‘Gratitude cannot adequately describe feelings for team of Hong Kong court social workers’

Support from small team helped former security officer charged with shoplifting fight depression and suicidal thoughts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 5:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 5:00pm

Once depressed and suicidal, a former security officer emerged from trial thinking he was lucky after finding support from a small team of court social workers.

“The word gratitude cannot adequately describe how I feel towards the help I received in the past two years,” said Chan, who only gave his surname to remain anonymous. “I’m very happy, truly grateful and slightly emotional. I am very lucky to have found this place or I wouldn’t know how to deal with my messy life.”

The 40-year-old recalled that he was pulled into the criminal justice system in April 2015, at a time when he felt at a loss after being laid off by a property management company when there were not many casual jobs available.

Hong Kong court social workers minister to miscreants

Adding to his pressure was his difficult relationship with his ­father and the search for a new home with the fiance he was soon to ­marry.

For about a month he spent time loitering on streets and ­occasionally going into shops to browse through products – until one day he left a shop with an item unpaid for.

“I didn’t need it, it wasn’t related to me, but suddenly my mind went blank and I took it without thinking that I have to pay,” he said. “I even felt guilty when I left the shop, but I did it.”

What Chan took from Bonjour was a HK$70 cosmetic product for women, whose details he could no longer remember.

Chan recalled feeling very lonely after one night of solitary remand as well as confusion as he wondered why he broke the law, an act that would cost him his ­licence and leave him with a ­criminal record.

“My life was already difficult, the thought of having to go to court later on filled me with ­negativity,” he said.

At one point, Chan contemplated seeking release through committing suicide.

But as time went on, he followed police advice to seek help from social worker and by several referrals he found a specialised service from the Society of Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention.

“Apart from offering psychological support, comfort and ­reminders, he was physically present by my side at every hearing,” Chan said. “It was very reassuring.”

Under the court social worker’s company, he pleaded guilty to one count of shoplifting and was subsequently placed on one year of probation.

The social worker later also brought him to a support group at the society, where similar ex- ­offenders meet regularly with a clinical psychologist to share ­experiences and learn how to ­balance stress.

The result, he said, was a clearer and healthier way of thinking as he learnt there were still many ­solutions to his problems.

Chan is now working as an ­engineering apprentice at an ­internet company, a new job that he found through the society.

In his spare time, he attends the support group and occasionally volunteers at elderly homes and community events.

“I once felt all doors were closed, he said. “But then I ­discovered a window.”