Funds raised will be used towards our prison and reentry programs including:
Community-based reentry programs led by formerly incarcerated Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
Conducting organizing and advocacy to address increasing issues of “crimmigration”–the intersection of mass incarceration and deportation policies.
Expanding/replicating the San Quentin ROOTS program. Inspired from Ethnic Studies/Asian American Studies curriculum, the ROOTS program includes presentations and discussions on the following topics: AAPI immigration history, intergenerational trauma, social justice movements, racial formation and criminalization, health disparities, mental health, cultural healing practices, masculinity and gender, healthy/unhealthy relationships, LGBTQ experiences, deportation policies and reentry planning.
Thank you for enabling APSC to support our currently and formerly incarcerated community members!
“For many years I never imagined I would be home again. After 23 years, I am finally blessed with the freedom from incarceration. Learning what it takes to be an adult, since being locked up at the age of 17, has been challenging. I would like to extend a tremendous thank you to APSC for the many opportunities of employment and ability to continue the hard work of community building. I am also very grateful for my family, friends, Collette Carroll, and countless others for helping me with my reentry back into society. Now that I’m out here, I can still support my Asian and Pacific Islander (API) brothers and sisters who are serving their sentences and once they return home, I am here for you the best I can. Know you have support out here for you.” –Nghiep “Ke” Lam
Greetings from APSC! As the year comes to a close, we reflect on 2016, both good and bad. Here’s some of what APSC has been up to this past year:
APSC’s Restoring Our Original True Selves (ROOTS) program at San Quentin state prison completed its third cycle, graduating a total of 34 participants and co-facilitators—a group of mostly Asian and Pacific Islander (API) “lifers,” many of whom have been locked up since they were teenagers. APSC also expanded the ROOTS program to Solano state prison, where over 40 members are participating in a pilot program on level 3. A couple of highlights to mention about this year’s ROOTS:
A strong emphasis on race, culture, gender and sexuality, with meaningful partnership with and participation from API Equality – Northern California. Workshops on gender, sexuality and intersectionality led to discussions and performances on how incarcerated participants can work as allies in LGBTQ movements that include folks of color.
The “Forbidden Trauma Project”—where ROOTS participants wrote about school related traumas from elementary school to be shared with teachers in professional development workshops and union meetings.
We were especially happy to welcome home two ROOTS graduates—Nghiep “Ke” Lam and Syyen Hong—both former “lifers” who spent many years behind bars. With support from individual donors and local foundations, we were able to hire both of them to provide peer-based reentry activities.
APSC’s Roots 2 Reentry program expanded this year to include a paid employment training program for formerly incarcerated people of color, a collaboration with Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) and No More Tears (NMT).
First Reentry Training Cohort – APSC, BOSS, and NMT
After a 3-day strategic planning retreat (many years in the making), APSC made the decision to hire four full-time staff: Eddy Zheng (Co-Director), Ben Wang (Co-Director), Harrison Seuga (Reentry Director), and Nghiep “Ke” Lam (Reentry Coordinator), beginning in 2017. This is the first time that APSC has hired employees with benefits. As an organization with a 10+ year history of relying almost solely on volunteer efforts, this is a major shift. As we grow, we will stay committed to values of grassroots leadership, community accountability, and advocacy—while providing living wage salaries for our staff. Many thanks to our funders who have made this possible, including: individual donors, Akonadi Foundation, The California Endowment, the East Bay Community Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, Asian Health Services, and the Alameda County Innovations in Reentry program.
APSC raised over $10,000 for its prison and reentry programs during the Oakland Running Festival
APSC continued its role as planning committee member of the national coalition, AAPIs Beyond Bars. In August, we participated in the 2nd national convening, this time hosted by Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together (FIGHT) in Seattle, WA. We met with a group of incarcerated APIs in Monroe Correctional Complex and supported an action outside Northwest Detention Center-a facility that detains and processes many Southeast Asian Americans for deportation.
1Love Movement Rally in Tacoma, WA
APSC became a member of the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County (JRC-AC), which promotes community-based and restorative practices over traditional punitive law enforcement approaches. The JRC-AC successfully campaigned for at least 50% of AB109 reentry funding to go towards community-based organizations (as opposed to law enforcement entities such as Probation or the Sheriff’s Department) as well as a commitment to secure 1400 jobs for formerly incarcerated people in Alameda County.
