A photo of Alan Ter

Alan Ter

Republic of Singapore


When I was in jail, I happened to meet an old guy. He was in there because of something like what I did—rioting and manslaughter. He had a longer term than I did and he is still serving now...because he is a hit man.

He told me a lot of stuff, like instead of wasting my time as a young kid, why not do something? I still remember one thing he told me: ‘If a person is lost in the world, it is like they’re already in hell. There are no people guiding you.’ He asked me, ‘Are you a believer yourself in any religion?’

During that time, as a kid I didn’t believe shit; I believed nothing. There was no God, there was no evil. I was a free thinker, that’s it. Me alone facing the world. I’m born as a human being on Earth, this kind of thing happens to me, I’m sorry, I don’t believe there is God or saints. No! There’s me and the world. That’s it. It’s my life. You like it, take it; you don’t like, fuck it. He told me that eventually when I grew older I’d learn. Because I’m still young and my life is good.

Now, I feel like I’m reborn; everything has changed, I threw my past behind. I try to move on and love myself more. Hopefully I can guide people in a better way regardless of any religion. At least I know I’ve been guided. There are certain things I can do and can’t do...because I’m trying to purify my soul.

Daniel’s Reflection

Who is worthy of a spiritual experience? Can someone who has killed someone still have a spiritual experience? Are we always worthy of a connection to the God of our understanding?

I was fortunate to ask these questions when I met Alan Ter, who grew up in the gangs in Singapore and who went to jail for manslaughter. After serving his sentence, he started having dreams that he did not understand. They involved the gods worshipped in Taoism. Alan began practicing Taoism and it changed his life. He participates in ceremonies by entering into a trance-like state where one of the gods enters his body and consciousness. Members of the community can then ask questions and seek guidance from the god he is channeling. Today, Alan feels he is useful to the community and he is actively trying to purify his soul.

Alan’s story reminded me I am in no position to judge another human being, even one who has killed someone. I love this excerpt from Hazelden’s Daily Meditation book, A Day at a Time: Daily Reflections for Recovering People:

“We all want to be rid of our most obvious and destructive flaws. No one wants to be so greedy that s/he’s labeled a thief. No one wants to be angry enough to kill, lustful enough to rape, gluttonous enough to become ill. No one wants to be agonized by envy or paralyzed by procrastination. Of course, few of us suffer these defects at such rock-bottom levels. Not that that’s reason to congratulate ourselves; chances are, pure self-interest enabled us to escape such extremes. Not much spiritual effort is involved in avoiding excesses which will bring severe punishment...May I give myself no back- pats for not committing murder or rape, beating up a rival, robbing a sweets shop or stealing from a down-and-outer. In all humility, may I understand that these are only more violent manifestations of human flaws I harbor in myself. May God give me the perseverance to change these from the inside, rather than just lessening the degree to which I act them out for the world to see.”

I am grateful to be reminded that I am no better than anyone else, even the criminal or ex-con, or any other human who is living their life the best they know how.  


A Day at a Time: Daily Ref lections for Recovering People. 2009. CompCare.

Permission to use this material was obtained by the author from The Copyright Clearance Center August 10, 2021.

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