Those close to me have always known me to be someone who would stand up for the underdog. Since I was in school, there would sometimes be a particular kid who would get picked on. I would usually feel for that kid. Try to get him included in the general group (I came from an all-boys primary and secondary school). My math teacher from Junior College (JC) reminded me a couple of years ago that I stood up to a particular parent who was berating her when I was in (JC). She told me that I went to get her a bar of chocolate to cheer her up afterwards. When Leicester football club won the English Premier League, it was beautiful to see them lift the trophy. When someone or some group, when everyone writes them off, against all odds, rises to the top, that feel-good moment, is what I look out for.

So for this semester, we were usually broken up into three separate groups. We were grouped as either defence counsels, deputy public prosecutors and judicial officers. We then had to look at fact scenarios from the lens of whichever group we were assigned to. When my tutor Mr Cheong asked me which group I wanted to be in, it would always be the defence counsels. The odds are usually stacked against the defence counsels but there is a reason why I choose to stand on this side of the fence.

When I was a lot younger, perhaps slightly less than a third of my present age, I would play football or basketball with a bunch of kids at the basketball court near my home. I lived at Lorong Lew Lian and I craved going out to meet my friends from the neighbourhood. My mother hardly let me go out to play. My family was very academically inclined. I for one am not academically inclined when compared to the rest of my siblings. Of whom I am the eldest. I enjoyed sports but I was never nurtured to do well in them. This was despite my doing relatively well in certain areas. I found joy in working for my grandparents at their school bookshop at Serangoon Gardens Secondary School. I learned how to do business, handle money and deal with customers. I found joy in meeting friends whom my mother described as “not the best company”. The truth is these people who were deemed to not be the best people to mix with were actually people who looked out for me. These were kids from neighbourhood schools. Most of them picked up smoking at a really young age. During my time as a teenager, there were shops that sold cigarettes to kids at a cost of 10 cents per stick. My friends never let me smoke. They taught me how to play basketball, football and sepak takraw. They taught me some Malay, dialect and even Tamil. Albeit some were swearing words which applied when we played football or basketball. A few times they were caught by police walking by and on a few occasions, some were suspended from school. As I never smoked, I was never caught. A few of them even told me not to smoke because I was the “smart one” and I went to the “express course” in a “branded school”. They never let me touch cigarettes or alcohol when I was around them. Initially, I thought it was because I was not accepted. However, one day, I understood why.

We were playing football against another group of kids at the basketball court. We were winning the game when one of them started to become violent. He kicked me and when I was on the ground, I was struck on the head with something and I was dazed and was bleeding. My friends then proceeded to defend me. A few of them got into a fight with the other group as they were unhappy that I was hurt. One of them ran to me and told me to lie on the ground and don’t join in the fight. Soon, a few policemen came and a few of them had their names taken down and the incident was reported to their respective schools. I washed my wound up before heading home and I never told my family that I was hurt. I remember my pillow was stained with blood and I had to wash it myself just so that no one would know that I was injured because of a fight. If anyone knew, it would vindicate the notion that I was hanging out with a bunch of gangsters at the basketball court and I would not be allowed to play there anymore. A few days later, I met one of them. He told me that a few of them were suspended from school and one of the boys would be sent to some home (I’ve no idea what that meant at the time and I’ve no idea where he went). They all knew collectively to defend me because I was the “smart one”. I was prevented from smoking and fighting BECAUSE I was accepted into their circle and not because I was not. They were looking out for the “smart one”. I was never the “smart one” at home and in school.

Over time, the group that hung out at the basketball court at Lorong Lew Lian slowly dissipated. I myself started focusing more on my studies. I made it to a decent junior college and then to NUS. I never met those friends anymore and I cannot even remember their names and I cannot recognise them anymore. However, almost 30 years later, I am in the SUSS School of Law. In class, when we read about cases, sometimes it makes me wonder if any of those friends ever got into trouble. When a person is convicted of a crime and it goes on the papers or on social media, there will be members of the public that will pass judgement like “this person is bad to the core” and “he deserved it”. However, looking back at that incident decades ago. These kids got into trouble because of a situation. These were my friends looking out for me. When they saw me hit on the head, and I think it was a rock that was used to do so, they stood up against my attacker. Without them, I believe I would have been struck more than once. I don’t think anyone bothered to understand why they got into a fight. Perhaps they did not even bother explaining because they felt that the police would already have come to the conclusion that this fight was something that was in keeping with their character.

So why would I want to stand on the other side when the system is already heavily weighed against the accused? I am not saying that every accused is not as culpable as what they are charged for. All I am saying is that as a society we cannot have the inherent confirmation bias that just because this person has done this offence before, he must have done the same offence for the same reason as before. Every offence has a story and sometimes we need to listen to the accused’s side of the story to understand why they did it.

So why would I want to defend the accused? The same reason why those kids defended me. They did not have to. To most of them, I am not from the same race, I don’t come from the same school, and I don’t come from the same background. Yet they stood up for this weird Chinese kid who came from a “branded school”. When I asked one of them why they fought back, he told me that if they did not defend me, then how?

Many years later, it comes full circle.

Me being a DPP? That is so not me.


Yours sincerely,