JAPAN (JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - "Nobody cares about me anyway. I'll be fired from my part-time job and sent to a juvenile training school, right?"
In response to this outburst from a 16-year-old boy at a juvenile classification home in Kyushu, in September 2014, his lawyer gave an unexpected answer.
"Usually you would be sent to a juvenile training school. But you have a chance of not being sent."
The lawyer explained that the manager of the gas station where the boy worked could submit a petition to the court.
At his trial the next day, the boy was sentenced to probation instead of being sent to a juvenile training school.
"Normally what you have done would mandate your being sent to a juvenile training school. But I hold onto the hope that your employer will retain you, and that you will be reformed," a judge said.
Hearing these words, the boy shed heavy tears.
The petition, handwritten by the manager, read: "He works hard by the sweat of his brow and is loved by customers. He is essential, and necessary staff for our company. I believe that he will surely be reformed."
The boy's parents were divorced when he was 3. After that, the boy lived in the house of his 69-year-old grandmother with his mother, 38, and his sister, 13.
His mother was away from home a lot when he was in the third grade of primary school. When the boy was in sixth grade, the mother said that she would not return home for a while.
A few days later, she called and said, "I cannot live with you anymore."
"She abandoned us. She doesn't care about us," the boy thought, his heart filled with sorrow. But he fought back the tears as he saw his sister crying right beside him.
As the family no longer received his mother's income, they lived on the grandmother's pension and the money she earned from her part-time job as the janitor at a condominium.
Their life, never characterised by material abundance, became even tougher. For supper, they only had one dish, shared with rice and miso soup. They no longer ate out. When the boy wanted the clothes that many friends wore, the grandmother only scolded him, saying, "Don't be so needy!"
"I don't have either parents or money," the boy thought. He envied his classmates. He got into fights and shoplifted, as if through doing this he could forget his sorrows.
But when he entered high school, he felt that he should not keep living like that and started a part-time job for the first time in his life at the gas station.
There, he found that he did not know how to communicate with customers. When he did not reply to a customer who said "Thank you" to him, the manager scolded him, saying "Be polite!"
Initially he thought it was annoying, but gradually he came to appreciate the fatherly influence of the manager, whose frequent reminders helped him learn common courtesies.
It was in August last year that he assaulted a student in a higher grade at school during a quarrel over a small matter, and was sent to a juvenile classification home. The incident happened to coincide with the time when he had started to find his part-time job rewarding.
The manager who wrote the petition for the boy had lost his own father when he was a middle school student. When he was in high school, the manager quit school to help with his family business. Neighbours supported his family by giving them rice and vegetables.
The manager saw his past self in the boy after learning that he had been abandoned by his own family and lived in poverty.
He knew that the boy had shoplifted, too, but decided to trust him because he felt that the boy's smile, seen at work as if he were saying, "It feels so nice when I do something helpful for others," was genuine.
The boy returned to work the day after the ruling. He quit school and now works at the gas station. His attendance is perfect, and he is never late. He began to save ¥50,000 (S$572) a month and finished repaying the medical costs for the student he injured in the fight.
"I will be a grown-up who can take responsibility for himself and his family, to return the favor of the manager who trusted me," the boy said.
"He may make a mistake again, but I will believe in him," the manager said, his hands on the boy's shoulders.
"I think more kids can be saved if more adults like me step up."