“You must study hard and become a doctor or a lawyer”. Mr Goh Siew Chuan, 66 years old, remembered vividly what his mother asked of him. She was not educated but was kind, gentle and had hope for the best for her only child. However, that was not the path he chose.
Growing up in the 1960s in a kampong in Geylang, Mr Goh was exposed to triads in the neighbourhood. His very own father was a gang leader and violence was a common sight. Though he had a small build, he yearned to be “respected”, just like his dad.
When he was 16 years old, he moved out after fighting with his mother, and stayed with friends from the gang. He started making quick bucks from illegal activities, fighting rival gangs and hiding from the police. He was arrested and imprisoned for the first time when he was 18, for injuring someone in a gang fight. For the next 40 years, he went in and out of prison 13 times for a variety of offences, including manslaughter.
His final sentence was in 2001 for more than 10 years. After being released in 2012, he decided finally to change for good. He said, “I was already in my 50s. I was tired of running away from enemies and a life in prison, without freedom.” However, his mother did not get to see him turn over a new leaf. “Now I understand why my mother was sad and against me taking this path. But she had already passed on.”
He found work as a repairman, servicing air conditioners and washing machines. Being in his 50s, it was physically challenging to lift heavy objects, but he persisted in making an honest living. In 2014, he suffered from pelvic organ prolapse and had to switch to being dishwasher after treatment. Tragedy struck again in 2015 when he had difficulty swallowing and was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.
His home is a one-room rental flat with a co-tenant. When his cancer spread, he could no longer work due to the pain in his shoulders. He also had difficulty sleeping due to extreme pain. In March 2019, he was referred to Assisi Hospice’s Home Care service. He looked forward to regular visits from our nurses, doctors and medical social workers as we attended to not only his medical needs, but also his emotional needs. The team gave detailed explanation of his symptoms, medications and engaged him in meaningful conversations. When we noticed that he was sleeping on the floor and saw that his flat was barely furnished, we quickly purchased a mattress and pillows for him. Importantly, we provided him an ecosystem of support which he didn’t have due to his years behind bars.
Mr Goh was thankful and felt comforted that, in the end, he was not judged and not alone in his journey on earth. Our favourite gangster passed away peacefully on 20 June 2019.