The documentary film, Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story, premiered at San Quentin in February 2016 and CAAMFest in March 2016. The film has had over 30 screenings across the country, has won 4 film festival awards, and is slated to be broadcast on PBS in 2017. The screenings have enabled APSC to reach a wider audience and build new partnerships.
This podcast was recorded, edited, and produced entirely by a team of currently incarcerated people in the San Quentin Prison Report and the San Quentin ROOTS program. Meet Adnan Khan, Kamsan Suon, and Hieu Nguyen.
“The Migration to School to Prison Pipeline”
Hieu Nguyen at the ROOTS Convening, 2015
Kamsan Suon on the lower yard, San Quentin, from Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story
Adnan Khan at the ROOTS Convening, 2015
Adnan Khan (AK): Going to school in America can be difficult for any child, but for an immigrant child, the challenges can be far more complicated. Many times, teachers are unaware of the trauma an immigrant child experiences prior to stepping foot in an American classroom. This is the story about two men, Kamsan Suon, a Cambodian immigrant, and Hieu Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant, who share their experiences on traveling the migration to school pipeline. From the San Quentin Prison Report, I’m Adnan Khan with that story.
AK: During the genocide in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge enforced oppressive policies on its people.
Kamsan Suon (KS): The people were, you know, escaping the country, and we had to cross land mines, some of us, you know, made it, some of us didn’t…
KS: They closed off the border, stuff like that, and they didn’t want nobody to go in or out. And even in the jungles there’s booby traps in the jungles, sort of like, turned the whole country into a giant prison.
AK: The Cambodians endured tough times and food was hard to come by. When Kamsan was young, a friend told him to wait near the soldiers while they took their break, hoping for leftovers.
KS: And so that’s what I did, and they gave me a one of those French breads, that’s what I remember. [laughs] It was, I don’t know, it was like, I felt like, pretty good about it, just ’cause I had French bread, you know, never had good food before.
AK: At nine years old, the struggle for food was just as difficult in Vietnam for Hieu and his family.
Hieu Nguyen (HN): When I was like, nine years old, me and my brother, we came back from our little farm that we grow potato: white potato, we have. We were robbed by all the people because in the camp we had nothing to eat, so they would beat up my brother and me; crack my head open, crack my brother’s head open, and took it.
AK: After dealing with the hardships in their homelands as kids, Kamsan and Hieu had to face another struggle with adjusting to a new country and a school system that was foreign to them.
HN: For the first time I came to school in America, I still remember, I went to Milipitas High School, right. Everything’s so new. I was shocked, like, Wow, everything is so crowded, people walk everywhere. I could, I was lost. I just, I just see so many stuff, and I don’t understand, I don’t know anything! So the first day I just sit, honestly I just sit there like, “hm.” This is how school went. I feel like weird, you know what I’m saying? It’s like a new environment, I feel like, I feel like a… like a outcast.”
KS: That’s how I learned, I followed them, I followed the students, where they goin’, right, and once I seen, went into cafeteria and seen them picking up trays, I was like, ‘Oh, okay, we eatin’ lunch!’ So that’s how I picked up how my days go by, Oh, this time I’m eatin’ lunch, so I’m waitin’ on, you know, just to follow them, until I develop the language later on.
AK: Understanding American culture is difficult for immigrants. So being teased for wearing cheap shoes was confusing for Hieu.
HN: I remember I like, I wear a, it’s called Payless Shoes, the shoe that my family bought, my mom bought from Payless Shoes. And all the kids over here, they wear Nike shoes, and they — they were looking at me and making fun of me. I feel so low.
AK: Being teased and bullied is common for immigrant kids. When Kamsan was in the fourth grade, he also experienced racism.
KS: In the fourth grade, I remember we was walking, I mean, we were waiting in line to go back into the class, right, ’cause it was recess, all of a sudden — I’m just minding my own business — all of a sudden, the kid he comes up and he says, ‘Hey, Kamsan,’ and he said, ‘Look at this,’ and you know, he held a soda can in his hand, and he threw it on the ground and he said, ‘The sound of the can as it roll and bounce’ — he said, ‘that’s how your name sounds like,’ You know, I got really upset about that, and whole bunch of other kids laughed.
AK: Hieu and Kamsan were new students in an American school, but neither one of them knew how to speak English. Because of the language barrier, the teasing and the bullying continued.
