December 14, 2018

A Cry for Help from a Far-Off Place

“When Christel Wallace found a piece of paper folded up at the bottom of her purse in March 2017, she threw it in the trash. She hadn’t yet used the maroon bag, made by Walmart and purchased from one of its Arizona stores months ago.

But after a few minutes, she got curious. She took the paper out of the wastebasket, unfolding the sheet to reveal a message scrawled in Mandarin Chinese.

Translated, it read: Inmates in China’s Yingshan Prison work 14 hours a day and are not allowed to rest at noon. We have to work overtime until midnight. People are beaten for not finishing their work. There’s no salt and oil in our meals. The boss pays 2,000 yuan every month for the prison to offer better food, but the food is all consumed by the prison guards. Sick inmates have to pay for their own pills. Prisons in China cannot be compared to prisons in the United States. Horse, cow, goat, pig, dog.

Christel’s daughter-in-law Laura Wallace posted a photo of the note to Facebook on April 23. The post first went viral locally, getting shared and liked several hundred times, mostly by fellow Arizonans. After a few days, local media outlets picked up the story; a week or so after that, dozens of mainstream publications like USA Today and HuffPost followed suit. One video report on the incident accumulated 2.9 million views.

Shares of the note provoked shock and outrage. Even those who were skeptical of the note’s provenance were incensed, pointing to a wider issue. “Who cares if it’s a marketing stunt?” read one comment on Facebook. “If it made five people rethink buying cheap crap, then it’s a success.””

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