first time and held him close, she felt a warmth in her heart that she had never felt before.

Wanting to bond with her son, Hannah took her baby back to prison with her.

She was given milk powder for her son. But she consumed it instead, to introduce nutrients into her own body so that she could breastfeed her baby. 

Raising her baby behind bars was not easy. 

The prison had no confinement practices to help the new mother recover from delivery and restore her health.

There was no heater, so Hannah and her baby bathed in cold water. The baby slept on a mattress next to her straw mat. 

After a month, her baby broke out in rashes.

“My baby was reusing cloth diapers provided by the prison. He kept developing open blisters,” she recalled. 

“When I returned to my cell without my baby, my world crashed. I can’t describe the pain. I cried uncontrollably.”

She made the painful choice to let her sister care for her baby son while she served her time.

“When I returned to my cell alone, my world crashed. I can’t describe the pain. I cried uncontrollably,” she recalled.

Having to give up her baby was a turning point.

“I told myself it would be the last time I would be behind bars. I had to make my life right for him,” she said.

A bright light

Though her sister brought the baby to visit her twice a month, it was another one-and-a-half years before Hannah could hold her son. She missed many of his developmental milestones.

During these lowest moments of her life, Hannah prayed to God.

However, most of her prayers were said out of fear, and were transactional.

“I connected with God out of hopelessness, and not because I had a relationship with Him.”

“I made promises to Him that I would change and be good, and in turn asked Him to bless my baby and his future.

“I connected with God out of hopelessness about my baby and my drug addiction, and not because I had a relationship with Him,” she admitted.

But Hannah kept praying because she believed that God was hearing her prayers.

“Sometimes when I prayed, I could sense a bright light and a warmth around me, though my eyes were closed,” said Hannah.

“I felt God’s presence.”

A better strategy?

Hannah was 20 years old when she was released from prison.

Freedom was sweet. But eventually, she was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of having to care for her mum and her baby. 

She tried selling beauty products. But the pay was not enough to support her family. So she went back to work in a nightclub.

Hannah went back to her old trade as a nightclub hostess when she was 21 years old.

“Let me go earn money first, and then I will come back to You,” Hannah told God.

This time, she thought she had a better strategy. 

She chose to work at a “higher class” nightclub where its hostesses didn’t take drugs. It removed the temptation – so she thought. 

“Let me go earn money first, and then I will come back to You.”

She managed to stay clean for a while.

But as time passed, her boundaries were slowly lowered.

It started with alcohol, then sleeping pills and eventually she relapsed and took drugs.

Hannah felt her problems were greater than what God could offer.

“I cannot, but You can”

As she consumed more drugs, Hannah’s became thin and weak, and she felt pain all over her body.

When she locked herself in the toilet to consume drugs, her toddler waited outside. 

She was worried when her son mimicked her smoking a cigarette.

He could not understand what was happening and was acting up in school.

“I was a single mum with an addiction – my health and emotions were heading in the direction of death.”

Hannah wanted to build her own happy family so that her son would not feel different from other kids. But this desire created more hurts in her life as she sought love from the wrong places, and didn’t know what defined a good man. 

Exhausted by the various failures in her life, her drug addiction became so bad. Hannah had to quit her nightclub job. She thought her life was over.

People around her were getting arrested for drugs and she could not see a good future for herself or her son.

“I was a single mum with an addiction – my health and emotions were heading in the direction of death. I couldn’t handle it anymore,” said Hannah.

From club to church

Shortly afterwards, a colleague from the nightclub invited her to church.

“I went because I was invited by someone with the same background who could understand me.

“I felt shame and self-condemnation, but decided to just go ‘see-see look-look’,” said Hannah.

“I felt shame and self-condemnation, but decided to go to church to ‘see-see look-look’.”

When she stepped into New Creation Church, the pastor’s message spoke deeply to her. She’s been going there ever since.

“It felt like God was speaking directly to me through every word of the message. I began to understand why I behave in certain ways, like being prone to getting in and out of relationships.

“Many sermons elsewhere would just tell me to ‘be good’ but did not tell me how to do so,” said Hannah.

This time, it was different.

Her impression of God also took a radical turn.

She was drawn to church on Sundays even though she was still helplessly hooked on drugs. 

She identified with the Bible stories such the prodigal son whose father was waiting for him to come home despite all that he had done, and by how Jesus showed grace to the Samaritan woman at the well before gently correcting her.

“I hear about how God does not condemn, but forgives and accepts me. That was huge because I always felt misunderstood and marginalised due to circumstances in my life,” she explained.

She began to see her identity in God. That helped her value herself and subsequently set appropriate boundaries in her life.

She was drawn to church on Sundays even though she was still helplessly hooked on drugs. 

Hannah (seated, right) with church friends at a monthly prayer meeting.

“Even though I was still addicted, I knew that meant that all the more I needed to go to God instead of feeling condemned and running away from Him,” said Hannah.

She leant from church that she could not rely on her own willpower to overcome her addition.

So she told God: “I cannot, but You can.”

No more kick

In 2009, a strange thing happened.

The drug that Hannah was hooked on went out of stock – in Malaysia and Singapore. She panicked. She had been on the drug for years, and feared that she would suffer withdrawal symptoms.

Her sister prayed along with her.

By the time the supply of drugs was restored, Hannah found that she could say “no” to them.

Amazingly, Hannah did not feel any withdrawal symptoms in the following weeks.

By the time the supply of drugs was restored a month later, Hannah found that she could say “no” to them.

“I think that month when the drug supply stopped was God’s intervention. It had never happened before,” said Hannah.

But Hannah still turned to drugs as a coping mechanism. 

For example, when she quarrelled with her then-boyfriend, she would sink into self-pity and call her drug supplier.

“But when I took the drugs, I found that I did not like its taste anymore. It did not give me the same kick.

“I felt disgusted instead,” said Hannah.

“When I took the drugs, I found that I did not like its taste anymore. I felt disgusted instead.”

That was when she heard God’s small whisper: “You do not need the drugs anymore, why are you still trying to put it in your body?”

That year, Hannah kicked her addiction for good.

But over the next year, she experienced anhedonia, a psychiatric disorder where she had less interest in activities that she used to enjoy.

“The only thing I knew I had to do was to go to church every Sunday with my son,” she said.

When she listened to God’s message from the Bible, she felt hopeful. 

Safe space for women with addictions

Hannah went on to get married. 

Hannah with her husband and their four children.

She also ran a successful massage and beauty business. 

Since 2014, Hannah has been volunteering at halfway houses to encourage to drug offenders that change is possible.

Today, Hannah shares about her journey to encourage people in recovery for drug addiction – like these women at a drug rehabilitation centre in Malaysia.

She recently joined her church’s community services arm to set up a women’s sanctuary. It gives women trying to fight off drug addiction a safe place to stay. Faith-based programmes help them recover from their addiction, reconcile with their families, and gain life and vocational skills.

“Many of the women have been wounded by childhood issues, and need to know our heavenly Father’s love for them,” she explained.

“I hope to show them that their relationship with Him can be a really sweet, intimate and beautiful one.”

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

If you would like to know more about Jesus, click here to find a church near you.

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