SINGAPORE: When he was 15, Johan (not his real name) slashed another teenager in a fit of anger - putting the victim in intensive care for five days.
Johan was ordered to serve a five-week detention order and 30 months of probation for the assault in 2011, and his prospects seemed dim.
Even his probation officer thought, when she was assigned his case file, that he was “hardcore”.
“And then when I actually met him in person, I realised that Johan was a very articulate youth; he was intelligent, polite and thoughtful,” said Ms Marlia Mohamed.
She was one of a circle of individuals who, over the months of his probation, rallied around and helped that boy – who was raised by his single mother to be respectful and polite, but lost his way during his violent and angry school years – back onto the right path.
WATCH: Johan’s remarkable transformation (3:10)
These days, the confident 21-year-old has a diploma in counselling and is dedicating his life to helping others with a troubled past like his. The story of his journey was recently told on On The Red Dot, as part of a series about how it takes a village - strong communities, friendships and families - to help people in crisis get back on their feet again.
BREAKTHROUGHS AND HARD TRUTHS
After Johan pleaded guilty to voluntarily causing grievous hurt in 2011, a social investigation had found him suitable for probation, a community-based rehabilitation programme. His case was one of 1,104 new court orders for probation that year.
The conditions of his probation included fulfilling 180 hours of community service, counselling sessions and a nine-month stay at the Singapore Boys’ Hostel – on top of having to attend school.
Part of his community service obligation was spent at the Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled. Community service officer Sherlyn Won had discussed with Johan how he could best contribute to the community - and found out that he actually had an older brother with epilepsy and mild autism.
“So I suggested that perhaps it would be good for him to work with the intellectually disabled,” she said.
Growing up, Johan said, he never really wanted to interact with his brother. But that experience at the home forced him out of that zone and to understand the intellectually disabled better.
“And it has been fruitful; my relationship between me and my brother right now is pretty good,” he said.
Psychologist Dr Janice Tan helped him understand and manage his behaviour.
Johan also met with Dr Janice Tan – from the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Clinical and Forensic Psychology Service – about once a month from 2011 to 2013, to talk about his issues and strategies to manage his behaviour.
Johan was forced to confront his violent angry streak and, critically, recognise what had led up to his assault on the other boy. “As the sessions went by, it became more apparent to me that these were not just out-of-the-blue occasions,” he said.
“(Dr Tan) actually made me realise that the surroundings (are) out of my control, but what I could control was my emotions; how I could do something about it. And that really hit me hard.”
THE CHANCE TO CHANGE HIS LIFE AROUND
Johan also formed a close friendship with chief executive Nicholas Lee of the Singapore Boy’s Hostel Trybe - a relationship that prevailed even after he left the hostel.
The hostel’s structured disciplined lifestyle and the community milieu seemed to help Johan find a sense of purpose, noted Mr Lee.
And when Johan’s mother was diagnosed with a tumour (which was later treated successfully), it was to Mr Lee that he turned and asked how he could turn his life around.
'Johan' with Mr Nicholas Lee of the Singapore Boy’s Hostel Trybe
When Johan expressed interest in helping other troubled youth, it was his probation officer, Ms Marlia, who found out how he could apply for a bursary.
“He was like, ‘I think I understand what these youths are going through and I think I’m in a better position to help them’. And I was like, okay, this boy deserves to be guided and (for us to) make sure that he achieves what he wants to do,” said Ms Marlia, whom Johan today considers a good friend.
Earning his diploma in 2013, he is now applying for undergraduate studies. And he is thankful for all the guidance received.
“The involvement of every individual throughout my rehabilitation period offered different perspectives and different advice,” he said.
“But all of them were in line in believing that I could change.”
Watch the full episode here. New episodes of On The Red Dot every Friday at 9.30pm on Mediacorp Channel 5.