By Nghiep “Ke” Lam and Borey (“Peejay”) Ai
As previously incarcerated neighborhood leaders, we (Peejay Ai and Nghiep Ke Lam) had been shocked to listen to San Francisco District Lawyer Brooke Jenkins’ plans to prosecute kids as adults. Jenkins’ determination goes in opposition to years of progressive felony justice reform throughout the state. Different District Attorneys like George Gascon and Pamela Value have pursued progressive coverage alternate options to mass incarceration rooted in therapeutic. DA Jenkins’ place to criminalize youth will solely devastate our communities.
We (Peejay Ai and Nghiep “Ke” Lam) had been despatched to jail at 14 and 17 years outdated. Over 20 years in jail, we discovered rehabilitation and therapeutic by the collective assist of our friends, not by being locked up.
Like most kids in jail, our childhoods earlier than incarceration had been outlined by violence and poverty. Peejay and his household fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, whereas Ke and his household had been boat refugees from Vietnam. After resettling to California as youth, we struggled with bullying, college shootings, and gang involvement. Our households’ traumas compounded with none options. We responded to systemic violence with extra violence. It was the one approach we knew the right way to shield ourselves—it was the one approach we may survive.
As younger individuals, rising up in jail was a scary place. We had been separated from our households and compelled to navigate our environment in order that we wouldn’t get taken benefit of by guards and others round us. We needed to study one other set of survival expertise that usually prevented our r rehabilitation. Incarceration undermined our well being and well-being as youth.
Again then, we would have liked the assets that every one younger individuals deserve: entry to training, neighborhood assist, and the chance to study from our errors. Nobody gave us these assets in jail, so we created them for ourselves.
In 2010, we joined different juvenile lifers to co-found Child C.A.T (Creating Consciousness Collectively) at San Quentin State Jail. We needed an area to deal with the rising points and challenges of people that had been sentenced as adults once they had been kids.
What started as an area for understanding hurt, accountability, and transformation ignited a motion to reform the California felony authorized techniques by the passage of SB 260 and SB 261, extra generally generally known as youth offender parole listening to legal guidelines. The passage of SB 260/261 granted individuals who had been convicted as youth eligibility to go earlier than the parole board. This was a serious step into recognizing the injustices of mass incarceration, the “tough-on-crime” crime insurance policies of the 80s-90s, and racial bias inside our felony authorized system.
Earlier than the passage of the youth offender parole listening to legal guidelines, many people had been denied hearings due to our lack of “outdoors” expertise. Regardless of taking each program accessible to us in prisons, our parole boards used components like our lack of training or work expertise outdoors as causes to disclaim our freedom. Once we had been initially sentenced to jail, we had been tried as adults. Now, we had been being denied parole due to our youth.
Prosecuting kids as adults is solely a band-aid resolution. We had been as soon as these kids. We all know firsthand that addressing mass incarceration and juvenile justice requires preventative methods and options. It additionally requires us to reconcile that 1000’s like us have needed to develop up in jail with out the correct assets wanted to deal with our childhood traumas and violence.
Jenkins’ proposed coverage of prosecuting kids as adults would undo the progress and therapeutic that Californians have been combating for. As reentry staff and advocates, our work is rooted in transformation and therapeutic. This work permits us to see clearly options which can be wanted to make our communities safer and extra complete.
Now greater than ever, we ask our California elected officers to affix our motion for change and therapeutic. We are going to proceed to do our half, build up impacted communities to scale back recidivism. For our District Attorneys, we ask that you simply cease prosecuting kids as adults. And for the Governor of California, we name on you to grant extra clemencies to reunite family members with their households.
Collectively, we will construct a safer and complete society through which our intentions are actually rooted in care, neighborhood, and transformation.
Nghiep “Ke” Lam is a refugee from Vietnam and a former Juvenile Lifer. He was a youth mentor for over 10 years, helped co-founded the primary API Ethnic Research program, ROOTS, at San Quentin and established Child C.A.T, a juvenile lifer program that helped change California’s youth regulation (SB9, SB260, SB261). He presently works because the Reentry Coordinator for Asian Prisoner Help Committee, offering reentry providers to returning neighborhood members within the Bay Space.
Borey (“Peejay”) Ai is a refugee whose household fled the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. At age 14, Peejay was tried as an grownup and sentenced to 25 years to life, making him one of many youngest “juvenile lifers” in California. Whereas incarcerated, Peejay reworked his life. As a Neighborhood Advocate with the Asian Prisoner Help Committee, Peejay now supplies peer-support providers and anti deportation protection to communities impacted by the felony justice system.