A recalcitrant drug addict, gang member and drug dealer, life had hardened Benji Wong. Seen here in his 30s, Benji would be in prison for the 9th time before a remarkable change happened. All photos courtesy of Benji Wong.

Benji Wong was 43 years old by the time he was released from prison for the ninth time. It would not be his last imprisonment.

A recalcitrant drug addict, gang member and drug dealer, life had hardened him. Neither incarceration nor caning could make him turn his life around.

“When we are caned, our skin splits and we bleed. But I would still sit down in spite of the pain. Pride. Mianzi (save face).

“I would tell the prison officers, ‘Sir, caning is nothing to me’,” Benji, now 56, recounted to Salt&Light in Mandarin.

“The pain is so bad that if it were a bull, it would run away so fast it could win first prize in the Olympics.  

“But when I was caned, I didn’t scream. If you scream, when you go back, you will have a hard time. The other prisoners will look down on you.”

“When we are caned, our skin splits and we bleed. But I would still sit down in spite of the pain. Pride. Mianzi (save face).”

Benji was also firmly against the Christian faith.

“Because that one is ang moh (Western) religion. I was always fanpai (rebellious).

“I would tell people not to become Christians, even going so far as to tell them, ‘If you raise your hands during worship, you must leave the gang in prison.’”

Instead of reading the Bible that was handed out, Benji would tear out the pages and roll them into cigarettes.

“The pages are very thin. So very good for making cigarettes. When the pastor asked, ’Why is your Bible getting thinner and thinner?’

“We would tell him, ‘We read the Bible and consumed the Word. That’s why the Bible became thinner.’”  

Then, without his permission, a friend of his in prison who was a Christian signed him up for Bible study classes. The man had repeatedly tried to share the Gospel with Benji only to be told off.

“I quarrelled with him. I wanted to go for IT classes.”

Despite Benji’s protests, he was made to attend Bible study classes.

They did nothing to break down his defences. He would have to go through a lot more to be brought to his knees.

Wayward from the start

Benji’s father was a gangster who was sent to prison for being involved in a gang fight even before Benji was born. His mother was a homemaker. 

“I grew up with gangsters, gamblers and addicts. I saw them fight, take drugs.”

By Primary Two, Benji had given up school. From there, he soon slid into a life of crime and drugs.

He dropped out of school when he was in Primary Two. He was mischievous and home life was unstable.

“I grew up with gangsters, gambler and addicts.”

His father was fierce when sober, violent when drunk. Once, in a fit of rage, he pinned young Benji to the wall. 

“I was beaten every day.”

When he was 13, he and his friends snuck into a closed sports store and stole shoes and sports equipment, as well as blank cheques.

They would have gotten away with it if two of his friends had not returned to the scene of the crime to steal some more. They were caught and they ratted Benji out. He was sent to a boy’s home for three years.

From bad to worse

Instead of reforming him, Benji’s stint at the boy’s home introduced him to a world of even more deviant behaviour. When he was allowed home leave after six months, he joined a gang in his neighbourhood.

“My friends asked me to join the gang. It was quite a powerful gang. I thought, ‘Why not? With a gang, I would have some backing. It would be so impressive.’”

“My friends asked me to join the gang. I thought, ‘Why not? It would be so impressive.'”

His house became weapons central. The knives and chains his gang used were kept at Benji’s place because it was conveniently located.

He served 18 months of his three-year sentence at the boys’ home. A few months after his release, he stole a tee-shirt from a shopping centre.

“For fun, for thrills,” Benji told Salt&Light when asked why he did what he did.

The security guard caught him red-handed but let him off with a warning. High on drugs, Benji was determined to shoplift successfully. He returned to the store. He was caught again. This time, the security guard handed him to the authorities.

Benji was sent to the boys’ home once more. The sentence this time was 12 months.

“I felt no remorse, no regret.”

