131: Quan Huynh – Sentenced to a Life in Prison for Murder

When Being Locked Up Sets You Free

Quan Huynh has been described as a mighty warrior, a magician, and a mountain of goodness. He is the author of Sparrow in the Razor Wire, a book about his transformation inside a place many see as the end of the road. In his book, he shares the journey of redemption and discovery that led to his ultimate freedom. He found that the key to unlocking the door is in each one of us. 

Quan currently works as the post-release program manager for Defy Ventures, a nonprofit helping those with a criminal past transform their lives through the journey of entrepreneurship.

After spending twenty-two years in and out of correctional institutions, Quan was paroled from a life sentence in 2015. The following year, he received the Peace Fellowship Award for his work with the Alternatives to Violence Project

Quan has been featured in Entrepreneur, spoken at One Last Talk, and has appeared on several podcasts in which he discusses how he challenges the narrative of those formerly incarcerated.

What We Discuss with Quan-Huynh:

  • What led him to life in prison
  • The bird that tripped in the razor wire
  • The moment of epiphany
  • Having a sense of ownership that liberated him even when he’s in prison
  • How he was helping other people through their own healing journey
  • Finding a sense of purpose for the first time in his life
  • Reconciling with his past mistakes
  • Continuing to make an impact now that he’s a free man

[02:51] What Led Him to a Life in Prison

As a young kid, Quan has experienced racism in the United States. He witnessed how they shoved his younger brother to the ground and putting dirt in his mouth as he stood there and watched. Scared and not knowing what to do, he just didn’t jump in. So his father scolded him because he failed to protect him. It even made everything worse that no one spoke about it again. From there on, he had this mindset to protect his family which carried on through his later years.

Then his father eventually got diagnosed with leukemia and his condition eventually got worse. So they moved from Utah to Southern California where his side of the family lived. It was his first time going to school with kids that are Black, Hispanics, and other Asians, and in particular, other Vietnamese.

He was still being teased by his peers until he found kids that had older brothers, who became his role models. These kids were already running on the streets. Again, he had the mentality to protect his group.

By 17, he got arrested for the first time and went into juvenile hall. He had to show a brave face so he won’t be picked on. 

The more terrified he got of people around him, the more he would be the first one to volunteer to inflict violence on others. 

[09:18] The Bird That Tripped in the Razor Wire

Quan was in prison for murder and got a life sentence. And it was in his 10th or 12th years in prison that things began to shift for him. He received a letter from his younger brother with pictures of his daughter, Quan’s niece. Also around that time, his grandfather passed away. And then, he began this sort of self-introspection. He was questioning how he turned out ruining his life. Consequently, Quan started noticing certain mentors around him who were on the right path.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. 

His whole prison sentence, Quan had always been reading on things like entrepreneurship, business, and personal development. One book led him to another. Interestingly, he ended up reading books of saints. They specifically also had failures in life who went on to create their legacies. This also led him to books on meditation.

Eventually, he realized he had to make a small, subtle shift in thinking and it made all the difference in the world. 

At that very moment, he saw a sparrow tripping on the razor wire that was above him. From that day forth, his transformational journey began.

He began to see the prison not as a place of punishment, but a place where he could connect with other human beings. Then he saw opportunities that allowed him to make an impact and help others in their healing journey. 

[14:10] A Sense of Ownership That Liberated Him

Before this epiphany, he felt lonely and helpless. He was filled with anger without even knowing it. He had to deconstruct his belief system and start to admit to himself that he has been living a lie all these years. The rules he created in his head were all fake.

Quan began to have this sense of ownership of his life which gave him a huge sense of liberation while being in prison every day. He could also feel the hurt that other men around him were feeling that’s why he wanted to help them through their healing.

He was incarcerated, but he no longer felt imprisoned in any way.

[22:24] Helping Others Who Also Feel Disconnected From Their Selves

The men he talked to who were disconnected couldn’t look him in the eye. They had this narrative that’s been spinning in their heads. They’re reciting that story over and over in their minds. And understanding his own journey gave him a sense of this lost soul behind those eyes. Then they began opening up to him.

Sometimes, they would just vent out to him. They’re not asking him to fix the problem. They just wanted somebody to listen to them. They just wanted to start feeling they could connect again in some way.

There are also times the person wouldn’t show up again and that’s okay. He knew he didn’t have to save every single person in that place.

