Family, Work & Money

Smoking by 8, wanted in Singapore by 25, he now helps other prisoners

By Jane Lee , 1 May 2020

“I consider myself to be the biggest trouble-maker, out of the eight children my parents have,” Peter Soo, 63, admitted candidly.

“Even at a young age, I didn’t like to stay at home. I would go out very early and come home late.

“I would join the street kids in Geylang and roam around. I did whatever they did – steal fruits from other people’s houses, steal brass padlocks and aluminium plates to sell, even set fire to cables to burn away rubber to steal the aluminium wires inside,” he confessed.

His first real “part-time job” was taking orders for a noodle seller on his tricycle to earn more money.


With the money that he accumulated, Peter spent every cent on food and cigarettes. He started smoking when he was eight, introduced by the street kids whom he hung out with.

His nearly lifelong addiction to gambling also took root in primary school, with a simple guessing game called “barrack”.

Peter shared his transformation story from prisoner to prison counsellor with the Chinese press.

“I liked the excitement of gambling. So when I got older, I went to look for more ways to gamble,” he said.

“From ding tiong to chup diam to poker cards … I just really liked the thrill.” 

Peter’s trouble with the police started when he was 15. He got into fights and people got hurt.

When he was 17, he joined the secret society – friends whom he met on the streets, who promised him loyalty and security, friends who stood up for him when he got bullied, or joined him to bully others.

“At that point, I joined because of the excitement. I was not afraid of anyone, because I knew I had buddies,” he said.


Hokkien bengs” (dialect for gangsters) introduced him to his very first puff of heroin he enlisted in the army. Out of curiosity, he tried it.

“When I didn’t take the drug, I had a kind of uneasiness … like body ache, bone ache. Very uncomfortable. I would get agitated very easily. But once I took one more puff, everything would cool down,” Peter said. That was how the drug took over his life.

Peter (extreme left) with the founder of the Yellow Ribbon Project, Jason Wong (second from left), and the staff of Prison Fellowship Singapore. 

The law finally caught up with him in 1977 and Peter was put into a rehabilitation centre.

Over the next few years, he was in and out of rehabilitation centres. His family did not give up on him, and took turns to visit him.

He was eventually put into prison for gang-related rioting.

“I had to rob, steal and even beg to get enough money to run away.”

In 1982, at the age of 25, he was wanted in Singapore for a gang clash. He escaped to Hong Kong, where he got into even more serious gang clashes – this time with weapons – and had to escape to the US.

How did he get money to get to the US? “I had to rob, steal and even beg to get enough money to run away,” he said.

One would have thought that being a wanted man would have given Peter a “good shake”, but in San Francisco, he also joined a gang with other immigrants, did drugs, and played with guns.

After yet another gang clash, he had to run back to Hong Kong.


At this lowest point in his life, Peter met a woman who had faith in him. He couldn’t believe it. They tied the knot in 1985, and he said that was when he “calmed down a bit and learnt there is such a thing as consequences”.

But being away from gang clashes did not mean he was free from his other addictions. He soon found excitement in gambling – in the form of currency trading. He made millions, which fuelled more gambling trips to Genting, Macau, Korea – even Las Vegas.

Peter, who is now at Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church, was a pastor of the Hokkien ministry and prison ministry in Faith Community Baptist Church.

Entangled in a vicious cycle, Peter soon went bust from betting on horse racing, soccer and poker. He even ran two illegal gambling dens.

Eventually he accumulated a mountain of debt from loan sharks, friends and relatives, which amounted to more than half a million Singapore dollars. They also had to sell their private apartment and downsize to a three-room flat.

In despair, and feeling like he had let his wife down, Peter wanted to end his life.

In despair, and feeling like he had let his wife down, Peter wanted to end his life.

By that time, his wife had become a Christian, and had been pestering him to visit a church. Once, she invited her small group to their home for house-warming, and her pastor took the opportunity to pray for Peter, who said the Sinner’s Prayer.

“I was not ready to receive the Lord, but I was ready to accept that I was a sinner,” he recalled.

At the following Sunday service in church, Peter knelt at his seat “crying like a baby”, even before worship started. “There and then, my crying was meaningful,” he recalled. “All the unbearable things were cried out and God lifted a heavy burden off me.”


From there, things took a turn for the better.

He started longing for Fridays to arrive so he could attend small group. Barely three weeks after becoming a Christian, he felt a strong urge to help out in church. So he started by ushering.

His gambling addiction stopped and, even though he still owed the loan sharks a lot of money, they did not hound him.

Peter and his wife had been told they could not conceive. Their son, Billy, is now 26 years old.

He started to look for proper jobs, and eventually learnt how to be a real estate agent from someone who offered to train him from scratch. It was his first real job.

“The money I earned felt different,” Peter said.

Through his church, he started to volunteer in a place all too familiar to him: Changi Prison.

In fact, he met some of his old gangster pals inside, who were shocked that Peter came back to prison – as a volunteer counsellor. The change in him was so drastic and unthinkable that some of them became Christian too.

The change in him was so drastic and unthinkable that some of his old gangster pals became Christian too.

Others, when released from prison, went to the church to check if he were indeed the same Peter Soo they had known as gangsters. By then, Peter had become a pastor taking care of the Hokkien ministry and prison ministry in Faith Community Baptist Church.

Since 1998, he has volunteered with Prison Fellowship Singapore, and recently became a full-time staff, heading the Through Care ministry team.

At home, God also blessed Peter and his wife with a son, even though they had been told they could never conceive. Their son, Billy, is now 26 years old. Peter and his wife are sure that there is nothing impossible for God.

“If I were to be very frank, I was really a very horrible person. Some of the things I did in the past were so sick, so bad, it can make me vomit now. But God has forgiven me, and even allowed me to glorify him,” Peter said, with eyes slightly damp. “God is so merciful.”

This is an excerpt of an article that was first published on

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