Woman sitting sad and alone
Mental Health


Country of Origin: Singapore

I handed over my watch and shoes, and we approached the turnstile where I was to enter. He supported my hand, moving it towards the small glass panel where a red beam would have scanned my thumb. Instinctively, I struggled and kicked. I was instantly cuffed by the four men who accompanied me there. The cold metal of the handcuffs cut into the skin of my wrists. I stopped struggling so that I wouldn’t hurt myself. 

I was firmly pushed through the turnstile, then led by the shoulder down a passageway. We turned right into a room. The door made a dull and heavy sound as it closed behind me. An opaque slab immediately slid over a small rectangular opening in the upper half of the door. 

Once shut, the outline of the door vanished into the rest of the wall. 

The room was sealed. 

The walls were lined with stiff square vinyl cushions that were uniformly positioned and fixed, like bloated coasters on a surface. The ceiling and the floor were likewise treated. Once inside, it would seem as though one were in an endless box that looked the same from every angle. I did notice that the height of the room was longer than its length, which gave me a sense of being in a cupboard of sorts. It was a bit different from a cupboard, for it was dimly lit, or maybe brightly lit. I can’t quite remember now. In any case, white light from the ceiling illuminated the room. 

Empty white cell room
(Photo courtesy of iStock)

There was nothing in the room, not a bed nor a chair. There was no window, nor a place to relieve oneself if necessary. 

My body was tense. I could hear the absence of sound around me. Quite suddenly, I felt weak in my legs and flopped to the floor. I fell hard on the cushions and was surprised that I stayed down. I had half-expected that I would rise up and bounce, as one would on a trampoline. I closed my eyes, then, wondering if I was dreaming, opened them. The light had gone out and the room was in total darkness. I could have been in space, I could have been anywhere. I closed my eyes again. I didn’t think about standing up. I lay there motionless. I thought I was going to die, that I had been left there to die. What if I ran out of oxygen? 

I realised that I was gulping air. I began to tell myself to breathe regular breaths. In, out. In, out. I breathed deeply but slowed down. Life seemed to return, and I could hear my heart beating. It was pummelling so hard I thought it would jump out of my body. I couldn’t tell if time had slowed down, or if it had stopped completely. I concentrated on my breathing. I focused directly on the air streaming in through my nostrils and out through my mouth. I didn’t move. I didn’t bang on the walls hysterically, or cry or scream. My mind told me to conserve any last bit of energy that I might have, just in case I needed it. I needed to stay alive until the door opened again. 

sad woman sitting alone in a empty room
(Photo courtesy of iStock)

After what seemed like a very long time, I would be released from the padded cell. I had somehow fallen asleep. I woke to the heavy sound of the door. The door opened wide. Light from the outside flooded the room. It was bright and glaring. The room took shape once more, with its square white vinyl cushioned walls. 

Two men came into the room and I was given a plastic cup of water. I swallowed its contents without hesitation. I was helped to stand up, and was again being led down the corridor. I noticed the corridor’s grey concrete floor and the dirt that had accumulated between the crease where the wall met the floor. I was placed into a normal cell. Instead of a wall enclosing the cell, the side facing the corridor was made of an installation of bars. It felt like being in a cage. The room smelt of stale piss, and I could hear the sound of a whirring fan. In one corner was a stainless steel urinal, and in the other was a mattress without a sheet.

I had no idea what would happen to me next. Sometimes, I still don’t. 


Thank you to Christina Lee for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Mental Health team.

If you are interested in submitting a piece to the DG Sentinel, please visit our submissions page here.

Li Shan Chan was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2008. Prior to being admitted to the Institute of Mental Health Singapore, she had been arrested by the police and placed in a police lock up for the night.

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