[25:56] Creating an Impact on Their Society

Quan began his healing from grief and loss 25 years after his father’s death. Once he understood the process, he poured himself even more into understanding books on grief and loss. Eventually, along with his prison psychologist, he created their first grief and loss group. And this gave him a sense of purpose for once in his life. Then he also got involved with other 

Slowly, they changed the culture in their prison yard from violence and harshness to shared understanding and treating each other with dignity. 

[36:20] Reconciling with His Past Mistakes

For a long time, he has been holding onto the identity that he was a murderer. But he knows it doesn’t define him. He doesn’t have to call himself a murderer for the rest of his life. Having that awareness, he was able to detach himself from that description.

Quan is matching everyone that purchased his book to donate in prison as his way of giving back.

He understands that even if his book goes on to affect all 1000 of these incarcerated people, it will still not make up for the life of one human being that he took off the face of the earth.

Having been released after almost 20 years in prison, Quan currently serves at a nonprofit full-time. They help men and women with criminal histories transform their lives through the journey of entrepreneurship. 

Speaker 1: Welcome to the authors who lead podcast. This podcast is dedicated to you. People who want to be inspired by authors leaders and the messages they share. This is such an important podcast to us because we help uncover what goes on behind the scenes. When authors are writing their book, we talk about the process. We talk about where they get big ideas and you can listen in on those conversations. We can't wait for you to join us. So let's get started.

Speaker 2: [inaudible] welcome back to another episode of authors who lead today. My guest is Kwan when he has been described as a mighty warrior, a magician and a mountain of goodness. He is the author of the book, Sparrow in the razor wire, a book about his transformation inside a place. Many see, as the end of the road in his book, he shares the journey of redemption and recovery or discovery that led his to his ultimate freedom. He found that no matter the prison, the key to unlocking the door is in each one of us. He works as the post release program manager for defy ventures, a nonprofit, helping those with a criminal past, transform their lives through the journey of entrepreneurship. And after spending 22 years in prison, in and out of car correctional institutions, Kwan was paroled from a life sentence in 2015 and the following year, he received the peace fellowship award for his work with alternatives to violence.

Speaker 2: Project Khan has been featured entrepreneur and spoken at one last talk and has appeared on several podcasts, just like this, which he discusses, how the challenges he faced in that and the narrative of those who were formerly incarcerated. Welcome to the show. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Yeah, what's amazing. In the way that the world works. We were talking just before this started how the serendipity kind of happens, where, you know, you, you listened to an episode of one of our guests, our Rob manger, who is the creator Pictionary, and that you had had him come in and visit in the prison before that you and I met a year ago when you were talking about writing your book and what you needed to do and what you're working on. And it's sort of interesting how the synchronicities of the world can bring people together when you're not expecting it.

Speaker 2: And I've been looking forward to reading your book for such a long time and was so grateful that I got to have a copy and learn so much about your story, that triumphs and tragedies, as well as the things that you're doing. Now, I want to use this opportunity to allow you to set the stage, you know, help us understand how a young person who starts his life out, kind of riddled with challenges. And one moment in particular stood out to me when you were a young boy and you got, your brother got teased on, on a playground and you didn't stand up for him. And that seemed like such a pivotal moment for a young boy to have to go home and, and explain to your father why you didn't stand up for him. And that seemed to be like a pivotal moment within your own young mind, thinking that maybe you could've done something more, you tell us in your own, your own words, what was the moment where you, you really had to, to question as a young person, what you were doing with your life and why you were maybe acting behaving the way you were.

Speaker 2: Sure. Yeah, I I'll start with

Speaker 3: That moment. We lived in Provo, Utah. I was maybe eight years old and I was playing with my brother and I were playing with our GI Joe action figures in the streams of Utah and every summer to snow melts and the students get filled up with water. And we had this game, we played where we make RAs out of our igloo, our Popsicle sticks. And we put our GI toe actually figures on it and they roll down the stream. So there were just some older kids and some adults that were yelling down to us. I mean, by that time, I'd experienced enough to know, you know, I mean, now I know the racism back then. It was just, I thought we would just tease because we looked different or there was something wrong with me or with our family, the kids and the adults had told us, get out of our country, go back home.

Speaker 3: And my brother and I, I guess, I mean, when I look back now, I guess, I guess I just thought we were a little bit braver because it looked so far away. There was a big fence between us and we told them, come make this. While those kids jumped, the fence chased us down, ended up shoving my brother to the ground and putting dirt in his mouth. And I stood there and watched, I didn't jump in. I didn't know what to do. I was just scared. And we had to go home and my father had to tell me, you know, why did you let this happen to your younger brother? You have to protect your family. And I just remember feeling so ashamed as a boy, like, man, I let down my brother and my family, I let down my father. And then on top of that, you know, my father never spoke about it again because I'm sure he forgave me. But in my mind I made everything worse than no one spoke about it again. And it just became worse in my mind. The next opportunity I have, or from here on out, I have to protect my family. I can't let people hurt my family or my loved ones. And that's just the mindset I carried on into my latter years.

