Yes, the tongues are wagging. Isn’t she well off? Isn’t she educated? Didn’t she have everything she ever wanted? What happened?
Even the Judge commented: “Despite the accused’s background, the case is completely ordinary, in terms of the type of conviction, the reasons for consumption and the accidents that occurred.”
The key words are “Despite the accused’s background.” That stood out because she was supposed to be different, a cut above the rest for having a good padded start (or foundation) in life.
Well, there is always two perspectives to see the case. The first is the way the law sees it and the second is the way Audrey Tan May Li, 45, sees it.
The law sees it as a commission, an admission and an incarceration (for rehabilitation).
Here’s the commission. Audrey, a former public relation consultant, drove without due care and attention when under the influence of the drug ketamine, and knocked over a traffic light. That was in August 2015.
While on bail, Audrey “reoffended in October last year when she turned up intoxicated for a psychiatrist assessment at the Institute of Mental Health.”
Here’s the admission. Audrey pleaded guilty to three drug charges and the driving charge on 27 August.
And here’s the incarceration part. The court sentenced her to 22 months jailed for “repeatedly abusing drugs over two years” when her lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam pleaded for probation.
The district judge said that “her ability to make conscious choices is not impaired.” Well, that much is true from a legal standpoint.
Now comes the other perspective from Audrey’s life.
In her defence, Audrey said that the substance abuse was a form of “self medication to escape from the stresses of her life.”
In my view, it would be more appropriate to call them a trail of brokenness that she had to trudge through (instead of “stresses of her life”). Here’s why.
First, her parents’ divorce was traumatic for her. It was the breakup that made news because their marriage lasted for decades and they were the founder of the highly successful luxury watch retailer, The Hour Glass.
Audrey’s mum, Jannie Chan, 73, also faced a possible jail term (pending appeal) for contempt of court. Her father, Dr Henry Tay, 73, is struggling to move on with a new love of his life.
But that’s not all for Audrey. Her own marriage also ended in divorce. She has three children from that marriage, and according to the court papers, “her elder daughter (was) taken from her in 2014 by her former husband.”
It reports that Audrey suffered ”from overwhelming pain and despair from her elder daughter rejecting her.”
For the above reasons, Audrey “developed psychiatric issues and was later found to be suffering from adjustment disorder with depressed mood and anxiety, and from substance abuse disorder.”
Her lawyer said, “These circumstances exacerbated her mood...and led her to recklessly take the substance.”
Lesson? That’s the two perspectives of seeing the case: through the eye of the law and through Audrey’s eye.
The law has a certain standard. It is often strict, some even seemingly arbitrarily fixed. For example, if you exceed a certain weight for drug possession for purpose of trafficking or your alcohol level exceeds the legal limit, you face either death or life’s imprisonment, or a possible jail term with disqualification.
Even for age, your life can take a drastic turn if you commit an offence.
If the victim is below a certain age, your offending act will warrant a heavier sentence. If you as the offender commits the offence at a certain age, you may be denied more rehabilitative forms of sentences like probation, reformatory training or community based sentences.
So, when you breached that threshold, or fall short of that mark, whether it is weight, alcohol level or age, you have to face the music and serve the time.
But when you see it from Audrey’s perspective, things are often less clear.
The brokenness she has to struggle through (of experiencing her parents’ divorce and her own and her daughter’s rejection) comes in as compassionate grounds in mitigation of her action, but they do not alter the legal position that “her ability to make conscious choices is not impaired.”
Often justice’s hands are tied because the social contract to govern a society depends on maintaining law and order in return for the citizenry’s trust and compliance, and justice is - proverbially speaking - blind to all the subjective nuances of an individual’s pain and struggles that seem to justify one’s action to some extent, but does not satisfy that legal threshold of an unimpaired free will.
Alas, I truly wish Audrey well in this most unfortunate crossroad of her life. I pray for her recovery and resilience, and for an enduring hope bigger than her own pain and sorrows.
It is said that the swift wind of compromise is more devastating that the sudden jolt of misfortune. While wind caresses and lulls you, a jolt wakes you up.
Most times, we escape from what we need to confront because we cannot imagine or bear the pain that such misfortune may bring. But escapism invariably brings even more pain over time.
And it is only when we tell ourselves it has to stop, and stop right here that we bring about enduring change. This resolve (or teacher) comes in many forms, and one of it is unfortunately (or fortunately) misfortune - depending on one’s perspective. Cheerz.