Growing up Dennis Goh had an absent father. A latch-key teenager looking for friends in the wrong places, he became part of the underworld, dabbled with illegal substances and was hooked on heroin at the tender age of 16. When he was 24, he was caught and put behind bars. Upon his release, he worked hard for several years and turned his life around. He got married and had a daughter. All was well until a senseless divorce broke him. To numb his pain, he once again turned to drugs, until he realised he had to seek help and kick the habit before it consumed him and get him into trouble with the law again. Now 46, Dennis has a meaningful career and shares a close bond with his 16 year old daughter, Glariel (pictured with Dennis).
Through this Father’s Day feature, Dennis hopes to inspire others with his story.
SGLS: How did you start dabbling with heroin?
Dennis: I started experimenting with benzodiazepines (sleeping pills) out of curiosity when I was 14 years old and became addicted to heroin by the age of 16. My dad was an absent parent during my formative years. Due to the lack of a father figure, and to feel a sense of belonging. I starting hanging out with a group of boys at my void deck and it was during this time that I was introduced to the underworld, where I joined a gang. It was also during this season of my life that I was exposed to drugs.
SGLS: How did you end up in prison? What did you do when you were released?
Dennis: I was caught and imprisoned for a year in 2000 for heroin possession and for selling pirated VCDs. The experience in prison was sobering and for the next 11 years, I managed to stay away from drugs.
At 27, through hard work and sheer grit, my career began to take off. My life was seemingly stable and secure. I settled down, got married and had a beautiful daughter. We named her Glariel.
However, things started falling apart when my (ex)wife filed for divorce. Despite trying my very best, I could not salvage my marriage. I spiralled into the abyss and within six months, I lost my job. My daughter was the only thing life had not taken from me.
To cope, I slipped back into my old habits and began trafficking heroin to supplement my personal usage. This carried on for a few years until 2014, when I finally got tired as I was living in fear daily – fear of being caught, as I would face decades in jail, the death sentence and most of all, I was terrified of losing my daughter.
That day, I decided to call a friend, Johnny Chin, from The New Charis Mission (TNCM) for help. Within the same month, I was admitted into TNCM’s Voluntary Residential Programme. With the help of programme counsellors, mentors and new friends, I began my journey towards a drug-free existence.
The Voluntary Residential Programme helped me realise that I had many deep-rooted fears which I did not have the courage to face; fear of falling back into my past habits and letting the people I love down again.
The team at TNCM patiently gave me all the support and time I needed. The breakthrough finally came when I managed to overcome my fears by sharing about them.
Today, after seven years, my life changed for the better. I am now working full time at TNCM Social Enterprise Unit, handling potential clients who require our services.
I also became part of TNCM’s mentorship programme, where I shared my life story with others about how I overcame substance abuse and how I turned my life around. I knew this was important to those who were in my shoes, so together with my colleagues, we provided a helping hand, a listening ear and showed others that it was possible to be drug-free.
I am currently studying at TCA Bible College, an accredited multi-disciplinary Christian College founded by Trinity Christian Centre in 1979. I am pursuing a Degree in Theology and I look forward to graduating in May 2023. In addition, I am also a Prison Counsellor, as well as personal assistant to the Executive Director.
SGLS: What was life in prison like?
Dennis: Prison life is not for the faint-hearted. It is very strict and regimented. Everyday, we wake up at the crack of dawn, perform our tasks until we go to bed. The same thing happens the next day. Being in prison made me treasure freedom and I am determined, not only for my own sake, but also for the sake of people who love me, to never journey down that dark path again.
SGLS: Tell us more about the relationship between you and your daughter. Does she know about your past?
Dennis: I was solo parenting for many years after my wife left us. So I had to be both a father as well as a mother to her. I told her about my past when she was 11 years old and she took it surprisingly well. God has been gracious to us and over the years, we have forged a strong father-daughter bond and we are very close. Glariel is now 16. I am very proud of her and love her very much.
SGLS. Does Glariel confide in you about school, her dreams, her life?
Dennis: Glariel is mature beyond her years. She shares a lot with me; her struggles in school, what makes her happy, she tells me about her friends and essentially all the issues that teenagers these days go through. It’s interesting to note that my daughter is very unique – she actually updates me about her whereabouts, which is rare for young people!
SGLS: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Dennis: God, through The New Charis Mission, has given me a new lease of life and I have been inspired to give back by teaching, and to continue our outreach efforts to ex-offenders, the marginalised and those who fall in between the cracks.
SGLS: Does Glariel have a special Father’s Day message?
Glariel: You are the best father a daughter could ever ask for. I am so proud of you. Happy Father’s Day Daddy!
Interview by: Angela May Tan, Features Editor & Writer, SG Lifestyle