#DearSyed: A letter from Helsinki

#dearsyed is a letter-writing campaign by the Transformative Justice Collective (TJC) in solidarity with death row inmate Syed Suhail, whose brave voice moved us to come together and build a movement for the abolition of the death penalty. We’re collecting letters for Syed throughout the month of March 2021. Read more about the campaign and get involved: https://tinyurl.com/dearsyed

Dear Syed,

I’m sorry that I am writing on the computer. My hand writing is practically illegible!

I’m writing to you from Helsinki, Finland, in the north of Europe. My 18 year old cat, Moby, aka The Joo Chiat Gangster from Singapore is with me on the sofa. It is 6th March its minus 10 degrees outside and it is snowing and the sea has frozen into ice as far as the eye can see.

I have a student Anna, who is currently in Russia and she spoke the other day about imagining she could walk from St Petersburg over the ice to Helsinki. For me, I imagine that the ice is frozen all the way to Singapore and that I could walk there and stand outside Changi prison with so many others who care about you and your case.

I want you to know that your story has travelled this far thanks to the many in Singapore who care deeply about you and your family and who care enough to want to fight against all odds to change the barbaric, colonial system you are being put through.

I read your sister Sharifah’s stories about you. And I watched a video interview with your sister Sharmila. It’s so clear how much both of them love and respect you. Your sisters are so very wise, perceptive, so able to understand the complexities of where and how things happened the way they did for you.

They told us about your loss of your Mother and your Father.

I only wish the Singapore legal system had half of this wisdom and compassion of your sisters.

Something Sharifah said rang so true to me:

“All of us have our own skeletons in the closet. Our own silent addictions, coping mechanisms.”

I dearly wish that your story and the stories of those like you would finally give Singaporeans in power the courage to transform their legal system from a colonial relic to a visionary, ground breaking model of justice that moves beyond kneejerk, punitive reactions.

I think of those Singaporeans in power and high up the judiciary (some of whom I have met personally). I think of them enjoying a cigarette or a cup of coffee or one too many glasses of beer or whisky or wine or whatever they do after a day of stress and/or loneliness and/or alienation. I think of them on one of those days when they feel lost, and when they try to re-tell themselves that story about how they are only staying in the system, only working within the machine in order to make things better from the inside or to make good a promise to their lost Father or their lost Mother or their estranged partner or their children; a promise to try and change things and to make things better.

I dearly wish how, after that second or third glass or cigarette they take in, that they might come to realize, in your sister’s words, how similar we all are in our fragilities and our coping mechanisms. I wish that Singapore might finally have the courage and maturity to use the crazy wealth that it accumulated to imagine and create a society with values based upon empathy, care and relationships as much as competition and individualism.

I wish that Singapore might be able to celebrate the collective values that already exist in its population; values that are demonstrated by your sisters; values have the capacity to transform the cold individualistic machine into something nurturing; something in common.

Sharmila tells me you have read philosophy and poetry. How you wrote articles. How you would also goof around and make people laugh. I imagine how you might write a story that is poetic and philosophical and perhaps also funny; a story that might perhaps might just finally melt the ice in the hearts of those in power. And I imagine that when reading your story, they might also recognize in it their own alienation and loneliness. I imagine they might perhaps realize that a reason they want to push you away, to lock you away into this dark corner, a reason they want to do violence to your body and to those like you, has as much to do with an inability to find compassionate, collective ways to respond to their own pain and feelings of abandonment, as it has to do with any threat you personally might be to Singapore society at large.

My cat 18 years old, from Joo Chiat is purring beside me. I so wish you could hear him purr! He purrs in another space and time from humans. It is a sound that heals both his ageing asthmatic body, and my own.

I pray that things will get better for you. I wish you great, great courage. This is a courage I do not know, as I have never ever been tested in the way that you are now. I wish you the healing sound of a cat that purrs. I want you to know that we know your name, Syed. I want you to know that the very wise words of your sisters Sharmila and Sharifah have touched many, that we think of you and that you are deeply cared about.

With gratitude and respect,
Lucy Davis

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