HN: When I came over here, I got into school but it’s really that a lot of stuff that I don’t understand about the culture over here. And not only that, but the language barrier. Now I go, when I go to school, when all the kids, they making fun of me speaking English and they would, “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” in school — when I talk, it triggers me a lot.
KS: I remember um, walking home from school, you know, I still wasn’t able to communicate. And this White kid, he keep on harassing me, you know, I don’t know how to communicate, so I just spoke to him in my language, in Cambodian. [laughs] I says, ‘Stop pushing me!’ You know, it’s… And he laughs at me because I spoke in my language. He laughs at me and he mimics my language, you know, saying ‘Ching chong chang’… stuff like that, you know what I mean, which is… And when he says that I don’t know what he’s talking about, because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. [laughs]
AK: Being victims of racism, bullying, and not feeling accepted, Hieu and Kamsan found support elsewhere. Unfortunately, like many incarcerated immigrants, they both found a sense of belonging in gangs with other Cambodian and Vietnamese kids.
HN: When I start go hang around with other Vietnamese and join the gang, I don’t let people do that to me no more. I put my — after I got into the gang, I put myself to a higher standard now. So everywhere I go, I build my reputation. I build my respect. So if people try to come at me that way, I will put them down. If I have to use force, if I have to use violence, I will put them down, so I want them to know — acknowledge — that I am somebody. That they will no longer put me to the shame, that person again. I will no longer want to be that victim again.
KS: I changed, I started fighting back ’cause I was like, yeah, simply tired of all these people bullying me. You know, it was a difficult time. My childhood was very difficult. I tried to be a good, you know, a good kid.
AK: Today, Hieu and Kamsan are serving life sentences in prison. For the ROOTS Program in San Quentin, I’m Adnan Khan reporting for SQPR.
APSC marathon relay running teams (Not pictured: Sachi Yoshii and Jessica Farb)
Thank you to everyone who generously donated to APSC’s Oakland Running festival fundraiser. Including cash donations, we raised over $10,000 towards our prison and reentry programs!
Funds will go towards: 1) Expanding/replicating the San Quentin ROOTS program, 2) Hiring another formerly incarcerated person to provide culturally competent reentry services, and 3) Conducting organizing and advocacy to address the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline.
As APSC moves from an all-volunteer based model to a small organization with one full-time paid staff (Eddy Zheng) and a few part-time staff/consultants (Harrison Seuga, Ben Wang, and Roger Chung), we will strive to maintain our core values. As our allies at All Of Us Or None state, we aim to be “Building a Movement, Not Just Another Non-Profit.”
Here are a few of our guiding principles:
Formerly Incarcerated Leadership:
Currently, 75% of APSC staff and consultants’ pay is committed to formerly incarcerated people. We will strive to maintain this 75% mark and commit to never going below 51%.
APSC was formed on a volunteer model and we will always strive to cultivate an active base of volunteers, supporters, and students
We will engage our community through a community advisory council and through the San Quentin ROOTS program leadership team
Fundraising and Sustainability
We seek to diversify our funding sources, including grassroots fundraising, so that we do not fall into a negative dependency with institutional funders
We will proactively plan for budget cuts when funding cycles shift
Our ultimate goal is not to build up the organization, but to eliminate the need for organizations like APSC
APSC hosted the national convening, AAPIs Behind Bars: Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline on June 26th, 2015 at San Quentin State Prison.
Greetings from APSC! We hope you and your loved ones are doing well. It has been too long since we last shared what we have been up to, so here goes with a year-end summary:
APSC’s ROOTS program at San Quentin state prison completed its second cycle, graduating a cohort of 39 participants. Inspired from Ethnic Studies/Asian American Studies curriculum, the ROOTS program included presentations and discussions on the following topics: Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) immigration history, intergenerational trauma, social justice movements, racial formation and criminalization, health disparities, mental health, cultural healing practices, masculinity and gender, healthy/unhealthy relationships, LGBTQ experiences, deportation policies, reentry planning, and comedy. Thank you to all of our inside and outside facilitators who led the weekly class. We are already underway with ROOTS cycle 3, with an enhanced curriculum led by Ethnic Studies professor Roger Chung and the continued involvement from many inside and outside facilitators!
