While looking for the receipt in her Saks Fifth Avenue paper shopping bag, Stephanie Wilson pulled out something she didn’t pay for—she found a letter pleading “HELP HELP HELP,” according to the Huffington Post.
It was a miracle she found the letter, and the prisoner has as a consequence been found.
The letter, written on white lined paper, said he was a prisoner in a Chinese labor camp, being forced to make the paper bags for up to 13 hours a day. Adding to the mystery, there was also a photo, and he appeared to be of African descent.
“We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory,” he wrote in the letter he tucked into the bottom of the bag, the Huffington Post said.
The prisoner, Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, signed off: “Thanks and sorry to bother you.”
Njong has now been found. The Cameroonian had been teaching English in China, according to the Bleacher Report, when he was sentenced to three years in jail for fraud—a crime he denies, wrote the Bleacher.
In recent weeks, Njong was located through DNAinfo, and Huffington Post interviewed him on the phone. Their report said while in the Qingdao prison in Shandong Province, he was forced to work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. making things like paper bags and electronics.
His letter had been found by Wilson in September 2013, and the letter was dated three months earlier. Njong was released after serving his time, and sent back to Cameroon in December. He had not been allowed any outside communication after being detained, so his family had not heard from him for three years and thought he was dead.
“Wilson, who has never spoken to Njong, said she thinks about his plea for help all the time,” wrote the Huffington Post about the young Australian woman living in Harlem, New York. “She had always been mindful of the products she purchased and where they were made in a bid to avoid sweatshop labor, but she never thought to worry about generic products like shopping bags.”
Njong took a huge risk writing the letter, and had he been caught would have faced punishments like solitary confinement, an increased sentence, or even death, Harry Wu told Huffington Post. Wu is the founder of the Laogai Research Foundation, and spent 19 years in a Chinese prison factory himself.