Groundup Features: Break The Cycle SG
Updated: Apr 28
In this edition of Groundup Features: we speak with Andrew from Break The Cycle SG, as he shares about his inspiration behind the use of cycling as a medium to support ex-offenders break the cycle of recidivism. Find out more about what encourages Andrew and the lessons he has learnt in his time as a groundup co-founder.
Hi Andrew, thanks for taking time off to speak with us! Please share with us more about yourself.
Hi everyone, I am Andrew, one of the co-founders of Break The Cycle SG. We are a ground-up initiative which started with the intention to break the cycle of recidivism and be a community for ex-offenders, through cycling.
I was an ex-offender myself, around 20 years ago. It happened in my late teens and I was incarcerated for rioting and gang fights. Subsequently, I re-offended during my reservist period, which led me to be incarcerated in the detention barracks.
That was my experience growing up as an ex-offender. Over the years, as I lived my life as a changed person, I felt that it was my mission and responsibility to serve ex-offenders. I had a new life, not on my own but because of many others who had also invested and believed in me. I wanted to pay it forward – understanding that every ex-offender also needs someone to walk and journey with them.
What was the inspiration behind Break The Cycle SG?
Back in 2017, I was cycling leisurely. I think I cycled more to eat, rather than to be fit (laughs)
If an event cropped up, I would push cycling aside. It was not something very important to me.
However, in 2019, I went for a health check and found out that my cholesterol levels were off the charts. The doctor mentioned that I might need to take medication if my condition stayed the same after six months. So, I told myself that I needed to take responsibility for my health. I figured since I was already cycling, why not take it more seriously, to see if it helps.
I started to intentionally schedule cycling into my weekly routine. After the six months was up, I saw an improvement in my health and knew I was on the right track. After a year, my cholesterol levels went down about 40% and by then, it had also become a lifestyle.
Aside from the health benefits of cycling, I also learnt a lot about the benefits it had on my mental wellness – it allowed me to focus and set goals. I realised that cycling was also a community sport because you needed those around you to not only encourage you or hold you accountable, but to also guide you and tell you if you are on the right track.
For example, when you are cycling, you cannot see your own posture or how your pedal strokes are like. You would require someone else to observe how you are cycling. I was fortunate to have seasoned riders who guided me. They are Carter and Joseph, who are also the two co-founders of Break The Cycle SG.
One day, I had the epiphany that I could marry my passion for cycling with my mission to serve ex-offenders. From my experience, cycling helps to cultivate mental and physical health. It is not just about fitness but also personal development, learning self-discipline and it also boosts self-motivation. Cycling is a form of self-care, to deal with the stresses of life.
The first reason why I chose cycling as our groundup activity is because it is a good habit to have. I always believe that if you want to break a bad habit, you need to replace it with a healthy habit and cycling is a fantastic habit to have.
The second reason – it connects ex-offenders to the community at large, in a very natural and casual way. When we go cycling, we meet new people and make new friends. It is not like joining a programme – where we meet strangers, are unsure of what to expect and everything can seem very intimidating.
The outside community is key in reintegrating an ex-offender and providing them stability. It helps the ex-offenders to foster a sense of belonging. Some may remain recluse, sticking to old ways and old friends but through cycling with the community, they do not have to feel like they are on their own or think that people do not like or accept them. The cycling community is a safe place where they can transit.
The last reason – it opens new possibilities for the ex-offenders. Cycling helps to expand their network and their perspective on life. They meet individuals from different backgrounds – young or old, male or female and of different social status. In cycling, we do not just cycle but we also take breaks and have meals together. It is through these small activities that we get to exchange life stories and even employment opportunities!
Was there any resistance, from both the ex-offenders and potential volunteers, in joining Break The Cycle SG?
Thankfully, everyone has been very open to the idea of Break The Cycle SG.
I kept the idea in my mind for about six months without starting anything, but I spoke to Carter and Joseph about it. I asked for their thoughts on the idea and whether they were interested to be part of the team if the idea materialises. They were both supportive, but I did not start working on it until I met Jeremy, an ex-offender who is now working full-time at The Hiding Place.
This happened in 2020, when I was at The Hiding Place for an appointment and met Jeremy, by chance. We had a chat about cycling and he shared that he had been cycling on his own. He also mentioned that he had no guidance in terms of bicycles and gears he should be purchasing. So, I introduced him to Carter who helped him to get started – directing him to get a proper bike fit and assisting him with his new gear.