APSC’s Roots 2 Reentry program continued providing peer support and case management services for recently released individuals. A total of 22 formerly incarcerated men and women have participated in the program. In addition to direct services, APSC provides “community immersion” opportunities, where formerly incarcerated people can participate in cultural events to build community and increase their social support networks. Some examples included painting a Lunar New Year’s mural, attending AAPI community events and rallies, volunteering for community-based groups, and holding group exercise activities. APSC continued its collaboration with Red Bay Coffee, a fast-growing local coffee roasting company. Red Bay provided paid employment training for several of our formerly incarcerated participants and hired three formerly incarcerated folks to their staff.
In June 2015, APSC and the ROOTS program hosted AAPIs Behind Bars: Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline, a national convening at San Quentin State Prison that brought together more than 100 stakeholders from diverse sectors, including community-based and national organizations, labor unions, foundations, elected officials, currently and formerly incarcerated AAPIs, educators, and researchers. The ROOTS leaders gave presentations about intergenerational trauma, transformation, and social justice. The audience was moved by their personal stories, honesty, reflection, and vision.
ROOTS leader David Le leads a presentation at the AAPIs Behind Bars convening.
We are also grateful to have built key alliances with many organizations and community leaders during the planning of the convening, including the AAPIs Beyond Bars national planning committee: 1Love Movement; Advancing Justice-LA; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO; Empowering Pacific Islander Communities; National Education Association; and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. Another key partnership involved Asian Health Services, which provided APSC with its first office space, housed at The Spot Youth Center in Oakland Chinatown.
In September 2015, Eddy Zheng, APSC Co-Chair, began a Soros Justice Fellowship. His 18-month project will seek to raise awareness about the impact of criminalization and deportation on the AAPI community and ensure that the AAPI voice and experience is included in the larger movement to end mass incarceration in the United States. We are excited to have Eddy working full-time with APSC as we continue to grow.
In December 2015, Eddy Zheng and Harrison Seuga (APSC Reentry Director) represented APSC at a congressional briefing in Washington D.C. focused on the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline, organized by the AAPIs Beyond Bars committee. This event served as the release for a joint report on AAPIs and mass incarceration, which can be downloaded here: http://bit.ly/AAPIsBehindBars
While public attention to mass incarceration has grown and public policies begin to shift towards decreasing the prison population, many challenges remain: the inhumane conditions in immigration detention centers have led to hunger strikes and administrative retaliation; many state prison beds have simply been replaced by increasing county jail beds; Sheriff’s and Probation departments seek to control realignment/reentry funds, rather than investing in community-based solutions; and transformative policy shifts remain elusive.
For many years, APSC has operated on volunteer labor and a shoestring budget. As we look to expand (replicating ROOTS program at another prison, hiring another formerly incarcerated person, and playing a larger role in advocacy and organizing), we will need to increase our staff time and resources. If you are able to make a donation towards APSC’s programs, please visit: https://www.givedirect.org/give/givefrm.asp?cid=987
and select Asian Prisoner Support Committee from the drop-down Program Area.
APSC members Eddy Zheng and Harrison Seuga at the Congressional briefing in Washington DC on December 2nd, 2015. Photo credit: Phuong Do.
Washington, DC—During a Congressional briefing at Cannon House Office Building yesterday, national advocacy organizations representing Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups and their allies shared a policy report on the impact of mass incarceration on the AAPI community entitled “AAPIs Behind Bars: Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline.”
Discussing the impact of mass incarceration and mass criminalization within the AAPI community, the policy report was created after a historic convening held in June 2015 inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison in Northern California. The June gathering had connected more than 100 leaders, including activists, funders, lawmakers, policy experts, and community members, with actively incarcerated AAPI prisoners.
Yesterday’s Congressional briefing included remarks from Reps. Judy Chu (CA-27, CAPAC chair) and Bobby Scott (VA-3). Rep Barbara Lee (CA-13) attended the event to meet with impacted members from her district. In addition, formerly incarcerated individuals and those with pending deportation orders were invited to reflect on their personal experiences.
ABOUT THE AAPIS BEHIND BARS POLICY REPORT
Written in collaboration with the prisoners enrolled in an Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC) transformation and racial healing program called Restoring Our Original True Selves (ROOTS), the report offered a number of policy recommendations that would better serve the incarcerated AAPI community, including the implementation of culturally competent programs, reformation of sentencing laws, reinstitution of Pell grants to fund prisoners’ college educations, repeal of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, and the creation of a prison-to-jobs pipeline, among others.
