Jix Sze

Jix Sze was hooked on heroin from the age of 14 and left school with only a PSLE certificate. God gave him a miracle and he's now a corporate trainer. Photo by Tan Huey Ying.

As he sat in the back of the police vehicle, handcuffed, he knew it was the end of his life. “I can’t run anymore,” Jix Sze thought to himself. In less than 10 minutes he arrived at the Joo Chiat Police Station where they put him in a cell with another man. The police gave him a glass bottle to urinate into for a drug test.

It was December 1977 and Jix was 19 years old. He knew he would definitely test positive, having had a fix or two earlier in the day. In fact, he was trying to buy another straw of heroin, or what they called “smack” in those days, from an undercover cop when he got busted.

He stared morosely at the bottle and weighed his options. He could wake his cell-mate up and ask him to pee into the bottle instead. But the man looked to be in worse shape, so Jix abandoned the idea.

“I decided to take my chances and gave them my urine.”

There was a squat toilet in one corner. Perhaps he could scoop some urine from there and pass it off as his, he deliberated. But given the people coming in and out of the cell, that urine might be even more potent than his.

“What choice did I have? So I decided to take my chances and gave them my urine,” recounts Jix, now 61 and a corporate trainer. He’s so polite and soft-spoken that it’s difficult to imagine him as a hardcore drug addict who once stole and robbed to feed his heroin habit.

As he watched the police officer seal the bottle with red wax, he seriously considered returning later to break in and steal it. But he knew it’d be futile when he saw the many bottles stored in the steel cabinets.

The police impounded his identity card in case he skipped town and released him – the results would be out in seven days.

Puffing the dragon

Growing up in the rough neighbourhood of Geylang, Jix is the third of four children. His father died when he was four, leaving his mother to run the carpentry workshop. By the age of 12, he was smoking, drinking, fighting and gambling.

He broke into homes, shops and factories, and robbed dating couples in the parks.

In Secondary 1, a classmate introduced him to MX pills, a trance-inducing sleeping pill. A few months later, he graduated to marijuana. At 14, he was hooked on heroin and needed a fix every two days, or he would be short-tempered and violent.

Having played truant for most of his time at MacPherson Secondary, Jix didn’t even get a single O-level pass. He left school and started working as an odd-job labourer at an oil refinery on Pulau Ayer Cawan off Jurong Island.

“I was making $7 a day but my heroin was costing me $5.50 a fix. It later went up to $7.50 a fix, so what I was making wasn’t even enough,” recalls Jix.

He started breaking into homes, shops and factories, as well as robbing dating couples in public parks. He even became a runner for a drug pusher so he make money and enjoy free drugs.

“It meant nothing to me”

By 19, Jix needed at least three fixes a day and was extremely volatile. His mother and sister were at their wits’ end but managed to convince him to speak to Neville Tan, now senior pastor at Church of God (Evangelical), who opened his house to drug addicts and ex-offenders then.

At the same time, the government was waging a campaign against drugs and Jix was constantly in fear that he would be caught.

During his teens in the 1970s, Jix was into Led Zeppelin and the hippie culture. Photo courtesy of Jix Sze.

“I was tired of running from the law. The government was tightening the screws and there was never enough money to feed my addiction. Life was becoming very difficult, it was like going down to hell,” says Jix of his decision to check himself into Tan’s home.

What touched him most was when they told him: “We don’t lock you or chain you. The only thing we will do is counsel you using the Bible. We open our house to you with love. If you want to leave, we won’t stop you and you don’t have to run away.”

“The only thing we will do is counsel you using the Bible. We open our house to you with love.”

For the first few days, all he did was drink a lot of water, throw up and sleep. “I was hitting and punching the wall because of the aches and pains,” he describes going cold turkey.

Tan and other ex-offenders encouraged him that he would pull through, as they did. “They said just believe that God can do miracles because Jesus changed water into wine (John 2:1-11). But it meant nothing to me,” he says.

