'I wanted to be a better mother and someone my family could be proud of,' says former teen drug addict

SINGAPORE – By the time Ms Hannah Chun was 20, she had been jailed twice for drug offences and had given birth to her eldest child behind bars.

When her son was three, he mimicked her behaviour of smoking cigarettes. This shocked her and made her determined to give up drugs.

Ms Chun, now a 36-year-old housewife and mother of four children, said: “I wanted to be a better mother and someone my family could be proud of. I also found comfort in Christianity.”

She has three sons aged six, nine and 17, and a two-year-old daughter.

Ms Chun’s motivation for leaving the world of drugs resonates with other women drug abusers here, a local study has found.

Published in the Journal of Women and Criminal Justice in August, it found that women drug offenders who were able to abstain from drug taking were usually motivated to do so for their families.

The researchers interviewed 11 women drug offenders aged between 27 and 43 who were serving the tail-end of their sentences in the community, under the supervision of prison officers.

The study cited eight participants, all of whom were mothers, who had used their children’s presence as anchors that motivated them to improve their life positively post-incarceration.

The authors of the study stated: “They felt the responsibility to set good examples to their children and would prioritise their needs after release.”

Others channelled their desire to be better daughters and wives into motivation to stay clean after incarceration.

A common issue these offenders faced, however, was difficulty communicating with their families.

Nine out of the 11 interviewees said they were reluctant to share their problems with family members, as they assumed their families would have adverse or unhelpful reactions to their problems.

This had contributed to them seeking the company of drug-taking peers in the first place.

At a briefing to reporters on Wednesday (Nov 24), Ms Lowshanthini Panesilvam, one of the study’s authors, said: “Even if they have found this new identity (as a mother, wife or daughter) that they want to focus on, if the relationships at home are not taken care of, they might fall back into the same pattern of anti-social behaviours.”

Ms Lowshanthini, who is a psychologist at the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana), added: “If we feel that family issues are a threat to maintaining their sobriety, we will refer them back to their case workers.”

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Sana will be organising a webinar on Dec 9 about the recovery process of women drug offenders, with Ms Lowshanthini and Ms Chun among its speakers.

The number of women convicted of drug-related offences in Singapore has been increasing, from 371 in 2019 to 471 last year.

For Ms Chun, her husband of 10 years, Mr Caleb Toh, 44, has been her greatest pillar of support. They met at a nightclub where she was working as a hostess at age 22.

Mr Toh, who is self-employed, is the father of their three younger children.

Ms Chun said: “He helped me find interests that made me see life beyond drugs. We went for cooking classes together and I ran a beauty business doing facial and massages for a while.”

She is now an executive member at Christian charity organisation The Turning Point, which offers shelter to women offenders.

Ms Chun added that her husband never condemned or shamed her when she felt herself slipping back to past behaviours.

She said: “He always encouraged me and I felt I could share my struggles with him openly. That really helped me stay on the path to recovery.”

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