Officially categorized as “Others” throughout much of the prison system, AAPIs represent a population that is often overlooked. In 2013, there were 118,100 “Others” in the state and federal prison system, comprising 9% of the state and federal prison system.1 During the prison boom of the 1990s, the AAPI prisoner population grew by 250%, while disaggregated data shows that certain Asian subgroups, such as Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, have significantly high rates of arrest and incarceration.1 Closely tied to the rise of mass incarceration is the growth of immigration detention and deportation, which has increased for AAPIs overall, and Southeast Asian Americans in particular. In fact, Southeast Asian American communities are three to four times more likely to be deported for old convictions, compared to other immigrant communities.2 Incarcerated AAPIs also experience unique challenges, including cultural stigmas, lack of community awareness, and disownment from their families.
ABOUT THE CONGRESSIONAL BRIEFING
The briefing was hosted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA (AAAJ-LA), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance / AFL-CIO (APALA), Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC), the National Education Association (NEA), the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) and the National Council on Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), in collaboration with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).
Moderated by Paul Jung, of AAAJ-LA, the panel of formerly incarcerated individuals included Naroen Chhin, 1Love Movement, Philadelphia; Lundy Khoy, SEARAC, Washington, D.C.; David Kupihea, API Rise, Los Angeles; Kristopher Larsen, Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together (FIGHT), Seattle; Harrison Seuga, APSC, Oakland; and Eddy Zheng, APSC, Oakland.
Panelists shared stories of events that profoundly impacted their lives, from being born in refugee camps, growing up in poverty, enduring sexual abuse, and being victimized by bullying. They also stressed the importance of education both inside and outside prison walls, and called for the AAPI community to come together to fight the cycle of injustice collectively.
To access the full report, “AAPIs Behind Bars: Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline,” click here.
To access a PDF version of the press release, click here.
“The Southeast Asian American narrative continues to be overlooked in the debate for more humane criminal justice laws. These refugee communities face overwhelmingly high rates of poverty, school push-out, mental health disorders, and criminalization, as a result of their unique history of trauma. The failure to understand these challenges have led to an increasing number of inmates being funneled from detention to deportation—a reality our lawmakers must understand if they are truly committed to creating a system of restorative justice for all.” — Quyen Dinh, Executive Director, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
“Not only do we have to work to fix our broken prison system, we have to work to fix our immigration system.” — US Rep Judy Chu, CA-27
“Following the first-ever AAPI Behind Bars convening last summer, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) will continue to engage key stakeholders, allies, formerly and currently incarcerated people, as well as unions and the broader labor movement, to disrupt the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline. We must find ways to create a pathway for rehabilitation and restorative justice for individuals who are part criminal justice system. APALA will continue to prioritize mass employment and education while organizing to dismantle the mass incarceration structure that criminalizes people of color in America.” — Gregory Cendana, National Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, APALA
“Our incarceration rate is so big that it’s counterproductive.” — US Rep Bobby Scott, VA-3
“During the past decades, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented number of youth of color incarcerated in this country. The current narrative lacks the visibility of Southeast Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders who are disproportionately impacted by this era of mass incarceration. And consequently, culturally relevant services at various points of contact—whether in schools, communities, jails, prisons, and immigration detention center—-are severely lacking for these populations. If we truly desire a meaningful second chance for those who are directly impacted, then a paradigm shift toward a more inclusive, rehabilitative approach needs to happen now.” — Paul Jung, Staff Attorney, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Los Angeles
“As educators, our members are intimately aware that the model minority myth not only harms the AAPI community by preventing our schools from building the much needed infrastructure to support AAPI students, but it also contributes to the mass criminalization and incarceration of AAPI youth, which is a problem that has largely been ignored. Our legislators must address the horrible effect of broken policies and a lack of inclusion and support for this community. If we don’t talk about it, we’ll never be able to offer resources to eradicate the problem or provide opportunities accessible to all.” — Merwyn Scott, Director of Minority Community Organizing & Partnerships, National Education Association (NEA)
“As a formerly incarcerated person who has spent 21 years behind bars, I am intimately aware of the detrimental impact incarceration and deportation have on me, my family, and my community. The Asian American and Pacific Islanders’ (AAPI) migration to the school-to-prison-and-deportation pipeline conflicts with the model minority myth due to cultural shame and stigma within the community. As the country is embarking on finding alternatives and solutions to mass incarceration, it is imperative that currently and formerly incarcerated people are included in the process. I hope this Congressional briefing will inspire people and policymakers to learn about the challenges of AAPIs behind bars and advocate for resources to provide disaggregated data and invest in mass education and employment for all people.” — Eddy Zheng, Co-Chair, Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC)
What is it to be of service? This is a question I often contemplate. When I think of who I am, here is what flows through my mind: peer mentor, college educated, counselor, student, reentry-coordinator, formerly incarcerated, son, brother, father, activist. Among the many interchangeable roles that go towards the totality of my human-ness, I ask myself, “What has it meant to be of service?”
