Sharing by Mark Ong Kerven’s testimony on his life journey after going to prisons twice

Good Morning Minister of State, Sirs and Mdms, Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Mark Ong Kerven and I am really honoured to be invited back again to share my testimony at this year’s NYAA ceremony.

2. Please allow me to give a brief introduction of myself. Since 1998, I had been in prison twice. When I was eighteen years old, I was sentenced to RTC, and subsequently in 2004, I was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment due to drug related offences. During my imprisonment, I had stayed at QRP, Cluster A and KBC. It was at KBC that I was given the opportunity to sit for the GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels. I was eventually released from prison in 2008.

3. When I was younger and still active in SS activities, I aimed to be a big brother with many people following me and greeting me whenever they saw me. I had great plans for myself and I put my time and energy into things that I thought would boost my standing in life. Needless to say, I did not get any long term gains by getting into fights, carrying out extortion and peddling drugs. Instead, I ended up in Prison for quite a few years.

4. Because of my imprisonment I lost 6 years of my youth, went through a divorce, lost my family, my house, and the precious opportunity to bond with my baby daughter. So, if there is one thing that drives me, it would be my desire to make up for lost time, and it is this very desire that makes me want to let go of my past and to make good by giving my best in whatever I set out to do in the future.

5. When I was released in 2008, reality struck me and I quickly came to realize that life was not going to be a bed of roses. I joined a design firm called ‘Creacts Pte Ltd.’ and I really struggled with my job during the first 2 years. It was very stressful and tiring because I always felt that I had to work doubly hard compared to others due to my background. Even though I was not being judged by others, I could not help but feel judged and there were times where I would feel inferior. Thankfully, my boss did not penalize me for my past but instead, he saw the merits of my work and performance. For that I was promoted from being an Executive to an Account Manager. At the same time, I had also enrolled myself into an undergraduate course in Counselling at UniSIM.

6. Then in 2010, I decided to have a change of environment and I took up a job at Marine Services Pte Ltd. as a crewing agent, handling mainly administrative and immigration matters for crews signing on and off vessels. Concurrently, I had also setup my own business – MLA Design and Construction Engineering. It was an exciting time for me but I was kept extremely busy due to the commitment and attention required from both jobs. Thus, I had to make the painful decision of deferring my studies last year because it was just not possible to carry on with school while maintaining two jobs. However, I remain positive as things have stabilized and I would be resuming with the final year of my undergraduate course later this year in July.

7. At this point I would like to thank my mum who was my pillar of support throughout this whole time. When I quit my job at Creacts, I had to move a lot of things back home and my house was in a huge mess. Now my mum is someone who likes tidiness in the house so you can imagine how frustrating it must have been for her to endure living in a messy house. However, she did not reprimand me nor did she falter in encouraging me to pursue my career and my studies. To be real, there are times when I still make her angry or feel like she is too much of a nag, but I know at the end of the day, she loves me unconditionally and cares for me regardless.

8. In closing and for those who would be releasing soon, I would like to share an incident which occurred sometime last year. The scenario was like this, I was having coffee with one of my contractors and he was complaining to me about this driver that he had recently employed. The contractor said that the driver was lazy and that he would consistently come to work looking very stoned and wasted. In fact, the contractor suspected that the driver was on drugs. I was curious, so I asked my contractor if he had any evidence to confirm his suspicions. The contractor then proudly told me that his driver had gone to jail before and it was a done deal for people like that. In fact, his actual words were, ‘aiyoh this type of people never change one lah. You think go prison can change them meh, useless lah they all.’ The contractor continued to say many negative things.

9. I was rather shocked after listening to all that negativity. But, I kept myself together, looked at the contractor straight in his eyes and told him that I had gone to prison before. I told him, ‘look at my tattoos, you think I was a good guy in the past? If you think that they can’t change, then I’m a walking example to prove that you are wrong. If you say that ex-offenders are useless, who is the one giving you money and jobs to do now? Not everyone who went into prison is bad. They have paid for their offence and it is up to them to make the choice of whether to continue with their old ways or to live a new and changed life.’ You can imagine how surprised he was and I really wanted to laugh because bewilderment was written all over his face as he sat there speechless with his mouth wide opened.

10. I went on to share with my contractor that I had seen many individuals who had fallen again after their release from prison. I also shared that there were times when I had wanted to give up too, especially when things did not go my way or when I encountered failure. Drugs and easy money are real temptations, but at the end of the day I managed to tell myself to persevere and be contented with what I have instead of feeling conceited and upset about things that I do not have. ‘Perseverance, self-reflection, endurance and contentment’ – These are attributes that I had cultivated during my stay in KBC and even today, they continue to keep me grounded as I cope with my struggles.

There is one lesson I hope you can learn from this – the challenges that you will face after your release are real, but with strong support from your family and the community, it is not impossible to achieve your dreams. The most important thing is your own motivation to change and believing in yourself.

11. To the award recipients, I would like to encourage you to put the skills that you have learnt through the programme to good use, and to continue to have open minds so as to learn positive things. Your real challenge only starts outside. Do not waste your time in prison. Instead, continue to explore the other side of yourselves which you never thought you were capable of becoming or achieving. Remember that no one can make you feel worthless without your consent. Ultimately, it is your choice in everything you do and in everything you want your life to be. Congratulations once again and all the best to each one of you. Thank you.

Link :

Masagos Zulkifli       Masagos Zulkifli

I was at the NYAA and heard Kerven’s testimony on his life journey after going to prisons twice! 

He has allowed me to post it on FB. You should really read it to the end. He is doing well now and I’d attribute it to his perseverance, the community supporting him and more importantly his mother ‘who was my pillar of support throughout this whole time’.

Here’s to all mothers for always being there for us and to all women who are our better half.

Happy International Women’s day!

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