Beginnings of addiction

By the time he was released from the boys’ home the second time, Benji was 17 and deep in gang activities and drugs. Not only did he sniff glue, he also consumed and sold sleeping pills and marijuana.


By 17, Benji was a full-fledged gangster. Dealing in drugs would get him addicted to heroin, an addiction he could not shake off on his own.

Even serving National Service and getting arrested and sent to the detention barrack for not turning up at his army vocation did not slow him down.

Then he became addicted to heroin.

“My heart wanted to get rid of the addiction, but my body was too weak.”

“I went to my supplier to get marijuana. He told me it was out of stock and offered me zhuzai (little piglets) instead.”

Benji did not know it was heroin. He gave it a try and was hooked.

But he did not know he had become a heroin addict. When he did not get his fix, he would experience a runny nose, headaches and fever. He thought he was sick and went to see a doctor. The medication was of no help. So he decided to consult another doctor.

“I met my friend along the way and told him my symptoms – flu-like and sleepy. He said, ‘No need medicine. I give you heroin.’

“After two puffs, I was okay. He told me, ‘You are addicted.’”

Benji’s addiction would lead him to be arrested for drug consumption and trafficking, and be sent to prison for the first time when he was 21.


By the time Benji was in his 20s, he was heavily addicted to drugs.

“My heart wanted to get rid of the addiction, but my body was too weak. The body aches, the yawning, the hot and cold, loss of appetite, diarrhoea – I couldn’t tolerate it.”

In prison, he would meet other addicts and drug dealers, strengthening his connections in the local drug scene.

“When I came out, I would look for them straight away.”

The conversion

Benji would be in and out of prison for the next two decades. It was during his ninth prison sentence in 2005 that he was forced to attend Bible study classes.

“I didn’t pay attention. When the teacher asked people to pray, I would hide in the toilet. I was scared of being asked to pray.”

When this happened week after week, a fellow inmate at the Bible study class confronted Benji.

Benji (left) at a church anniversary celebration. During his ninth imprisonment, he became a Christian. Upon his release, he attended City Harvest Church. He is now at Eagle’s Nest Church with his wife.

“He showed me 2 Timothy 1:7 – that God did not give us a spirit of fear.

“I asked him what it meant and he said, ‘You take heroin, take knives to slash people. You do all these things and you are not scared. Ask you to pray and you are so scared, you hide.’


At the annual Unlabelled Run, organised by Christian halfway house New Charis Mission.

“What he said was like a knife to my heart. But like the seed that fell on the rocky path, after I heard it, I forgot the words. (Mark 4:1-20)”

Benji did stay on in the Bible study classes. His cell mate, who was a Christian, also taught him about Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

“I thought I was a new creation, that I wouldn’t go back to taking drugs.”

During chapel one day, the pastor preached about the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). When it came to the verse where Jesus told Mary: “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40), Benji’s heart was “beating so fast”.

“The pastor asked me, ‘Do you believe in Jesus? If you want to believe, stand up.’ I was like a man possessed. I stood up. My friend pulled my hand and said, ‘What are you doing?’

“I told him, ‘I want to give it a try. If it doesn’t work, I’m going to tear his ministry down.’”

Just like that, the pastor led Benji in the Sinner’s Prayer.

“I felt a peace, like cool air in me, like something was pressing on me. When I told my friend, he said, ‘You’ve gone mad!’”

For the remaining years of his seven-year sentence, Benji dedicated himself to Bible study.

“I felt very proud to know God, knew the Bible, knew how to pray and sing worship songs. I felt I had changed. And I thought I was a new creation, that I wouldn’t go back to taking drugs.”

He would soon learn that he could not embrace the new without first renouncing the old.  

How would God touch and transform the heart of this hardened criminal? Read Part 2 of Benji’s story here.


A gang member at 8 and secret society boss at 16, he now leads his “brothers” to freedom

Gangster at 14, boys’ home at 15, it was a single verse in a song that changed his life

He grew up in a rough neighbourhood and God told him: “Go back and build a home for my children”

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.