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Helping this person has been absolutely heart-breaking.

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

A story about my new friend - intellectually disabled and accused of drug trafficking.

(TW: suicide, self-harm, drugs, abuse)

A few months ago, I was asked if I could befriend and help out a young person with strong suicidal tendencies.

I have been doing this for a while now in my own personal capacity. These are of course special cases that need a bit more attention than visiting a therapist can provide.

For this person, it was actually one of our MPs that reached out to ask if I could help support. Accompanying that was a brief note, saying that he was a "friendly youth who had been involved in drug trafficking".

To be honest, the last two words gave me a bit of hesitation since I have no prior experience speaking with anyone who had been involved in such matters. I was also told that he had steadfastly denied any charges. Still, he was apparently in a very poor state of mind and border-lining on suicide.

Anyway, every life is a worth saving, so I said yes, I would talk to him.

I planned to be more focused on the emotional side of things, and stay away from the legal end as much as possible.

Obviously, I didn't want to get caught up in the complications of the matter too.

Little did I know, this wasn't so easy to do.

As I will share later, I eventually found out that there was more to this person than being in trouble and having suicidal thoughts. I ended up having to step in a bit more than I had planned.

And as I unearthed more of his story, it turned out to be story that was hard for me to bear too.

We first arranged to meet on a phone call.

As mentioned, I was told that he would be a young person who is friendly and needed support.

Going by the word "young", I expected him to be someone in his twenties.

Before we actually had the phone call, I was communicating with him through WhatsApp. That's where I first found out he wasn't able to read or write. He said he had dyslexia and kindly asked if we could communicate using voice notes instead.

This was when I was taken by surprise.

From the moment he said "hello, I am..." and introduced himself, it felt like I was speaking to a primary school child.

He was indeed friendly and had a gentle voice, but his speech was slow and laboured. He used only the simplest of words, his sentences punctuated with lots of "ummms" and "I don't know's".

I introduced myself to him too and told him my name, and as a side note, I can assure you that he still won't be able to recall my name to this day.

When we finally hopped on the phone call, I wanted to resolve my confusion and so I asked him how old he was - this was yet another strange part, as he said he was "not sure".

He did however think he was around thirty-two to thirty-four years old.

Now friends, I'm no expert on cognition or learning disabilities (beyond your average psychologist), but a sign that something wasn't quite "normal" with this person was clearly beginning to light up.

This is what's been happening to him.

We addressed his emotions upfront. The main emotion he described was "stress".

Untangling what this stress was, it turned out to come from many parts.

First, he had no friends.

He had absolutely no one to call on to support him or even hang out with. This is other than:

  • His nephew who helps him read WhatsApp texts and written documents;

  • His mom who is unable to work due a heart condition;

  • And a soft toy he named after his dead cat.

He worked a simple job to fill his time. This job appeared to be the one thing he really enjoyed. The only problem was, he felt he was being bullied quite a bit for being "different". Sometimes, he would breakdown and cry while working.

At this point, I still wasn't very clear on what this "different" meant.

Of course, the main stressor came from the outstanding legal case, to which he had little clarity over what was happening to him.

The case itself stemmed from over a year ago. I will try not to go into too much details or names to protect the personal and public interest, but basically he was accused of consuming and trafficking drugs in Singapore.

For anyone of us living in Singapore, we know how severe the penalties for such cases can be.

Through phone conversations every other day, the story started to form. The details he shared with me was this.

It all happened when he met up with a stranger and went to his house.

That sounds like a very risky thing for anyone to do, but from talking to him, I've come to believe that he isn't able to discern good people from bad.

This is partly why he came to trust me so easily and told me everything about himself in our first phone call, without knowing much about who I am.

In daily life, he has difficulty understanding the intentions of others too. Take his colleagues for example, who he can't understand why they are making fun of him or scolding him.

Back to this stranger he met online, he shared that he had apparently met this stranger through an app, and desperate for friendship and someone to talk to, had agreed to go to his house to hang out.

I wasn't surprised to hear that that's when the stranger asked to have sex with him. He did end up rejecting the offer outrightly, in his words, "No thank you, I don't want to have sex. I just want to be friends".

The good thing is that this stranger obliged, and they continued to hang out in a room. But that's when the drugs came in - the stranger apparently started to consume some kind of drug and offered it to him.

Of course, all I'm hearing is his side of the story, and I don't know if he ended up taking it or not. He says he didn't, as through some prior education with a counsellor, he knows that "drugs are bad" and "it's no good to take drugs".

So according to him, he declined the offer.

If only the story ended there.

Instead, while they were hanging out, the stranger asked if he could borrow his phone. Not being able to appreciate that any harm could arise from such a simple ask, he agreed.

You can guess what happens next, the phone was used to buy/sell drugs.

He got caught.

He was rounded up a few weeks later. The stranger was caught quite a bit earlier. This is the part of the story I intend to not go too deeply into, so I'll be light on the details if you don't mind.

