10 times in prison, 23 strokes of the cane and now clean for 7 years: He is proof that God redeems

TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains mention of suicide ideation.

by Christine Leow // May 24, 2024, 11:35 am

prison ministry(1)

Benji Wong (front), who once urged his fellow prisoners to reject Christianity, now serves in the prison ministry, going there every month to share God’s love and truth with the inmates. All photos courtesy of Benji Wong.

Benji Wong, 56, grew up in a world of gangs, drugs and gambling.

His father was a gangster who was imprisoned for gang violence before Benji was even born. He grew up with gangsters, addicts and gamblers.


By 17, Benji had been sentenced to a boys’ home twice.

By the time he was 13, he had been sent to a boys’ home for theft. At 21, he was imprisoned for drug offences. It was during his ninth time in prison when he was 38 that he converted to Christianity. (Read Part 1 of Benji’s tumultous childhood here.)

“I felt a peace, like cool air in me, like something was pressing on me.”    

A double life 

Upon his release in 2010, Benji refused to go to a halfway house. Because of his experience at the boys’ home, he assumed that halfway houses were “full of bad people who were fakes”, and that they could not help him stay clean.

He did go to church, though, and even became a cell group leader. But, as he told Salt&Light in Mandarin, he was “still after the things of the world”.


When he got out of prison the ninth time, Benji joined a church and even started serving there.

“I wanted quick money. I wanted a big car, big house for my mum to be filial to her. I wanted to have a wife and support her.”

As a contract cleaner, there was no way he could fulfil those dreams. So he turned to old contacts for a way to make a quick buck.

“They said, ‘Aren’t you a Christian? Didn’t you say you wanted to be a counsellor?’ I told them, ‘No money how to be a Christian? No money how to be a counsellor?’”

Benji at his baptism. But within a year, he would be imprisoned for the 10th time.

Just like that, Benji returned to trafficking drugs.

When the withdrawal symptoms came, he rushed downstairs to the rubbish dump to retrieve the drugs he had tossed out.  

“The Holy Spirit did prompt me to turn back. I felt awful, very pek chek (frustrated), like I couldn’t breathe. I thought it was asthma.”

When he confided in a friend, his friend offered him alcohol. That was how Benji drowned out the Spirit’s gentle promptings.

At first, he thought he could sell drugs but not consume them. He was wrong. Before long, Benji was addicted again. He was still going to church and serving as a cell group leader. But he increasingly felt that “life had no meaning, might as well die.”

In a drug-fuelled moment of despair, he went to the 10th floor of his flat and thought of throwing himself over the parapet. As he was about to jump, he found himself calling out to his mother.

“That woke me up. It was as if my spirit came back. I told Him, ‘Thank You God that I didn’t jump. I’m not dead.’”


While he attended church and served, Benji also continued selling and using drugs.

Benji became determined to kick his drug habit. He threw away his entire stash and prayed to God for help. He had heard stories of those who had prayed their addiction away.

But within three hours, the withdrawal symptoms came. It was so horrible that he rushed downstairs to the rubbish dump to retrieve the drugs he had tossed out.  

A second chance

Within six months, Benji was arrested again. 

“My mother came to visit me in prison and told me, ‘Your God has no power.’

This would be his third arrest for drug trafficking and his 10th arrest for drug offences. 

As a repeat offender, he was looking at at least 15 years in prison and up to 17 strokes of the cane.

“My mother came to visit me in prison and told me, ‘Your God has no power.’

“I was so despondent. I gave up Christianity. For a year, I refused to go for Christian counselling.”

Knowing that his situation was “very jialat” (desperate), he pleaded with his lawyer to get him a sentence not amounting to 10 years.

Said Benji: “My lawyer asked me, ‘Did smoking Ice (crystal methamphetamine) damage your brains? You’re hardcore. At best, you can try for 12 years.’”

“It was not chance or luck. I could see God’s glory.”

Benji lost hope, but those around him did not. His pastor and Christian friends wrote to him to encourage him. Every one of them quoted the story of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

“I asked a Christian brother, ‘Why all the same?’ He said, ‘To encourage you not to give up. And also God wants to talk to you. He wants you to come back.’

“I was so moved. Tears were going to come out. But I controlled myself because I believed a man cannot cry.”