Subsequently, I invited him to cycle with us, since he was always cycling alone. Slowly, he warmed up to us and after a few months, I saw that he was more confident and comfortable of being himself. I had a chat with him to find out how the experience has been for him, and he shared candidly that he has always battled with an inferiority complex because of his past and the environment that he is in. However, cycling gave him an avenue to meet other individuals and widen his worldview.
I saw this as a win, knowing that it benefited Jeremy gave me the conviction and confidence that this ground-up initiative would be useful and should be done.
Were there other moments that also encouraged you in your journey as a groundup co-founder?
Definitely! Although the ultimate social outcome is for ex-offenders to benefit from our groundup, I must say that even those who are not ex-offenders have also benefited from it. I have seen individuals coming forward, wanting to join us and they get to see from the point-of-view of an ex-offender, whilst engaging in conversations. You are not hearing these stories from social media, but first-hand from the ex-offenders themselves and becoming friends with them. This helps to break the stereotypes.
It encourages me when I see people from the ground, stepping up – not just to be a part of the community but to contribute as well. For example, ActiveSG Yishun offered to provide their facilities to us, a national cyclist had offered to mentor the ex-offenders and an expatriate friend has frequently joined us at our cycling sessions.
Seeing a diverse group of individuals coming together, enjoying cycling, being friends and looking out for one another really encourages me. This is a partnership and companionship in progress – a reflection of life as we come together to support one another through the ups and downs of life.
Adding all these magical moments together forms a beautiful tapestry because everybody plays a part.
What about some of the challenges you faced along the way?
One of the hurdles we faced was accommodating the cycling sessions into the schedules of ex-offenders, as best as possible. As some of them are situated in halfway houses, they have a curfew. As much as they would like to cycle two to three times a week, it is simply not possible.
The solution to this scheduling hurdle is to see how Break The Cycle SG can work with the halfway houses and be seen as a supporter and a supplement of their programme. We hope this allows them to free up some time for ex-offenders who are interested in cycling to join us, and that they may see us as being equipped to facilitate the session with their residents.
What was one lesson you took away from your time as a groundup co-founder?
The impact mentoring has on others.
I think mentoring is very important because it is the main part of Break The Cycle SG. We need to spend time together – it is not distant mentoring where the ex-offenders stand at one side and mentors on the other. We must do things together and journey together.
If you do not ride, you do not get mentored. If you do not ride, you do not mentor.
Nowadays, mentoring has become some sort of programme where there is hardly any personal interaction – it is just transferring knowledge to your mentee. The context may be lost, and you do not understand the person’s needs. How can one mentor their mentee, if you are not training or journeying together?
So yeah, I realised the impact of mentoring – especially if we are looking at how to lead the next generation. I am thankful that through Break The Cycle SG, we get to practise mentoring and learn about the characteristics of each person.
I feel that what we are doing at Break The Cycle SG is magical. The key differentiating factor is that we see cycling and befriending the ex-offenders as a lifestyle – it is not a one-off event, or a volunteering event where we go only once a year.
Ex-offenders looking in, will realise that people do not stereotype them. They feel encouraged when they realise that how they think society thinks about them is not grounded in truth. They are accepted.
What advice would you give to those who are keen to start their own ground-up initiative?
Just start lah! (laughs)
On a serious note, I think it should ideally be needs-based. A lot of times, although out of good intention, we start things which may not be a viable solution to the issue.
Take some time to find out what is happening on the ground and do your research on the different stakeholders that are involved. This helps you to understand the opportunities you receive to do good, and the obstacles you might face – so that you do not get discouraged or jaded.
What are some of the future plans for Break The Cycle SG?
I hope to assemble a few ex-offenders to compete in a race, coupled with getting the earlier mentioned national cyclist to coach us. I think it is good to give them a goal that they can work and ride towards.
Lastly, how do you hope Break The Cycle SG builds a City of Good?
I think it is already happening within Break The Cycle SG but on a small scale, with different diverse backgrounds coming together to be a community. A City of Good is not just about looking good or doing good, but to have goodness amplified and paid forward. From the Break The Cycle SG point-of-view, everybody is able to pay it forward. Things such as the best type of gear or cost-effective deals – it’s not meant to be kept to ourselves but for us to share with others to help kickstart their cycling journey.
That is how the city can be good – when everyone is thankful, appreciative, counts their blessings and shares those blessings.
Our fun fact question of the day! Coffee or Tea for the rest of your life?
Coffee for sure, any time of the day!
* This feature has been edited for clarity
About the author:
Jannelle is Content Producer at Groundup Central. Armed with her camera, she looks forward to meeting & documenting the everyday heroes of our lives.