Prison inmate excels in A-levels despite grandma's death, crammed schedule
Determined to turn over a new leaf and inspired by his family and teacher, nothing was going to stand in the way of a prison inmate who defied the odds and aced his A-Level examinations.
Students across Singapore received their GCE A-Level results on Tuesday (Feb 22), and among them was a 26-year-old prison inmate, Jason (not his real name), who topped his prison school cohort with an impressive four As and one B.
The achievement was no small feat for Jason, who was convicted of trafficking in a controlled drug and sentenced to five years' jail in 2018.
He had only nine months to cram a curriculum that would typically take candidates two years.
Inmates go through a fast-tracked education system in prison school where the curriculum is often compressed into a year – to allow inmates to complete their education within their incarceration period, Singapore Prison Service (SPS) said.
Jason was committed to turning over a new leaf and wanted to improve his future, even if it meant sleeping just three hours a day.
In the days leading up to his exams, he would study until 2am each night, then wake up at 5am the next morning for classes.
His prison school GP teacher, Ms Michelle Cheam, says Jason was one of her most hardworking and motivated students.
He never once missed an assignment, she said, and would go beyond what was required –. instead of turning in the one essay he was tasked to do, Jason would turn in two or three, so as to improve his writing.
The studious inmate, whose favourite subject was H1 General Paper (GP), would also make full use of his “library time” to consult Ms Cheam on his essays.
As he was without access to the latest news and happenings around the world – something that GP students have to stay on top of – Ms Cheam helped to fill the gap by compiling notes and resources.
He also frequently requested books from his mother while in prison. In fact, it was after reading Ernest Becker’s “Denial of Death” in 2020 that Jason decided to make the most out of his time behind bars.
On top of all the obstacles, Jason’s preparations took a hit when his grandmother became ill two months before his exams. She died during the examination period.
The prison service said "news of his grandmother's passing shocked him into grief", so much so that Jason "cooped himself in his cell to cope with his grief".
Jason said his late grandmother often worried about him as he was the eldest grandson. She would tell him to study hard and make something good out of his life.
He added: “It was really very hard for me when I got the news... and because of my mistakes, I couldn’t be with her when she was sick."
But he was motivated to push through his grief and sit for his exams, because doing well academically was "what she would have wanted for me”.
Jason achieved four As in H1 GP, H1 Mathematics, H2 Principles of Accounting, and H2 Economics and a B in H2 Management of Business.
He was not the only one with good results, as seven other inmates from his batch qualified for polytechnic, private degree courses, or full-time local university courses.
Jason was released from prison on the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme in February 2022.
He hopes to attain a law degree and be a criminal lawyer someday.
“My mother is very happy, and even told me jokingly that I should have gone [to prison] earlier!”