Throughout my life I have undergone a transformation from one being served to one being of service. I wonder, am I, as a formerly incarcerated Pacific Islander, who as a Juvenile was tried as an adult and served over 23 years in detention facilities, an aberration? Am I an outlier that represents the silenced experiences of incarceration and transformation within the Asian and Pacific Islander histories in America? Spend a day with some of the men of APSC’s ROOTS program in San Quentin, or the men and women of Roots 2 Reentry, and you will, in my humble opinion, walk away with a glimpse of the truth: I am not an aberration! I am not an outlier!
Given an opportunity to thrive as accepted members of our communities, we flourish like flowers in the sun. The key word here is “opportunity”. The obstacles that contribute to the nearly 65% recidivism rate for California parolees comprise a systemic impediment to opportunity. The situation we have is one in which incarceration and stigmatization prove beneficial, even profitable for some, while leaving families and communities wrecked by the consequences of highly racialized “tough on crime” policies. In turn, we have seen an increase of Asian and Pacific Islander youths and adults, our brothers, sisters, cousins and parents, trapped in what many have described as California’s failed criminal justice system. But, it is here in this capacity that I can be of service. And it is in the same way that we in Asian Prisoner Support Committee, and in the San Quentin ROOTS program, and in Roots 2 Reentry, can be and are of service to our communities.
A recent community immersion opportunity I had with the men and women of Roots 2 Reentry highlights what it means for us to be of service. Together we volunteered to register people to vote during a Iu Mien community event in East Oakland and at Oakland’s 2014 PRIDE event. Encouraging others with the right to vote to exercise a right that we have legally been stripped of ourselves, encouraging others to exercise their right to be heard and to hold our public officials accountable to the communities they serve–this for me is how we are of unique service. Similarly, joining the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander contingent in the March for Real Climate Leadership and leading workshops about mass incarceration with the younger generation–this is how we are also of service.
Being an accepted member of our families and community, having a vested interest in community, and being supported by and being of service toward the long-term health of the communities we live in represent our overarching goals. The means we possess for doing all of this are simple: Being of service.
Greetings from APSC! Thank you to all of our participants and supporters. Here is a brief recap of APSC’s activities over the last 12 months.
This March, we celebrated the first of the ROOTS cohorts to graduate at San Quentin state prison. The 6-month program of weekly classes included curricula based on Asian and Pacific Islander culture and history, and touched upon subjects such as: intergenerational trauma, gender and masculinity, immigration and deportation, community health, family histories, public speaking, and reentry planning. It was an honor to work with the first graduating class—thank you for your dedication, wisdom, leadership, and humor! A new cohort of ROOTS is now halfway through a 9-month program and includes over 30 participants. Thank you to the dozens of volunteers who have led a class in ROOTS!
APSC’s Roots 2 Reentry program conducted a year of peer support and case management services. A total of 13 formerly incarcerated men and women have participated in Roots 2 Reentry this year—many of them learning to adjust to new job markets, environments, and technologies after 15, 20, 25+ years behind bars. Some highlights of the Roots 2 Reentry program included: providing health care navigation support; providing referrals to job opportunities and employment training programs; and participating in cultural events in an effort to reconnect with the API community. Roots 2 Reentry participants also shared their stories and advice to students at events at UC Berkeley, De Anza Community College, Chinese Progressive Association, and Asian Pacific Islander Legal Organization.
APSC is excited to implement an employment training program through a collaboration with Red Bay Coffee, a local coffee roasting company. Formerly incarcerated participants will gain hands-on experience in the coffee business, receive mentoring around business and career opportunities and earn a paid stipend.
APSC has also been fortunate to participate in the Asian Americans for Civil Rights and Equality (AACRE) network. Our blog on the AACRE website is hosted here.