At the end of two weeks, Jix put on weight – for the first time in his life – and became overly confident that he could conquer temptation. Tan told him he wasn’t cured yet but Jix left anyway.

The very next day, his druggie friend invited him to hang out at his uncle’s empty flat in MacPherson. They started a “heroin marathon” where they chased the dragon round the clock for more than two months.

Every few days, Jix would go home to change his clothes. He was nabbed on one of those trips.

A stroke of luck, or not

As Jix headed home in the wee hours of the morning from the police station, he was sick with fear, certain that the urine test would be positive because it usually takes five days for the heroin to exit from the body.

And he suddenly remembered the counsellors telling him to call on God when in trouble and God could help. He collapsed on his knees and prayed in contrition: “God, I’m not sure whether You’re real but they told me You can change water into wine. Please change my urine test from positive to negative and I promise I’ll live and walk my life with You forever.”

“I promise I’ll live and walk my life with You forever.”

A week later, he was back at the police station. The test came back negative, which upset the police officer who arrested him.

“It was a miracle, something extraordinary happened,” he exclaims excitedly. The usually mild-mannered Jix was visibly worked up that the national daily had called it a “bizarre stroke of luck” in an earlier article.

Dubbing it a defining moment, Jix says: “It was like changing clothes – I took off my clothes, put on a new set and I was a totally different person. Not that I had changed but I could feel a new life was about to begin.”

Staying clean

Jix gave himself three goals – get a job, go to church and learn English. Growing up speaking Teochew and Hokkien, his Malay was even better than his English. So he got a small Oxford dictionary and learnt two new words every week. Today he speaks it fluently.

He started working as an office boy and got promoted seven months later to be a salesperson. Two years later, he was roped into selling insurance. He went on to supervise his own team, then set up his own agency when he was 30.

“I’m not proud of what I’ve done but I’m very proud of what God has done in me.”

Whenever Jix conducted training for insurance agents – both his and others – he would be quite open to share his life story. He had no criminal record as he was never convicted but all his employers knew about his past. “I told myself from Day 1 that I won’t hide my background,” he emphasises.

What disappointed him was when two Christians told him after his sharing: “You’re very stupid, you’re destroying your corporate life. No one will believe you’ve changed because a leopard never change its spots.”

That was in the mid-eighties and Jix was already making “very good money, more than all my siblings combined”.

“I’m not proud of what I’ve done but I’m very proud of what God has done in me so I can shine for Him,” he explains.

Stay vigilant

In 1983, Jix married Weelai Suwanarat, who was also from a humble background and went from being one of Singapore’s first female licensed plumber to early childhood education expert with a doctoral degree.

Jix, who once only had a Primary School Leaving Examination certificate, obtained various diplomas and a master’s in training and development along the way.

Jix and Weelai, 58, have now been married for 36 years and are now also business partners in their training consultancy. Photo by Tan Huey Ying.

Together the couple have now set up a training consultancy to inspire others in their career and learning journeys. Two years ago, Jix even published his autobiography, Chasing The Dragon Out, which chronicles his 180-degree transformation.

“I negotiated with God and I must keep my bargain.”

By now, Jix has been drug-free for 41 years but he remains vigilant. He doesn’t smoke or drink to avoid triggering past memories. He compares it to warfare and having to be on guard. And others have asked him if this meant he had to watch his back all the time.

“Yes! When I was a drug addict running on the streets, I was also turning around watching my back all the time to see whether the police was after me. Why shouldn’t I watch my back now that God has given me a new life?

“I know God is watching out for me but I also have to be careful. I carefully plot the way I live my life, so that worry and despair don’t set in because that’s when you can get attacked easily.

“I was astonished by the whole miracle and I wasn’t sure how to respond to it other than be thankful. I negotiated with God and I must keep my bargain by never going back to drugs again.”

About the author

Jane Lee

Jane has been telling stories across Asia, whether as a journalist, a missionary or a brand storyteller, always trying to give the voiceless (and boring) a voice. She is now Associate Editor at Salt&Light.