12/26/1994 at 01:00 AM EST
It was a resounding thrashing. When 19-year-old Michael Fay was caned in Singapore last May—convicted of spray-painting cars—it set off an intercontinental brouhaha and inspired any number of debates. What is the line separating spanking and torture? Was Singapore, outwardly safe and sedate, fronting a latent barbarism? Or could America, riddled with gun-toting tots and serial killers, do with a dose of Singaporean sensibility? Fay himself, depending upon whom you asked, was either a railroaded martyr or an un-regenerate hooligan who got just what he asked for.
Whichever he was, Michael Fay had a rough year. First it was a lonely three-month imprisonment that included the four humiliating whacks on his bare bottom. And that was only the beginning. Fay returned from Singapore to his Dayton, Ohio, home in June, plagued with the pent-up rage and violent nightmares of posttraumatic stress syndrome. A month later he made headlines after a kitchen-floor tussle with his father, George, 47, a manufacturing executive. To get through the night, Fay sniffed butane gas from a can, a practice he had picked up in Singapore. Before long, it developed into a full-blown addiction. And in September he landed in Hazelden clinic, the well-known drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Center City, Minn.
But now Fay seems to have found some inner peace in an unlikely place: a spartan halfway house in St. Paul, where he has lived since checking out of Hazelden in mid-October. "I've had the best time of my life staying sober," says Fay, who clerks 40 hours a week in a music store. Due for release in February, he plans to stay in St. Paul and attend college in the fall. His physical, wounds have been reduced to a sprinkling of irritating brown scars, but his psychic pain is healing slowly. Fay still has bad dreams and some anger, though counseling has helped mitigate the problem. "I'm safe," he says. "And I have a safe place to go home to."