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Nghiep Ke Lam

How old were you during your offense?

I was 17, and committed my crime 6 days after my birthday


What was your sentence/charge? 

I was sentenced to 25 -- life for a gang related murder

How long did you serve?

23 years


What has been the most meaningful experience/life lesson you have learned up to this point that you would pass on to others who are about to experience reentry?

Breathe. Take your time. Know what you want to do and make a plan. Be flexible. And you can’t make up for your past, but you can commit to live life fully.

What has been the most shocking thing you've experienced so far in reentry?

I got robbed and carjacked! My laptop was stolen, and the cops didn’t take me seriously because of my past. The experience grounded me deeper into my work to help kids who are at risk of committing crimes. 

What has been your favorite experience in reentry?

My favorite experience has been being able to give back to the community - working with the bike program, learning more skillsets like welding, mechanics, and passing on knowledge to others or doing labor for free. I love being able to travel - I’ve gone to DC, Florida, LA, revisited some old places I lived in. I want to visit Vietnam to visit the place where my mom and dad were born.

When were you released?

I was in state prison custody in 2015, and then was released after spending 5 months in the immigration system until April 2016;

As a kid I didn’t know I was a refugee. I actually found this out at my trial when I was 17. My family came from Vietnam - my grandparents were stranded in the South China Sea for five months and murdered by pirates. My family didn’t talk about the past and by not talking about it, all that trauma was passed on to the kids. It was confusing as a child to carry that trauma and not know exactly what it was or why since my parents were not open and intimate with me.

What was the county of your offense and what was the county of your release?

Contra Costa county for both.

When I was released in Contra Costa county, I didn’t know my victim’s family was there as well. One day I was unexpectedly served a restraining order for 30 miles, meaning I had to move out of the county. I only had one week to move to Sacramento, but there was a paperwork problem in transferring my parole to Sacramento. As soon as I got there I had to move back to Contra Costa county and, in doing so, violate my restraining order. Eventually my victim’s mother rescinded the restraining order and forgave me. In the end, I was unexpectedly discharged from parole after 2 years and 8 months.

What have you been doing since your release? 

I’ve been doing amnesty work, community building, volunteer work, speaking engagements around the migration-to-school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline.

Can you tell us a bit about your work with bike donations for kids?

I’ve been doing it for 4 years, repairing and donating bikes to kids, homeless people, formerly incarcerated people, and anyone with a transportation barrier.

Can you tell us about APSC and what work you do with that organization?

I work as a reentry coordinator with the Asian Prisoner Support Committee - so pre-Covid I would pick up people from prison when they got out, take them to a meal, go shopping with them and talk with them to assess their needs. Ultimately I help clear barriers, for example, we put on community events to connect people with support. 

What are you planning to do post-pandemic?

I am going to socialize more and return to working with clients.

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