The relevant agencies picked him up. They handcuffed him and took him in for questioning. He described and I can totally imagine him being absolutely confused and lost about the whole situation.

He had no idea why he was taken in and was accused of consuming and buying or selling drugs.

According to him, he kept denying that he had taken it, as well as that he didn't send the message he was accusing him of sending.

He cried as he told them he didn't understand what they were talking about. He told them that he couldn't read or write, to which they didn't seem to believe him.

Subsequently, he was locked up for a week there. Imprisoned until he was finally bailed out.

He recalls the memories with fear and tremors, of being stuck in a room and the people around him making fun of him and calling him a "retard".

The case is still ongoing.

Since he can't afford a lawyer, he was provided with a free lawyer. Unfortunately, and I'll share more below, it didn't turn out to be most kindest and helpful of lawyers.

Still, the lawyer did do a useful thing - the lawyer sent him for a psychiatric evaluation for his Dyslexia.

As someone with no legal knowledge, even I can see how this might be helpful to his case - as it meant he wasn't able to send the text he was accused of sending. Plus, that would also explain why he had to communicate with me via voice messages too.

Unfortunately, his first round of evaluation didn't go well. The session was terminated prematurely. Why? That's because these evaluations aren't a simple matter, they require hours and hours of questioning and test.

In a word, it was too overwhelming from him to be asked so many questions he wasn't able to answer.

The doctors had to stop as he started breaking down and crying at the hospital. He was subsequently sent to emergency department to be warded, labelled a case with a high risk of suicide.

A second evaluation was scheduled, and this time I went with him.

We met at the hospital and I told him I would be waiting outside for him in case he felt overwhelmed or anything. That I was there to support him too.

I ended up sitting outside in the waiting room for about four hours. Thankfully, I had a book to read.

He managed to pull through this round.

I was invited to enter the last bit of consult too with the Neuropsychologist who was assessing his various cognitive competencies and domains.

It was there that I learnt about a story that tugged at my heart. That the person I have been talking to and helping had actually suffered physical abuse while he was a mere fetus in his mother's womb.

This was shared by his mother herself, who spoke to the Neuropsychologist during the session. His father, who died a few years ago in a fire, was the kind of man who was capable of hitting his pregnant wife and unborn child.

It was also due to this physical trauma that his early development and overall cognitive abilities might have been affected. Basically, that he wasn't given the opportunity all of us deserve to develop our brains in a normal way.

Hearing this broke my heart. The tragic story of this gentle hearted person I've come to known over the last few weeks, who now sat looking anxious and loss beside me in the assessment room.

I bought him a KFC meal afterwards, where I was glad to see him cheer up. He even brought out his cat soft toy that he carried everywhere with him in a bag to eat a meal with us.

Anyway, fast forward, the results of the assessment came back a few weeks later - true to my suspicions, he met the diagnostic criteria for dyslexia and intellectual disability.

The report said he had an IQ of around 50.

My suspicions were confirmed.

What I'm honestly gutted by, is the question of why no one - the people, lawyers and authorities he had spoken to - picked up on this earlier?

Where this ends.

Well, it hasn't, quite honestly.

I still have phone calls with him and communicate with him through voice messages.

I've learned that he has difficulties with various Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) too. I'm hoping to find him a center where he can learn various new skills, for example, like not having to depend on his mother to feed him.

(Email me if you know one like that please)

I'm still trying not to get too involved in the law side of things. The law will do its work and find out the truth of the matter.

Unfortunately, just last Monday he received a letter from his lawyer that he is to attend a court meeting next week. On that letter, it's said that his lawyers will be "discharging" themselves from his case.

Stunned by this (his nephew translates such documents to him), he tried calling the lawyers - they did not respond at all.

Not replying messages, not even picking up the phone.

Unable to really understand what that means, he panicked and went into full confusion mode.

It was in this frenzy that he decided to engage in self-harm. He cut himself with a knife. There were dozens of cuts all over his arm.

I called him as fast as I could when he sent me the picture, and thankfully they were just superficial cuts. He managed to calm down and promised me not to do that again. He was also to seek medical attention immediately, which he did.

Later on, I helped to explain to him the letter and what that means - and he felt much better knowing he was going to have a new lawyer as he said that the previous lawyer was quite "scary" and hard to understand.

In the meantime, he's asked me to attend the court hearing with him and to meet the new lawyer, and that's what I'll be doing so next week.

So anyway, that's where we are now at this point.

Again, I take no stance on his legal case. I'm just sincerely hoping that it'll be an empathetic lawyer who can takeover his case.

Btw, that's not all there is to the story, he also has HIV and his mum is due for a heart surgery soon. Also, apparently, HIV medications can cause certain drug tests to show positive too.

I don't know. Still figuring out how best to help him.

Whatever it is, a life is still a life. And if I can do something that helps to keep this person alive, that's just what I'll do for now.

Everybody needs a friend, right?

Take care,



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