When Siti (not her real name) was 14, her life spiralled out of control and led to a path that would include drugs, disappointment and jail time. Her father accused her mother of having an affair, and claimed that she was a product of it. Then he raped Siti. She couldn’t bear living under the same roof as him, so she left home soon after.
For Siti, now 43, this was the start of years of drug abuse, which led to her spending time spent in prison. She moved in with a string of boyfriends. Sex was a part of each relationship, and it was one of these boys who introduced her to drugs.
“Each boy who offered to let me to stay with him also made me believe that he loved me and that he would take care of me,” she said. “If I refused sex, my boyfriend would leave me and I would have no place to live and no food to eat. So I had a few boyfriends, one after another. They got tired fast. One of these boyfriends introduced drugs to me when I was 14. We took drugs together to forget our problems.”
At 16, Siti gave birth to her first child, and married her boyfriend so they could apply for a flat. “My husband and I continued to take drugs at home, even after having a few
children,” she said.
Siti’s first stint in prison for drug offences was at the age of 21. She was in and out of prison three times, spending 13 years in has not seen this child since, and is now divorced from her first husband.
“In prison, I thought of all my children every day,” she shares. “I thought of how I hurt them, and how I made them sad and angry. I thought of how I couldn’t be a good mother to them because I was in prison.”
Learning To Forgive
During her prison stint, Siti was helped by New Life Stories, a non-profit organisation that supports incarcerated mothers and their children. She learnt she was angry with her parents, and had spent so many years wanting them to ask her for forgiveness. “I realised that I could not sit waiting jail. She confessed that the third – and last – time she was incarcerated was the most difficult, as her children were older then.
Four of her younger children were put in children’s homes; her son was separated from his three sisters, who were in a girl’s home. Her two older children were old enough to look after themselves, and her mother-in-law took care of her then one-year-old child.
Siti’s older children were very angry with her for going to prison, and didn’t want to talk to her. While she was in prison, she was informed that her husband had put their baby up for adoption to a couple of his friends – without her permission.
“I realised that I could not sit waiting for my parents to ask for forgiveness, when I myself had never asked my children for forgiveness,” she explains. “So, in my last year of prison, I asked my children to forgive me because I was not there for them.”
Siti also reconciled with her older brother and sister. She had been angry with them because they didn’t protect her from their father, but she came to realise that they were teenagers then and didn’t know how to handle the situation. Over the years, they had advised her to be a good person and a good mother, but she didn’t listen, she said. They later stopped talking.
“My sister and brother were very angry with me when I went to prison,” she recalls. “Now I know they were sad too. For many years, they had been trying to help me but I pushed them away because of what happened when we were young. Now I know that they never stopped loving me.”
During her prison term, Siti wrote a letter to her future self as a form of encouragement. “Your first mission is to bring your children back into your life, (so you can) stay together under one roof,” she wrote.” Don’t forget to prove to those who look down on you wrong… this time, you are determined to change your life to be a good daughter, sister and mother to your whole family, and assure them you will keep your promises. You must also love yourself more… to be stronger, wiser and smarter.”
While in prison, Siti also wrote to her siblings, explaining why she was angry with them. She also apologised and asked for their forgiveness. Her siblings replied to this letter personally, by visiting her in prison. They encouraged her to let go of the past, and said that they’d support her when she was released.
But they weren’t alone – her father was at this visit too. She was 40 then, and this was the first time she had seen him since she was 14. While they didn’t talk then, she has since let go of her past. “I have forgiven my father,” she reveals. “We are not close and never will be. But I no longer hate him.” Sadly, Siti never got to make peace with her mother, as she died during Siti’s last year of incarceration.
A New Family
Siti was released from prison two years ago, and has since turned her life around. She first moved in with her sister and her family, where they lived together with three of her children. She now works as a cleaner in a condo, and lives with her kids and her new husband in a rental flat.
“I met my husband, who is also a former drug addict, in my post-release rehabilitation programme,” says Siti. “We have a similar background and a rocky past. We supported each other through our rehabilitation journeys… and we got married once we completed our rehabilitation programmes and were declared cleared from drugs.”
Siti is currently going through assessments, and is hoping her second-youngest daughter will move in with her by the end of the year. She is still fighting for access to her youngest child. Her two oldest
children are now married, and she became a grandmother while in prison. Her family enjoys having BBQs at Changi Beach, and organises weekly karaoke sessions at her sister’s house.
“Life is still not so easy because we do not earn so much, but at least I have my children with me,” says Siti. “I don’t know what the future is going to hold; but take things one day at a time; my children and I are happy because we are together now.”
New Life Stories
New Life Stories supports incarcerated mothers and their children by helping to heal their
wounded hearts, to love and feel loved, to rewrite the stories of their lives and chart a more positive future.
Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP)
YRP aims to improve the effectiveness of rehabilitation of ex-offenders in Singapore through
rehabilitation initiatives to help them reintegrate into society.
Hotline: 6513 1658
Singapore After-Care Association (SACA)
SACA was formed in 1956 and provides welfare and rehabilitation services for discharged offenders
and their families.
Hotline: 6294 2350
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