My Experience with Lee
Today was a heavy morning. I accompanied Lee Chang Hui to his court hearing. Though is not my first time going for court hearing since joining TCE, I felt heavy this time because this could be the last day I could see Lee.
Lee Chang Hui, 29 years old, joined TCE since 2017 as part-time barista. From my personal encounter with him since 2019 in i12 Katong, I noticed that he exhibits a peculiar behaviour; like that of an innocent boy trapped in an adult body. His intellectual deficiency suggests that he may have certain degree of autism, a special kid. He is simple minded and easily contented. Short of normal confidence, he is shy in front of strangers, but his unhindered naughty self is revealed in front of us and others that he trusts. He is a trusting person and within his complex nature hides his easily fused short temper. These traits have in fact been the cause for his multiple incarcerations between 2012 to 2016. Gang fights and associations with the wrong crowd on top of long term psychotic medication did not allow him any possibility to escape from this vicious cycle.
Amidst of all those disadvantages, we still found his talent in making coffee and creating flavours in mixing drinks. He is exceptionally focused when making coffee and always looking to perfect his espresso shots and latte art skills. To him, this is a sanctuary where he enjoys his personal place of peace, joy and achievement. He even exercised discipline in regularly maintaining the espresso machine with expressed care.
His unusual sensory skill is exhibited while he concocts drinks that is usually not thought of by our guys, and sometimes, we have to endure sessions of diarrhoea after testing his creation. But no one is complaining.
Though we gave him a nickname: Professor Lee. Perhaps all these experiences and encounters are his little getaway from the real world that he finds too overwhelmed and cruel.
Due to the circuit breaker, we could not operate and the cafe project in OCH was suspended for 6 months. Our guys understood the situation and we worked together to get them to take on other part-time jobs.
Somewhere in May, Lee contacted me and said that he was caught for locking doors for unlicensed money lender (UML). He further informed me that he was cheated by the UML. He was told to take the blame because the sentence for it will not be serious and it probably will only before 2 months. He later realised that he could end up with 2 years imprisonment. My heart sank when I heard that he is caught for working for UML because I know the only reason he would do that is out of desperation for money to meet his and his family needs. In the past, had asked for financial help numerous times for his family. We intervened and assisted. To date, the cafe had supported him$3,000 in total to help his family to get out of trouble with UML.
Before joining TCE, I have never encountered any ex-convicts nor people that are still struggling with poverty. These experiences have shocked me and permanently rocked my views and values in life. It was not an easy period adjusting, though I must say that I am getting used to the challenges and have been pitching my skills and experiences in to help them.
In Lee’s case, he is naturally an easy target for UML with all the different challenges and his disadvantage position, tragedies and misfortunes are just but his regular friends who will not leave his side. This vicious cycle will continue indefinitely.
I now see that TCE is doing her little effort as a harbour for the beneficiaries and in holding jobs for them to earn decent income. More importantly, we also create opportunities for them to pick up new skills & mindset. However, at this moment, I feel that we have failed him.
Lee’s court case dragged for quite some time. During his bail, he worked part time at TCE. He tends to think a lot and mostly it is all worries. He asked me if would I be at TCE, 2 years down the road during his release. I told him I will. I made him a promise and regardless what happen over time, I will make it a point to receive him when he has completed his term.
Recently, during one of our prayer sessions, he joined us and he opened up with one of the prayer heroes and quietly received Christ with him that day. Hallelujah.
He did not ask me to go to his court hearing till his last one on 4 Mar 2021 9:30am, at level 15, Court 15C. My tears came out the moment the prosecutor read out that he was a part-time barista with a cafe but he was jobless during the circuit breaker period. He was later poached by UML to work for them, i.e. $200 for locking one door, additional $50 for placing pork at the door. I cried as I felt that we partly caused this agony to happen.
Lee was sentenced with 21 months and 7 weeks imprisonment. When his hands were handcuffed by the policemen to get ready to go, I cried profusely again. It is so sad to see one that he had to pay such a hefty price for the little money meant for him and his family basic living, not for squandering. Before leaving, he said he will study and be good inside so that he will be released earlier. It was an unbearable moment. Somewhat inside me, I know I have to be strong for them, for this will not be the last that I will encounter as I commit to help them in TCE.
I started missing him for his nonsense and diligent work. Occasionally, I wonder how he is doing inside and can’t wait to receive his e-letter to share with me his encounter inside the prison. I will try to stay connected till his release, for this is the only way I can support him now.
What started as “take-a-look-and-see” trial, turn out to be a scary, challenging yet rewarding path filled with friends and rare experiences. I shared with Matthew in the past that due to his disadvantaged position. he will forever stay as a small boy even when he turns 60 years old and it will be harder for him to get a decent job outside. We have seen many times how the other employers gave up on him after a while when he was trying to get work outside TCE.
Hence, for as long as TCE can, we will always have a place for him and help him overcome the challenges that come his way.