SINGAPORE: He was first imprisoned when he was 18 and was in and out of jail over the next 10 years. Now, 37-year-old former gang member Kim Whye Kee holds a degree in fine arts, and runs an organisation that teaches art to underprivileged and at-risk youths.
Said Mr Kim: “During my last imprisonment, I was very sick of gangs and I just wanted to go home and have a simple meal with my family.
“But my father had last-stage cancer before I was released, and two weeks later, he passed away. I had to attend his funeral in hand and leg cuffs, and I thought that dream would never come true.”
Since he was not able to fulfil this dream for himself, Mr Kim decided to turn over a new leaf, and influence other people so that they would not experience something similar.
Former gang member Kim Whye Kee sharing his experience with at-risk youths at a two-day camp in Pulau Ubin. (Photo: Lianne Chia)
Mr Kim was one of two former gang members-turned-guest speakers at Camp ACE (All Can Escape), a two-day residential camp held in Pulau Ubin that is run by the Secret Societies Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department.
He was there to inspire 35 at-risk youths to say “no” to gangs. These youths were previously associated with gangs, and were identified by the police to take part.
APPROACHED IN PRIMARY SCHOOL TO JOIN A GANG
One of them was 18-year-old "Alex", who was invited to join a gang when he was in Primary 6.
"I don’t have any siblings. I was always alone at home and very bored,” he said. “After joining them, I felt that there was always someone accompanying me, no matter what I do. They always call it ‘brothers-brothers’. I felt they would always be there for me."
However, he said these “brothers” disappeared when he was caught for rioting. "I called them, to see if they could hire a lawyer for me, so I don't have to go to prison. But no one responded to me, and I was alone again. I felt miserable and lonely."
Alex took part in team-building activities and made new friends at Camp ACE, which first started running in 2008. He said listening to Mr Kim and the other guest speaker’s stories made him put himself in their shoes.
“They went in and out (of prison) more than I, so they wasted a lot of time. I can imagine me being them. I do pity them but they are doing so well now, it’s all turned out good,” he said.
MORE COMMUNITY SUPPORT NOW
Mr Kim said he hopes the camp, and the story he shared, will deter the youths from going down the path he took. He added that compared to when he was young, the police and community are more supportive of at-risk young people now.
“There were not many options when I was young,” he said. “If the police found out we were gangsters, there was only one path for us, which is prison. But now, with the support, and this camp, they’re given a chance to know what gangs are about, and it gives them the option to get out of the gang now, instead of going to prison.”
This early intervention and community support has benefited youths like Alex. He has quit gangs for good, completed his N-levels and is now studying to become a chef.