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“I struggled a lot with phone calls from my so-called ‘friends’. I struggled between whether I wanted to go back and mix with them, or if I want to turn over a new leaf,” Aloysius Ong reveals the challenges he faced in the beginning when he got his first job after being released from prison.
“It’s just a snap of a finger to actually go back [to my old habits] or be a new self,” he says. He was incarcerated for drug offences and had secured employment with RE&S Enterprises with assistance from Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG). “There’s a bound of stigma surrounding ex-offenders,” he reveals. “I was assisted by Yellow Ribbon Singapore, formerly known as SCORE, which helped me find employment before my release. So [I didn’t experience] many challenges finding a job.”
The 42-year-old also gives credit to YRSG for guiding him in the early stages of his employment. Other than providing him with the opportunity to work with RE&S, his YRSG career coach helped him improve his work performance. The career coach checked in with him regularly to find out if he was doing well at work and conducted weekly reviews to help develop a habit of self-assessment that contributed to his career growth.
But it was also his determination to escape his old life that brought Aloysius this far. For six months, he buried himself in work every day. “Even on off days, if they need people, I will go back to work,” he shares. “Because I know once we have free time, we will just drift back to who we were last time. So, if I had drifted back, you would not see me here today.”
Aloysius also made it a point to grow his passion for his job. He enjoyed being able to feed a thousand mouths a day, watching customers leave his restaurants happy and satisfied. It made him want to improve himself further, so he enrolled himself at SHATEC to grow his culinary skills.
Because of his dedication, as well as the support from his employer and team members, Aloysius climbed up the ranks each year over the six years with the company. From a humble kitchen staff, he now leads the back of house at Ichiban Boshi, one of the restaurants under RE&S, at its Parkway Parade, VivoCity and Jurong Point outlets. Now he has approximately 30 staff under his care.
Not only is he thriving at work, but Aloysius also gives back to the community by helping to mentor others who, like him, are coming back to the workforce after incarceration. As an ex-offender himself, Aloysius understands the plight they are in. “They face the same issues that I faced when I first came out. They feel left alone or different, and they feel isolated. They are afraid that we look at them with a different point of view, where they are totally wrong,” he reveals. “We have to keep reminding them they are actually the same, and we accept them with open arms.”
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As someone who understands and empathises with other ex-offenders, Aloysius takes great responsibility in encouraging them, especially as their senior. “My job is to ensure that they feel comfortable with their job environment. I will brief my staff to be more patient towards them,” he says.
Whether or not they choose to stay, he remains their friend and mentor. After all, he knows it is important to help guide them down the right path so they do not relive their past. Not to mention, Aloysius is a role model that they can look up to, having spent six years with RE&S and getting promoted every year.
To others who are struggling with employment because of their past, Aloysius advises them not to be afraid to step out of their comfort zone and seek new opportunities. “Believe in yourself, as hard work will pay off,” he says.
“If I can do it, so can you.”