When the System fails a child

I am a 29-year-old Hongkonger, currently held in custody at the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre under drug trafficking charges. This is my story.

My father is from Hong Kong and my mother is from mainland China. She gave birth to me in Hong Kong while overstaying her visa. They divorced when I was little, and my father now has another family.

I lived with my mother and her parents in Guangzhou until I turned six years old. I wasn’t able to enroll in schools in the mainland because I had issues with my Hukou [Hukou is a system of household registration used in mainland China which officially identifies a person as a permanent resident of an area.] So my mother brought me back to Hong Kong to attend school here.

When we came back to Hong Kong, my mother was granted a temporary stay so she could take care of me. Apart from lacking fatherly love, those were the happiest days of my life. But the good times didn’t last long. When I turned seven, a social worker from the Social Welfare Department suddenly came to my school after class and told me that my mother’s temporary stay would no longer be renewed. She had been deported to the mainland. I was taken into custody by the Welfare Department and brought to a juvenile home – thus beginning my life in youth centers.

When I turned seven, a social worker came to my school and told me that my mother’s temporary stay would no longer be renewed. She had been deported to the mainland. I was taken into custody… and brought to a juvenile home – thus beginning my life in youth centers.

I lived in all kinds of youth centers – foster homes, juvenile homes, small group homes, and even hostels. Growing up in these places, I lacked the love, care, and guidance that a family would provide. I misbehaved a lot and was very impulsive, and that eventually caught up with me. When I was 14, I did time in a detention center for assault. After my time there, I was on probation for a year and was placed to work at a restaurant by a welfare officer. That marked the end of my formal education.

Since I had barely graduated primary school, without much education and lacking academic credentials, I had to learn a trade. So I learned hairstyling. I started as an assistant, washing customers’ hair, and became a hairstylist after 3 years of training. When I was 16, my grandfather passed away, and my mother was all by herself on the mainland. I tried to apply for her to come to Hong Kong, but I had to be 21 years old, and she had to be 60. So at the age of 16, I started sending her money every month, to support her.

Many of the people working at salons did drugs, and I followed suit. I started using methamphetamines (meth) at the age of 18, taking it only once every one or two months, but by the time I was 23, it had turned into a daily habit. The amount of drugs I took every time also increased. I took 2-3 grams of drugs a day. If I didn’t do drugs I couldn’t even muster the strength to get out of bed, and I would also become very irritable. Because I bought my drugs in ounces every time, I could still afford my addiction. Every month, other than rent, basic living expenses, and the money I sent to my mother, I would spend all the money I had left on drugs.

The day I was arrested, a friend of mine had asked me for one gram of drugs since he knew I had some – I admitted to that under caution. But other than that, the drugs that were found at my place were all for my personal use. The weight of the drugs found when I was arrested was 26 grams.

I was arrested on 20 June 2020. I have reflected upon a lot of things in my life in the 18 months since my arrest. I have successfully overcome my drug addiction. I hope to be able to get out quickly, find a job, and become a better man, so I can care for my mother. She is the one I worry most about. She’s alone, and I haven’t been able to send her money since my arrest. She’s 59 years old now. Please pray for her on my behalf, for her to be in good health so she can support herself until my release.

Note: This letter has been translated and edited from its original in Chinese.