From ‘top of the world to being penniless' ... ex-Hong Kong triad boss’ life of crime told through exhibition

After years spent on the wrong side of the law, a handful of ex-convicts have agreed to tell their tales in a project with the Society for Community Organisation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 September, 2016, 7:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2016, 10:56pm

Wong Ting-hin, a former triad boss who once commanded more than 200 people, thought he had everything in life – money, power and women.

Addicted to the thrill of committing crimes, he was jailed time and again for robbing gold stores, drug trafficking and operating illegal brothels.

During one prison stint, Wong remembered a young Yip Kai-foon – once the city’s most wanted criminal, known for masterminding a series of violent heists during the ‘80s and ‘90s and engaging in gun battles with police.

“I begged the doctor not to chop off my legs. He said, what’s the point if I heal you when you’re just going to take drugs again?
Raymond Cheng Hok-ning

“Yip was not famous when we first met [in jail in the 1980s]. He would help me in fights, we would talk about life sometimes,” Wong said.

Today, the 52-year-old Wong has given up his life of crime for the one thing money could never buy – peace of mind. Now unemployed, he lives in public housing and survives on welfare.

“I went from being on the top of the world to being penniless. But I’d rather be poor. I just want to live a simple life,” Wong said, adding that he hoped to find a job and was committed to being a dutiful husband and father.

Wong and 12 other former convicts’ stories are featured in a book and exhibition organised by the Society for Community Organisation. Titled Confession, it aims to portray ex-prisoners in a more humane light.

The exhibition includes a wall of cards with secrets and regrets written by prisoners, ex-convicts and members of the public.

“Everybody’s done something wrong in their life before. We wanted to show that [ex-convicts] shouldn’t be reduced to just their crime,” Annie Lin, who worked on the project, said.

Lin said she hoped the public would come to understand and accept Wong and other ex-offenders, who often find it difficult to secure a job and reintegrate into society after prison.

Raymond Cheng Hok-ning, an ex-convict who used to steal and sell medicine from government clinics to maintain his heroin addiction, said he was thankful for being given a second chance at life.

Cheng, who suffered from an infection after injecting heroin, recalled how he wanted to commit suicide when a doctor said his legs had to be amputated.

“I begged the doctor not to chop off my legs. He said, what’s the point if I heal you when you’re just going to take drugs again? Since then, I never touched drugs again,” Cheng, who still has both legs, said.

Now in his sixties and a devout Christian, Cheng works at a drug rehabilitation centre, counselling drug addicts.

“I want others to know that even if you’ve done wrong, society won’t abandon you,” he said.

The exhibition will run every weekend from Saturday through to November 27 at 269 Yu Chau Street in Sham Shui Po.