“I couldn’t get love”: Beaten by his dad, abandoned by his mum, jailed 4 times. What hope was there of reconciliation?
TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains mention of a suicide attempt that some may find distressing.
by Christine Leow // March 17, 2023, 4:39 pm
Alvin Chiong tried many times to give up drugs. It was only when he surrendered his life to God that he saw real, lasting change. All photos courtesy of Alvin Chiong.
When Alvin Chiong was deep in his addiction to drugs, he was a very different man.
Weighing just 45kg then, he was rail thin because the heroin he consumed made him lose his appetite. Even when he did want to eat, he would not, in order to save money for drugs.
He would sleep for up to 36 hours at a stretch. The methamphetamine he took made him unusually alert. But after the high came the extreme drowsiness.
“Drugs can destroy not just a person but the whole family.”
He could not hold down a job either because he would be hiding in the bathroom taking drugs or suffering from withdrawal symptoms and looking for his next fix.
To finance his habit, he would peddle drugs because few other jobs could pay him better since his highest academic qualification was a PSLE certificate.
In all, he was sent to prison four times and caned three times. His wife, unable to get him to quit and frightened by the man he had become, walked out on him, taking their two sons with her.
“That didn’t stop me from taking drugs. You can imagine how drugs can destroy not just a person but the whole family.
“They always say, ‘I use my own money to buy drugs, I don’t disturb people.’ But they never think about their family,” said the 52-year-old.
Even several stays at Christian halfway houses could not help Alvin get out of the vice-like grip of drugs.
Like father like son
Taking drugs and being a gangster was nothing new to Alvin. His father, a tailor by trade, was a drug addict who mixed with gangsters from Chinatown.
“When I was a kid, he would ask me to collect drugs for him and then he would give me a little money for my effort,” recalled Alvin.
“I couldn’t get love at home.”
Home was not a stable or happy place. His father drank, gambled and had a violent temper. Fights at home were commonplace.
”He would beat my brother and me, and I have seen him beat my mother.”
When Alvin was seven, his mother, unable to tolerate any more abuse, left the family. From that time until she passed away from a blood-related illness when he was 12, he only saw her twice.
By nine, Alvin had begun crashing at his friends’ houses instead of going home.
“I couldn’t get love at home.”
Soon he joined the neighbourhood gang and had his first taste of drugs – sleeping pills. The effort of fighting off the effects of the pills was what gave him the high he sought.
To support himself, he took on part-time jobs, selling otak (fish cake wrapped in pandan leaf) on weekdays, newspapers on weekends and snacks at the National Stadium whenever there were football matches.
“I felt quite okay about myself then. I managed to make quite a bit of money on my own.”
At school, he was bullied because of his family background until he learnt to stand up for himself. Then he became the bully. Not one to enjoy studying, he dropped out after Secondary 1.
After that, gang fights, running loan shark operations and working at gambling dens became a part of his life, as did selling drugs to feed his habit.
Alvin did have a full-time job. He was a plumber. But he continued his gang activities at night.
It was while he was a plumber that he met his future wife. Mei was a 19-year-old student and he had gone to her home to fix a broken pipe. Alvin was 16.
“She is very different from me. She’s very quiet; I’m more outspoken. She doesn’t like to mix with people.
“But I think she knew I was in a gang because of my appearance. I kept my hair long in those days.”
Nine years after they first met, and after dating for seven years, they got married in 1997.
“We were not there to talk to God. We were there to pass messages to each other.”
Throughout, Alvin continued his drug habit. He became so unreliable when he experienced withdrawal symptoms that even his gang did not trust him with their activities.
Mei suspected that he was on drugs but she never had real proof, not till the day narcotics officers raided their home a year after they tied the knot. Husband and wife were taken in by the officers.
“She was terrified because the CNB (Central Narcotics Bureau of Singapore) officers came with guns.”
Alvin spent a few months behind bars, but his friend who was arrested alongside him was sentenced to death.
It did not frighten Alvin. When he was released, he returned to his old ways.
Mei did not leave him as he had feared. But she refused to let him back into their marital home. When she did let him come home after a year, he blew his chances at reconciliation.
“I was taking drugs in the toilet when she opened the toilet door.”
Mei moved out, taking their two sons, aged seven and one, with her. Two years later, she divorced him.
Alvin would be arrested again and again, and sent to prison repeatedly. But he could not get rid of his drug habit. Joining chapel services while incarcerated did not help either.
“We were not there to talk to God. We were there to pass messages to each other and talk to friends.”
What made Alvin finally take the first step to change was a failed suicide attempt. High on drugs one day, he tried to jump from his 10th-storey flat.
“I kept hearing this voice, ‘Jump down. You can settle everything this way. It’ll make your wife happy. Don’t give your family so much trouble.’
“But God intervened because I heard this very soft voice as well that said, ‘If you have the courage to jump down, why not take this courage and go to a halfway house?’”
Alvin enrolled in a private halfway house, Watchman’s Home. For a year, he was able to stay clean. But less than a week after he left the halfway house against their advice, he went back to taking drugs.
