Youth who slashed people with knife hopes to get his life on track: 'Now, I think it was stupid'

Christine Tan
The Straits Times
February 25, 2024

Mr Mohamad Amirul Shafi Abdullah was 19 years old when he slashed a man in the face with a kitchen knife after a disagreement over money.

The assault saw him sent to the Reformative Training Centre (RTC) in 2019. Young offenders given reformative training are detained in an RTC to follow a strict regimen that can include foot drills and counselling.

Six months after his release from RTC, he slashed another man with a knife at Clarke Quay in March 2022 over a purported staring incident.

Mr Amirul was sentenced to 10 months’ jail for the Clarke Quay attack. The Straits Times spoke with him in January 2024 after his release from prison.

“I did tell myself that it (the first incident) was the last time. But at that moment (in Clarke Quay), I didn’t think,” Mr Amirul, now 25, said.

He said the victim in the first incident had borrowed money from his friend, and did not settle the debt. So, he and his friends decided to confront the man while armed with a kitchen knife.

He said matter-of-factly: “(I slashed him on the face) from the eyebrow to the nose, to the cheek, from the left to right... (in total there were) three strokes on his face, hand and back.”

The police arrested him the day after the incident, and he was later convicted of voluntarily causing grievous hurt with a dangerous weapon and carrying an offensive weapon in a public place.

While in RTC, Mr Amirul’s great-grandmother died. She was his closest relative, and had pleaded with him to change his ways over the years.

He said: “She would tell me, ‘I’m getting old already. How long do you want to be like this?’... I felt sad because she kept on saying the same thing, but I wasn’t changing at all.”

He said he tried but, on March 20, 2022, he went for drinks with two men he got to know while in RTC.

Intoxicated after downing a bottle of liquor, they attacked another man over a purported staring incident.

The trio rained blows on Mr Justin Chua Yong Jie. One of Mr Amirul’s friends used a glass bottle to hit Mr Chua’s head, causing a deep gash on his scalp.

Mr Amirul, who was carrying a karambit knife for “protection”, later told his friend that he had used it to slash the victim three times. He was later convicted of an assault charge.

In prison, he reflected on his string of offences. He now hopes to get his life back on track and focus on his part-time job as a kitchen assistant.

“Now, I think it’s stupid to hurt another person because of a staring incident,” said Mr Amirul.

Another young man, who wanted to be known only as Russell, once saw his father slash someone with a chopper.

It happened in 2014, after Russell, now 26, was assaulted by a secret society member. A few days after the incident, his parents went with him to look for the attacker.

When they found the man, his father, who used to be involved with gangs, slashed the man across the face and used the handle of the chopper to hit his head.

When Russell recovered from his initial shock, he told his parents to leave, and he hid the weapon in a drain.

“I felt like I had to protect everyone by hiding everything. Like if there was no weapon, then there was no proof,” he said.

But police found the weapon and arrested Russell and his parents, as well as a few others.

Russell said his mother was handed a charge of illegal gathering, while father and son were charged with rioting with a deadly weapon and causing grievous hurt.

Russell was sentenced to 12 months’ probation, but had to stay at a youth hostel. His mother was sentenced to six months’ jail and his father was handed an 18-month jail term.

After his probation, Russell was determined to stay away from crime. He also encouraged his parents, who are now separated, not to go down the same path again.

Said Russell, who is now a retail store manager: “It was a very expensive lesson I had to learn... I learnt that actions have consequences and the truth will always come to light one day.

“Losing your temper just to hurt someone for the satisfaction for that short period of time is never worth it, because everyone in your family suffers.”

Mr Narasimman Tivasiha Mani, co-founder of Impart, a local non-profit for youth at risk, and mentor to both Mr Amirul and Russell, said he was encouraged by the two young men’s progress.

Mr Narasimman said most youth who commit violent crimes have a history of trauma, and they have to be helped holistically in their education, mental health and integration into the community.

He said: “When young people who have this type of history are embedded within healthy communities, they start to change their trajectory in life.

“Some of them may still falter. But we can always bring them back into a healthy community, for them to make a positive change.”

The Straits Times

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