Young woman wants her ordeal in lock-up to serve as reminder to all about the harsh consequences from committing crime

Liling says her five long harrowing days in lock-up ‘felt like five years’. — Photo by Istiyak Ahammed from Pexels

EVERY time she closes her eyes, she would see herself back in the tiny lock-up where she was held in police custody for five days after they arrested her over shoplifting early this year.

Liling (not real name), now in her 30s, realises that her situation may get worse – her trial is due this November and the grim fact is she could be sentenced to two years in prison if convicted.

“I lost my job. I lost my friends. I lost my self-confidence. I lost my self-esteem,” she lamented.

“And worst of all, I lost my will to live.

“The only thing that holds me back from taking my own life is fear – the fear that I may have to suffer even more terrible pain if such attempt went wrong.

“I often hide myself to cry silently, wondering what’s left for me in the next chapter of my life.”

‘A harrowing ordeal’

Liling described her five days in lock-up as ‘a harrowing ordeal’.

“It’s a small box, with just a small window, and no washroom.

“I slept on a hard wooden bed, with neither mattress nor pillow.

“Even the stench inside the cell still lingers in my mind right to this day – all this because of something that cost only around RM200!”

The incident took place at a shopping mall in Kuching, around 7pm on Jan 27 this year.

Liling was browsing through some clothes at the women’s department when all of a sudden, an impulse struck her.

She could not, to this day, understand what suddenly had gotten into her at that moment.

“It was like there’s an abrupt urge in me wanting to get something as Chinese New Year gifts for my nieces, despite me unable to afford any.

“I was stupid to think that I could easily get away with it, forgetting that CCTVs had been recording my action all the while,” she sobbed.

Liling was caught in her attempt to smuggle out two T-shirts and some grocery items.

“I went to the fitting room, removed the price tags off the garments and put them on under the clothes that I was wearing at the time.

“Not only that – I proceeded to the supermarket, grabbed some canned food items, put them in the trolley, and just walked out bypassing the cashier’s lane.

“I thought I succeeded, until I noticed that several supermarket employees were following me to the carpark.”

Liling begged for leniency, offering to pay for the stuff so that they would let her go, but the mall management was insistent in handing her to the police.

Traumatised for life

Liling’s sketch shows the layout of the lock-up.

Liling was brought to the police station that same night.

She was told to remove all her clothes, including undergarments, and change into the yellow lock-up uniform.

After all the necessary procedures were done, she was locked up – by then, it was already past 11pm.

“I felt so exposed, so ashamed, and so humiliated.

“Once I was left alone inside the cell, I just broke down crying my heart out.

“It felt so surreal, I was praying that it’s just a dream.

“I kept blaming myself, asking why I had to do such a dumb thing.

“I had never, ever committed any crime in my life. I didn’t know what struck me at the mall.

“It felt like it was already the end of the world for me.”

Liling said the five days in police custody felt like ‘five long years’. The only small consolation, if there was any, for her was a small window inside the cell – it allowed her to tell ‘when it was daytime, and when it was night-time’.

“Time was slow. Even when the presence of the police personnel who brought food to me could also indicate the time of the day, it still felt excruciatingly slow.”

Liling’s cell had no table, no chair, no toothbrush and toothpaste, no soap, no towel, and no toilet paper.

“There’s also no proper or decent place to wash up – let alone to do ‘private business’.

“There was only a low wall separating the wet area and the wooden bed; the wet area had a sink and a toilet.

“I did find some toothpaste, probably left behind by the previous occupant. So, I just used that.”

What made Liling really uncomfortable was the CCTV camera focused on her cell. Because of that, she refused to wash herself as there was no privacy.

“I knew that I stank like hell. Later on, my body began to develop some rashes and it got worse as the days passed.

“The cell was hot, there’s no fan. No minute went by where I didn’t sweat profusely.”

Lilian felt empty as there was totally nothing to do in lock-up.

She was neither allowed phone calls, nor to speak with anyone.

She lost any appetite for food, but she forced herself to eat for no other reason than to keep on going. At one point, she fell sick and was given some painkillers after she asked for it.

“If there’s any upside at all, it was the time and the isolation that allowed me to reflect upon my life – something that I had never done before.

“One feeling that never left me was remorse. As regretful as my action had been, I knew that this was amongst the consequences that I must face.”

Still, it was hard for Liling, who is diabetic.

It was through only a small window in my cell that I was able to know when it was daytime and when it was night-time, Liling recalls. — Photo by Lars Mai from Pexels

“I ran out of my medicine on the second day in lock-up.

“I begged the police to inform my sister to bring over my medication, which they did – but only on the fourth day of my detention.”

Emotional damage

Perhaps as an effort to relieve the suffocating boredom, Liling began to scrutinise every square-inch of her cell and in doing that, she regularly slipped into some kind of hallucination.

“At one time, I fantasised about being rescued by a hero, who had magically appeared when I summoned him. But just as quickly as it came, the vision disappeared and I got snapped back into reality.

“I thought I was going insane.

“But I kept reminding myself that if I ever got out of this ordeal in one piece, I would tell the world my story so that others would be forewarned to never, ever do what I had done.”

Liling said when she was released on bail on Day 5, it was like a stroke of luck in that the moment arrived on the eve of the Chinese New Year.

“I washed up, finally, and used the lock-up uniform to wipe myself dry.

“I could not stop crying even after I entered my eldest sister’s car – the emotional damage was so profound and so permanent.

“It’s painfully hard to move on. I may sound like I’m talking about my five-day ordeal like it was an incident in the past, but deep within, it would never be a ‘let-bygones-be-bygones’ case,” she said.

Difficult to move on

Liling, the youngest of six siblings, said only her eldest sister knew about her case, but just because she was the only one whom Liling had called to bail her out.

“I pleaded with my eldest sister to never say a word to my mother and the rest of the siblings.

“I don’t want to make them angry.”

However, Liling’s company found out about it and fired her.

This added to the pile of frustrations and instability in her life.

Liling could spend two years in prison if she was convicted of shoplifting. — Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

“My father died many years ago.

“The relationship with my elderly mother and my other siblings lacks warmth and closeness – we often get into arguments.

“My life was already depressing enough way before the incident at the shopping mall occurred.

“I do yearn for family love.”

Liling now feels useless and adding to the stress, she knows that her problem is not over yet.

For now, she is required to report to the police once a month while awaiting trial. “Every now and then, I’d break down and cry uncontrollably. I always stay at home.

“I now have a phobia about being out – the sight of any supermarket or mall terrifies me.”

Liling acknowledges that the outcome of her trial in November may not be of her being released from the charge.

“Possibly, there’s another round of torment for me.

“So to everyone out there – don’t even think about doing crime.

“It’s simply not worth it!”