By Kirsten Han / We, the Citizens

Singapore's death penalty for drug offences sees a binary between "victims" of drugs and "predator" traffickers. Nazeri bin Lajim's experiences show that the reality is much more complex.

When they visit him in Changi Prison, Nazeri bin Lajim’s loved ones aren’t supposed to be sad or talk about sad things.

Whenever I ask his younger sister, Nazira Lajim Hertslet, how he is, she describes him simply as “happy”. There’s no way for any of us to know if that’s how he really feels, but it’s a reflection of how he wants to make use of the limited time he has with his family. Death row prisoners are only allowed one visit (not more than an hour) each week; when family members are busy with jobs and other obligations, they might only be able to visit once every fortnight or month. Nazeri’s son, for instance, can only see his father when visitation days (either on Saturdays or Mondays) coincide with days off from his restaurant manager job. Every moment is precious, and Nazeri doesn’t want to waste any of it on tears and depression. I don’t want to talk about sad things, he tells his visitors. If you are coming to see me, you be happy.

Outside of prison, it’s obvious that Nazira is anything but “happy”. For many years she'd not really visited her brother in prison because seeing him incarcerated upset her, but she'd started going to see him regularly again once she realised that his life was in the balance, trying to make up for lost time.

She’s glad that her brother is staying positive, but is also acutely aware of how dire his situation is. When we sit and talk, words burst out of her, recounting old memories and expressing pent-up feelings of love, regret, heartache, guilt, pain, grief and rage. What she says about her beloved brother tells a story — of a life marked by drug use, incarceration and, ultimately, the harshest punishment — not often heard in Singapore, where a pro-death penalty, tough-on-drugs narrative dominates.