Woman finds plea for help in shopping bag

1st May 2014
Written by: Rebecca Root

But how did it get there?

Forget message in a bottle, try letter in a bag 

A New York resident got a bit of a surprise after finding a note at the bottom of her shopping bag written from a man imprisoned in China.

Stephanie Wilson, 28, has been telling US media how she felt when she found the harrowing note back in September 2012.

Ms Wilson told news website, DNAinfo: "I read the letter and I just shook."

Help Letter

Wanting to help the man she then handed it over to the human rights Laogai Research Foundation.

The founder of the foundation, Harry Wu, had himself spent 19 years in a Chinese prison and detailed how devastating the consequences of writing such a letter could be. He claimed solitary confinement or even death could have been a possibility.

The letter, signed from Tohnain Emmanuel Njong and written in blue ink, said: 

"We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory."

The brave detainee had also slipped in a passport style photograph of himself along with his email address that was later found to be defunct.

Sadly, the foundation was unable to locate Mr Njong so passed on the note to Homeland Security while Saks Fifth Avenue conducted their own investigation to find the origin of their bags. They did confirm that they were made in China but could not specify exactly whereabouts.

In the end it was news website, DNAinfo that managed to trace the Cameroonian who had already been released from the Qingdao prison after serving a three year sentence.

The website said they had managed to trace the prisoner through social media and, when contacted, he was able to recall the specific details he had written in the letter.

"Unprompted, Njong described obscure details in the letter, like its mention of Samuel Eto'o, a professional soccer player on English Premier league team Chelsea, who like Njong is from Cameroon in West Africa." 

Mr Njong had been detained in the eastern China prison after claims he had committed fraud. He denies the claims.

This letter wasn’t the only one he wrote though. Mr Njong said he wrote a total of five letters in English and in French. In each he asked for help before signing off "thanks and sorry to bother you."

It seems that this tale has a happy ending though as Mr Njong is now safe, well and living in Dubai while teaching English. He said that although the letter hadn’t managed to help his during his sentence he was glad that someone had received one of them.

He told DNAinfo: “It was the biggest surprise of my life. I am just happy that someone heard my cry.”

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