In 2012, A New York woman was shopping in a Saks Fifth Avenue store when, upon reaching inside her shopping bag to retrieve a receipt, she discovered a letter that said, “HELP HELP HELP.”
"We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory,” the letter continued.
Included with the letter was a picture of the man who wrote it, Tohnain Emmanual Njong, and 28-year-old Stephanie Wilson said she was in complete shock by the entire thing.
"I read the letter and I just shook," said Wilson. "I could not believe what I was reading."
After finding the letter, Wilson decided to take it to professionals so that they could try to track down the supposed Chinese prisoner. She turned the information over to Laogai Research Foundation, who works to fight human rights violations in Chinese prisons.
The organization began by searching various records, and eventually, they decided to search for the email address that the man wrote on the back of the letter. When that email address bounced back, however, they knew they were at a standstill.
"There would be solitary confinement until you confess and maybe later they increase your sentence — or even death," said Laogai Research Foundation Founder Harry Wu of the risk that Njong took by writing the letter.
When Laogai realized that they had done everything in their power, they reportedly turned the findings over to the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, the DHS was unable to confirm that they got anywhere with the investigation.
Now, DNAinfo.com is reporting that by actively searching through social media and email address records, they were finally able to track down a man who claims to be Njong.
“In recent weeks, using the now-inactive email address and social media accounts, DNAinfo located a man who said he wrote the letter that Wilson found,” reads the latest report from DNAinfo. “In a two-hour phone interview, a man who identified himself as Njong said he wrote the letter during his three-year prison sentence in the eastern city of Qingdao, Shandong Province. Unprompted, Njong described obscure details in the letter, like its mention of Samuel Eto'o, a professional soccer player on English premiere league team Chelsea, who like Njong is from Cameroon in West Africa.”
Njong was reportedly arrested and jailed on fraud allegations, but he, to this day, maintains that he never committed that crime. Now, Njong is living in Dubai, out of jail, and working a steady job. He says he is grateful that someone found one of his letters.
"It was the biggest surprise of my life," said Njong. “I am just happy that someone heard my cry."
Saks Fifth Avenue is reportedly investigating the claims that their shopping bags are made by Chinese prisoners, which may actually be illegal here in the United States. Wilson says that this experience has been “the biggest eye-opener for me” and that it has caused her to really pay attention to what she is purchasing and from where.