“I don’t understand what You are talking about in Scripture. Help me to understand and teach me how to apply it to my life.’
It got so bad that even when he enrolled in another halfway house, his addiction raged on. Alvin was caught taking drugs there three times and was asked to leave.
“I was basically like the devil.”
Out of desperation, he begged Watchman’s Home to take him in again.
“That was my turning point. When I went back, I prayed to God. This was the first time I prayed, ‘God can you help me? I’m not here to change my addiction. I want to change my life.’ I gave my life to God.”
The surrender to God rather than the search for a solution to his addiction made all the difference. For the first time, Alvin was able to really kick his drug habit. He stayed at the halfway house for three years, devoting himself to God’s Word although it was not easy.
“Every time there was Quiet Time or Devotions, I would open the Bible and fall asleep. I couldn’t understand anything because my education was only PSLE.
“So I prayed to God, ‘Help me. I don’t understand what You are talking about in Scripture. Help me to understand and teach me how to apply it to my life.’
“From that time, it got easier and easier for me to understand.”
He even quit smoking and got hired at the halfway house.
A new path forward
Having learnt the importance of being in the right community, Alvin promised God that he would not leave the halfway house till God told him to.
One day, he heard a voice in his head telling him to get out of the halfway house. For three weeks, every morning, the sentence came to him: “Get out of this place. This place cannot help you anymore.”
Troubled, he sought the advice of the director of the halfway house.
“He told me to go and pray. I did and I chose to believe it was God’s voice. I tendered my resignation. After that, there was no more voice telling me to leave.”
It was an act of faith on Alvin’s part because his application for a rental flat had not come through and he had no job. Three days before he had to leave the halfway house, Alvin challenged God.
“If God wants to use me to reach out to the brothers in prison, I will quit my full-time job.”
“I told him, ‘Why don’t I hear Your voice now? If this is from You, give me a sign.’ Of course, bo lah (nothing).”
He would repeat the challenge over the next two days. On the morning of his last day at the halfway house, HDB informed him that there was a rental flat ready for him. In the afternoon, a work contact offered him a job as a driver.
“It all came together.”
On his own again, Alvin made sure to remain connected with his Christian community this time. He went to church, got baptised and started a part-time course at a Bible school.
“The school’s minimum requirement is an ‘O’ level cert. I only have PSLE. But one day I shared my testimony at an evangelistic event in my church.
“The guest speaker was the principal of the Bible school. After my sharing she told me to come to the college. She said God had touched her.”
The open door would lead Alvin to remember a burden God had placed in his heart a while back.
“Because of the support group I was in and the pastor who mentored me, I remembered thinking, ‘If God wants to use me to go back and reach out to the brothers in prison, I will quit my full-time job and work part-time to do this.’”
By then, Alvin was working as a manager in a cleaning company. He had just been promoted and was due to receive a bonus. But, as volunteering in the prison ministry was what God wanted him to do, he quit his job.
“I had promised God. He had been gracious to me. But when I started my prison volunteer journey, I prayed, ‘God, now I have no job.’”
The next day, Alvin was offered three part-time jobs.
“I asked God which to pick and He said to take up the hawker assistant job. It turned out to be the most blessed one.”
His employer would give him love gifts to bless him and his sons. He would also let Alvin use his car to get to prison for his volunteer work where Alvin helped to conduct Bible study classes and run chapel services with the pastor. His employer even gave Alvin time off on Sundays.
There was one more piece of his life God would restore.
“I was preparing to share my testimony and I was praying, ‘God, I want to thank You for what I am today. I want to thank You for everything.’
“Then I heard this voice in my heart, ‘Go and thank your wife. She was the one who asked Me to save you.’”
“We serve an amazing God!”
Alvin had remained friends with his ex-wife after the divorce. He decided to contact her to verify what he had heard. When he spoke to her, he was shocked.
“She told me that when we were separated, she was very troubled and worried.
“At her parents’ place, she looked into the sky and although she was not a believer and had another religion, she prayed, ‘I don’t know how to help my husband. I know there is another God up there. If You can hear me, please go and help my husband.’”
When Alvin and Mei matched timelines, they realised that she had prayed around the time that he had been thinking of jumping from his 10th-storey flat.
“We serve an amazing God!” he told Salt&Light.
That day, Alvin invited Mei to his church to hear his testimony. At the church service, the pastor gave an altar call; Mei walked up and accepted Jesus as her Saviour that day.
The couple remarried in 2016. This time, they did it in church.
“Before we remarried, I apologised to my children.
“I told them, ‘I’m sorry that I didn’t fulfil my duty as a good father. I hope you can accept my apology. I’m coming back and I will be marrying your mama again. Are you okay with that?’”
Alvin is now taking a tour guide course to upgrade himself and work in a job that would let him continue to volunteer in prison.
“I tell the brothers in prison, ‘If you want to change your life, you have to start to do things differently. We always want to take hold of our own lives. It won’t be successful. You must give the steering wheel to God. Only God can help.’”
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