“The last time I was incarcerated, I spent three years at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre. I was released back in December 2002 and I’ve stayed clean ever since.

I went in for heroin consumption. I never took ice or ecstasy because I don’t like anything that makes me hallucinate or gives me illusions. Heroin and marijuana were my drugs of choice because they helped me relax.

But what most people don’t know about heroin are the long-term effects. When I stopped taking it, I started to fall sick easily. The drug affects your bones and teeth and my body still aches even after 16 years of being clean. My memory can be quite bad too.

I started with marijuana at 13 and went on to heroin at 14. It was for fun; I wasn’t under any peer pressure and I had no family problems. When I saw my friends looking so care-free when they were high, I wanted to feel good too. Over time, drugs became an addiction.

When you’re trapped in a life with drugs, you don’t think about anyone else. Drugs, instead of family, are your first priority. I remembered how I had to carry my daughter – who was only 18-months-old at the time – in the police car when the Central Narcotics Bureau caught me.

Because she was so young, we couldn’t be separated. I had to bring her into the detention centre and we were locked up together. What’s worse is that I had a 6-month-old son then but I could not be with him due to the arrest. At that point, I realised how drugs had ruined my life.

In prison, I thought about the many different changes I needed to make. I wanted a better life for my kids, and for that to happen, I had to quit drugs. I also thought about how I needed to make wiser decisions when choosing a partner because my previous one was bad influence for me.

My current husband is eight years younger than me and we have three kids together. To me, age doesn’t account for anything. What’s important is that sense of responsibility, and he’s a very responsible father to all of my kids. He makes sure all of them prioritise their studies.

After we had taken our wedding vows, he stopped smoking and drinking. He also worked hard to improve our financial situation. One day, he told me it wasn’t fair that only one person was making the effort to change, so I had to push myself and quit all of my bad habits as well.

I think one of the hardest things that I’ve had to experience was losing my son. When I was arrested, my in-laws took custody of him and became his legal guardians. I wanted to take him back after my release but my mother told me not to and asked me not to destroy the love they had built over the years.

She’s right. I didn’t want him to experience any trauma if I took him away from the family he knew. I was responsible for what had happened so I couldn’t blame anyone else. They raised my son and always told him I’m the biological mother. I’m very grateful for that.

No, I’m not concerned about public opinion because public opinion changes. What matters is how my family views me. It was not easy earning their trust again. They may always look at me as a bad person, but the only thing I can do at this point is be a better mother to my children.

ISCOS has been great because they offer bursaries which helped a lot with my children’s education. They organise a lot of fun family activities as well and I always try to make sure my kids participate.

My kids also have mentors as part of the ISCOS’ Fairy Godparent Programme. The mentors are there as friends, and I think it’s important for my kids to have someone to talk to because they don’t share everything with me or my husband.

With my kids, I never confront them about problems they might have but I always keep an eye on any changes in behaviour. I know what it’s like to have negative influence in your life so I’m glad the mentors provide feedback on how my kids are doing.

Yes, I feel blessed right now. My husband and I are working hard to create a good life for our family. Whenever I’m tempted to do anything bad, I just look at my children’s faces as they remind me of what’s important. I’ve lost my son; I don’t want to lose anything else.” – Norlinda, 43

Norlinda Bte Mohd Yusof is a member of ISCOS.

Humans of ISCOS is a collaboration between The Everyday People and ISCOS, a co-operative that helps ex-offenders in Singapore. Read more here.