With nothing left but faith, Benji prayed to God for a lighter sentence. Against all odds, when sentencing came, he was given nine-and-a-half years.

“That was a miracle. When I went back to my cell, I prayed, ‘This is You, God.’

“This time I had the courage to give God the glory. It was not chance or luck. I could see God’s glory. It was not a coincidence. Now I feel He will always be with me.”

Half-way house, whole-way hope

Benji’s 10th incarceration was his last. When he finished his sentence, he went to halfway house The New Charis Mission.

The continual immersion in God’s Word and the constant support of fellow Christians there were integral to his renouncing of his old life.


Being at halfway house, The New Charis Mission, helped Benji kick his drug habit for good.

“When we talk about worldly things like how we spend our money, what gangs we were from, those who were more mature (in the faith) would tell me, ‘You have to change your mindset.’”

The time at The New Charis Mission also helped him cut ties with his old friends and turn to his new ones. When he completed the nine-month programme, he signed up for more time at the halfway house. In all, he spent four years there.

Benji and his wife (right, in red) with friends and their family from The New Charis Mission.

“I wanted to stay more because I saw my own change and my family’s joy. I realised I could make my family happy and not worried.”

“I can’t prove myself. But God can.”

The new Benji came as a surprise to his family.

Six months into the programme, Benji could converse with his father without raising his voice or spewing vulgarities. He was gentler with his mother as well.

On one particular home visit, he went to the bathroom. While there, he overheard his father say: “He hasn’t changed.”

His father had assumed that he had gone to the bathroom to take drugs, as was his habit in the past.

“My tears fell. I thought, ‘How come my family also do not believe me? What must I do for them to believe me?’”

“After I washed my face, I told them, ‘I hurt you for over 20 years. You don’t trust me anymore because I kept saying I wanted to changed, but I never did.


Benji now serves in the prison ministry, sharing the Good News with the “brothers” he once knew on the inside.

“’I can’t prove myself. But God can.’”

Then he shared the Gospel with his parents.

The power of change

In time, Benji also asked his father for forgiveness. He had once taken a knife to threaten his father.

“I saw his eyes become red when I apologised. I cried. He told me, ‘You have changed. I see hope.’”

A year after that, his father became a Christian. His mother took a little longer.

Benji (right) with his parents. Both became Christians because they saw how God had transformed him.

“She told me, ‘I can’t because I still want to pray to our ancestors. And this new God – cannot drink, cannot gamble, cannot swear, cannot buy 4D.’”

“I saw my father’s eyes become red when I apologised. I cried. He told me, ‘You have changed. I see hope.’”

Benji understood exactly her hesitation. He, too, had once thought that Christianity would rob him of his freedom.

“I thought that I could have freedom without God. But, in reality, I didn’t. I had no choice not to smoke. I had no choice not to take drugs.

“Now I have the freedom to choose. I can choose not to smoke. If I don’t want to take drugs, I can.”

He decided he would pray for his mother. For three years, he persevered.

Then his mother fell and could not walk to her mahjong sessions. Benji’s pastor visited her and prayed for her. When he asked her if she wanted to accept Jesus then, she told him she did.

“I said to her, ‘Don’t say yes to humour them. Why do you even want to be a Christian? You don’t go to church or read the Bible.’

Benji (right, second) with (left to right) his sister-in-law and brother, father, niece, mother and wife.

“She said, ‘It’s you. I see your life changed.’”

As she said that, she wept. Benji was moved to tears as well and he led his mother through the Sinner’s Prayer.

Benji also reconciled with his younger brother who had told him to “die in prison and don’t come out”. During one Chinese New Year, he told his brother: “Please forgive me. I have not been a good brother. I have not cared for our parents.”

What changed his brother’s attitude towards him was not just the apology but the changed life Benji now lives.

Benji (centre with flowers) at his graduation from Tung Ling Bible School.

The man who once told his fellow prisoners to reject Christianity now serves in the prison ministry, going there every month to share God’s love and truth with the inmates.

“I am different from the past.”


Gang member at 15, incarcerated 6 times, yet God used this “hardcore addict” to bring hope through House of Anatole

“I was a condemned case. Prison couldn’t cure me”: In prison 4 times, caned 15 times, he thought he would die a drug addict

“I cannot, God, but You can”: She gave birth in prison, but still struggled to kick addiction

About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.