On June 1, longtime human rights activist and staunch political prisoner supporter Yuri Kochiyama passed away at the age of 93. Words cannot express the impact and inspiration that Yuri gave to us. One of the early members of APSC, Yuri was a key supporter of Eddy Zheng, Mike Ngo, and Rico Riemedio when they were in solitary confinement, and supported hundreds of others behind bars through her constant letter-writing, advocacy, and undying revolutionary spirit. Our heart goes out to the Kochiyama family and the thousands of people whose lives were touched by the incredible Yuri. In this era of mass incarceration, rampant police brutality, increased militarization of the police, and growing economic inequality, let us remember Yuri’s tremendous example of solidarity with prisoners and all oppressed communities.
If you would like to get involved, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are able to make a donation towards the ROOTS and reentry programs, please visit us here.
Harjot Takhar, a Roots 2 Reentry participant, reflects on attending the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour.
By Harjot Takhar
This past summer, along with a group of others from APSC’s Roots 2 Reentry, I attended ASATA’s Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour. The two-mile walking tour exposed our group to over 100 years of radical South Asian American history in Berkeley. We learned about South Asian student protests against racism at UC Berkeley in 1908; South Asian community organizing against human trafficking in the early 2000s; youth organizing at Berkeley High School after a rise in hate violence after 9/11; and much more.
As the child of Indian Punjabi immigrants growing up in this country, I learned of the existence of cultural conflict at an early age. That feeling took on a different dynamic after I was incarcerated – I became even more of a “foreigner”, with a sudden loss of identity. Slowly I found some semblance of community with my fellow “others” in prison. The struggles most of us endured with cultural identity bonded us with a common foundation. Unity and organization made us stronger, made our voice louder. I felt that type of a connection through walking the South Asian Radical History Walking Tour: strength in numbers to overcome an oppressive force. I was quite moved by the conviction and passion of those who paved the way as well as those who recognized and appreciated the sacrifices involved in their efforts.
Hearing about those who stood against human trafficking and post 9/11 hate crimes has inspired in me a faith that people, in particular our youth, care enough about the atrocities in the world to take action. Unfortunately for me, 20 years of incarceration had tainted that belief. Events like the South Asian Radical History Walking Tour give me hope that my vision of the future can be pursued with a renewed optimism.
We are three months into our second year of the San Quentin ROOTS (Restoring Our Original True Selves) program, a class for incarcerated Asian and Pacific Islander (API) folks to learn about API history, culture, and healing practices. There are 35 people in the class, including 10 facilitators who graduated from the first ROOTS class we offered a year ago. The majority of our students are serving life sentences, and many were convicted when they were teenagers.
One of our first classes was taught by Professor Roger Chung, who discussed the history of Southeast Asian refugees coming to the United States as a result of the Vietnam War and the CIA’s secret war in Southeast Asia. One of the students came up to Roger at the end of the class and said that if he had access to this type of education in high school, he never would have ended up incarcerated. Similarly, another student said that this was the first time in his life that he had heard his own family’s story so illuminatingly explained in the context of war and global migration, rather than just as a failure to adjust to their new home.
In yet another class, Dr. Gurinder Wadhwa taught a class about the effects of chronic stress on the body. He had the students list the stressors they experienced on a daily basis, and the list filled the entire dry-erase board. About 10% of the list were stressors which are probably universal to the human experience (relationship drama, money problems, worries about family), but the other 90% of the list were things which most of us never think about on a daily basis: the sound of keys jangling, not being able to talk to or see one’s ailing parents, whether or not the water on the cellblock would be turned off, the possibility of being stabbed any day, and lastly, the general, ever-present absence of control over pretty much every aspect of one’s life.
Every couple of months we break up the class format with a talking circle, an opportunity for the students to share their own wisdom and life experiences with each other. At the very first of these sharing circles one of the students spoke about a cherished childhood memory. When he was young he grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand. One day he had to get a tooth pulled, and when it was all over he was given a plastic horse as a reward for his bravery. He told about riding the horse down a steep hill at the refugee camp, flying past a crowd of children cheering him on. When the camp later burned down that horse was the first thing he rushed to save.
One of the many inequities of our current criminal justice system is the way it reduces a complex human being to a sole identity: criminal. Everything that happened before the moment of the crime becomes irrelevant; the war, the genocide, the trauma, the relocation, the bullying, the violence, the triumphs, the kid riding his plastic horse down a hill…none of it matters after you break a law. In the ROOTS class we are trying to bring the forgotten histories and cherished memories back into the forefront of the picture to help us explain: how did we get here, how do we heal, and what is the way forward?