In his black hoodie jacket and slim-cut jeans, Andi cuts a youthful figure. He certainly does not look out of place heading to his mechanical engineering class at ITE College East in the evenings.
“Since I was young, I liked to dismantle things and put them back together. I feel like a doctor when I’m successful in putting things back together. That's why I'm studying mechanical engineering,” said Andi. “I have been learning a lot about physics in my studies now, and it’s related to my work as a technician.”
Andi has a year or so to go before he finishes his Higher NITEC certification course, and he is not one to waste time. Outside of his day job, he spends most of his time studying – either attending evening classes thrice a week after work, doing revisions or e-learning on his own on weekends.
He has big dreams: obtaining a Higher NITEC certificate, a diploma and one day, a degree from Nanyang Technological University. To fulfil these dreams, Andi pushes himself to the limit. “I used to have classes four times a week after work. I wanted to complete my course in 2 years. But I struggled with lack of sleep. I had to take energy drinks every time. Now I’m doing only thrice a week.” he recalled, laughing.
Support to rebuild a life
Looking at Andi today, with his quiet demeanour and a slow but purposeful stride, it was hard to imagine what life was like for him just a few years. Then, Andi had just stepped out of prison and was sleeping at bus stops because he had no home to return to.
The support he received from The Yellow Ribbon Project, the gradual acceptance of his family and his positive attitude helped him through those tough times. Determined to make a better life for himself, Andi started taking many courses, in the hope of picking up different skills to fall back on for a job. “Every day when I wake up, I hope to learn something new. There were a lot of people around me who were willing to teach me,” said Andi.
When he decided to enrol in ITE, he received financial support through the Temasek Foundation Cares STAR Bursary, which helps ex-offenders pursue vocational training, skills upgrading and further education to improve their employability and gain self-sufficiency.
“Before having the bursary, I have to put money aside from my pay for studies,” Andi explained. “I would mindfully save $100 to $200 each month. But with this bursary, I can just concentrate on my studies,”
Making up for lost time
Ever appreciative of the support he has been given, Andi does not want to let anyone down. That was why he was disappointed about missing his Grade Point Average (GPA) target of 3.5 last semester. “But my (Yellow Ribbon Project) officer consoled me by saying, ‘You’ve tried your best,’” he shared.
He makes it up by working even harder. “My time is gold. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes, I study. I work. I have my notes in my bag all the time. During my lunch time, I don’t go out. I eat in and revise my notes at the same time. I try to memorise all the formulas during my free time.”
Andi spends all his time studying, perhaps because he feels that he needs to make up for the time he had lost while he was incarcerated.
“In prison, I had all the time in the world, but I had no freedom! When I looked out of the small window in my cell, all I saw were barb wires,” he recalled. “Everyone else outside was earning money and providing for their families. I don’t want to waste my time anymore.”
Trying to be successful in his studies is Andi’s biggest motivation today. He hopes to open a small business or experiment with hydroponics if the opportunity arises in the future.
Choosing light or darkness
What is a piece of advice he would give to someone coming out of prison? “I will ask him, ‘Which direction do you want to go – do you want to stay in the light and go down a new path, or go down the same dark path again?’”
He underscored the outcome of choosing the dark path. “You can’t work, you can’t earn money, you can’t do anything! Your life is at a standstill inside. Why go back to prison? Don’t waste your time!”
He also hopes the world would give ex-offenders a second chance to prove themselves. “They can be better than what you expect,” he said.
The Temasek Foundation Cares STAR Bursary provides ex-offenders with financial help for part of their course fees and living expenses while they are studying. Since 2009, 28 students have received the Bursary and 14 have graduated (as at 2015).