There were many of us, more than any other congregation that day. Some knew Sherman intimately, some not as much. Whichever the case, everyone was there to give him a rousing welcome, back to civilian life.
At 10am sharp, Sherman and a group of released inmates started to walk down the slope. Some of the crowd spotted him and began to cheer.
As Sherman made his way out of his final incarceration, I could see that he was totally surprised by the warm reception he was about to receive.
Jabez had collated all the cards and gifts of encouragement into a plastic bag, and was ready to present it to him. When Sherman finally walked out of prison one last time, he was visibly moved. This was unlike the first time he came out of prison.
Now 38, Sherman grew up living with a foster family for most of his childhood. He never knew his real parents, and the only family that he has ever known is his foster one.
Growing up in the late 80s, and as a youth, he was easily persuaded to join the local gangs there. Before long, he started to get into glue sniffing and participated in gang fights.
By 16, he had been arrested and bailed out a number of times for his glue sniffing activities. Eventually, he was sent to prison. And despite getting jail time, Sherman remained unrepentant at that time.
For him, it was like a rite of passage for a man to be inducted into prison. Red tobacco was given to him as a sign of this and a mark of respect that he believed he had earned as part of his manhood.
Inside, Sherman remained rebellious and unremorseful. All in all, he was jailed nearly a dozen times, and yet he never learned. During one of the terms, he even did the unthinkable. An act of violence that you would only see in a Tarantino film.
He used a toothbrush to poke a fellow inmate's eye, leaving him seriously injured. Even then, he still went around to boast about his actions.
|Jabez and Sherman|
Eventually, after more than a decade going in and out of prison, Sherman finally saw the light. His foster sister, who has been by his side all this time, believed in him despite his ways.
She wanted him to make a better life out of himself, as she has always believed that he is capable of more than leading a life of crime and vice. Spurred on by her words, and fearful that further incarceration would lead him to longer jail terms and caning, Sherman made the decision to change.
Sherman remembered that whilst working in a western food stall, he relished the time in the kitchen and making food. His fondness of this industry would eventually lead him to Jabez and his bak kut teh business.
Ever the magnanimous man, Jabez was more than happy to take him in and started him as a dishwasher. Initially, it was difficult and tough, but through patience and effort, he began to learn the ropes of working in an eatery.
He learned to cook, and picked up culinary skills. He shared the same food philosophy with Jabez, and also the philosophy of life as well. Forging a common bond in food, life and faith, Sherman finally found his place in life.
This new life is a total break from his past. These days, his main focus is to help Jabez build up his bak kut teh business and make it a success. Working with fellow inmates, pushing each other along, I have every confidence that they will succeed.
On the day of his release, as he was walking out of prison, one of his inmates asked him, "Will there be friends to meet you at the gate today?"
"One or two, I guess", was Sherman's reply. He knew that many of his friends from work and church had been constantly writing to him the previous weeks. But never would he have expected a contingent of over two dozen people will be waiting for him at the gate.
"You sure? I see a large group of people down there now."
As Sherman approached the gate, he realized that it was indeed all his friends waiting there. At that moment, he could not hold back on his emotions. Nor his tears.
Sherman's biggest regret is that he let down his foster mum, and also not fulfilling his duty as a father. He was married and had 2 children, a son and a daughter. He is divorced now, and has lost contact with his children.
Looking back, he is both remorseful and regretful for putting his wife and children through all the pain. He is thankful though, that his two children are doing fine and only wants to say one word to them. Sorry.
Time is a great healer, and though Sherman may not regain his family back, he is always thankful for his foster sister's support throughout all these years. His ex-wife has since remarried and despite not being able to reunite with her and the children, he is happy for them and he wishes them well.
And again, he says sorry.
I think we should all be thankful for everything and everyone around us. And never give up on anyone. No matter how bad it can be, as long as there is a hope and a chance, we should always try.
Sherman's sister never gave up on him. Neither should we give up on ourselves. And on life.
Sherman is currently working at Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh at 548 Macpherson Road.
Click here to read the story of Jeremiah Tan, another ex-convict turned good and working in Soon Huat.