Speaker 2: Right. And you mentioned that your family, you were born in Vietnam and you, your family emigrated here and your younger brother was actually born here. But with that time, during the times of, of you writing about your childhood, I think it was early nineties so much was different in the world. And yet so much is the same. When we think about what people's view of the world, the of, of immigrants, of the other, anybody doesn't look like you. And you know, that pathway were really began pretty early for you, where you talk about in your book about the path of violence that you started down. You know, it's not often that people who are in prison get a chance to tell their story, but I want you to kind of walk us down a little bit like a snapshot, because I want people to dive into the book to read really, it felt like I was walking side by side with you knowing and understanding the challenges you had about how, how difficult it was and where the moments of violence began.

Speaker 2: Because so many people, you know, just see or hear about gangs or hear about people who are in prison and don't have a sense of the humanity behind it. And I want to help people understand that from that young child, you know, feeling a little bit disgraced, maybe a little humiliated and definitely disrespected. How did it start to evolve that you started to get pushed into violence? Cause your father was a bit of an activist, helping immigrants standing up. They had, I had dreams of you wanting to go to West point, but things didn't turn out as they had hoped or even you. Yeah.

Speaker 3: Well, my father gets diagnosed with leukemia and his condition gets worse. And that's when we moved out from Utah, we moved out to Southern California where his side of the family lives. And this is my first time going to school with kids that are black Hispanics and other Asians and other Vietnamese. But even in going to school with other Vietnamese, I didn't feel like I fit in because I was assumed teas because I couldn't speak Vietnamese. Well, a lot of them could not speak English. Well, although, you know, there was a lot of other Vietnamese kids that could speak. Well, I just remember in particular, I just held onto the experiences of the ones that teased me or the ones I made fun of me. And it just further reinforced my mind. Like I don't fit in. My father ends up passing away from leukemia when I was 13.

Speaker 3: By that time I found little bits of little bits of fitting in with other peers. But most of them were like other kids that had older brothers and I hung out with those guys and these guys, a lot of them were like, you know, I would have to say like, that's where I basically got my role models was older guys that were already running on the streets where then it became normalized where this is your group. You have to protect your group. And then by the time I'm 17, I'm already, I was already arrested for the first time going and then going into juvenile hall, being terrified of what's going on in dare yet. Seeing as long as I am inflicting violence on somebody else, then I won't be picked on. And just believing, this is the way to be recognized and more importantly, not get victimized or not get picked on.

Speaker 3: And it was just something that I just started leaving. Okay. The more terrified I got of people around me, the more I would be the first one to volunteer, to inflict violence on others. So hopefully showing this brave face could make me not be picked on. And that was just my mentality probably unselfconsciously I didn't realize it till later on during my latter years and doing a lot of like self reflection and self discovery. And then even in the book, just trying to figure out my thought process and understanding it and writing it in a way that, yeah, this is what I thought and, and yeah, it's totally wrong, but that is just what I thought about that.

Speaker 2: Right. So you were put into prison for murder. You, in fact, you describing your book in a brief way, the surrounding circumstances of the times you were important precedent, but you were given a life sentence, right without, well, you know, presumably without parole, you talk about the book, how there's such a small fraction of 1% that ever get parole, particularly in California, if you're on there for, for murder and inside of prison, you talk a little bit about prison, culture, about the same sort of mentality you just described, where you have to protect, you have to defend the group you belong to. You have to have keep safe face in all these different ways in order to survive. But you started to notice and find a different path. When was the moment while you're in prison that you started to shift?

Speaker 3: It was probably around the 10th or 12th year of my life sentence. Several things were happening at that time. I received a letter from my younger brother with pictures of his daughter, which is my niece and seeing her pictures for the first time of a little baby. It just took me back. She looked just like my brother. So it took me back to just my childhood. You know, this was my younger brother, and now he has a thought or what am I doing? Like how did my life lead this way, where he can bring life onto earth. And here I am, I'm in prison for murder. And my grandfather, my father's father passes away that same year, right around that time. And which also reminded me of my own father. And around that time, I think I was around 34, 35, 36 around there. And I started asking myself the question like, am I meant to die?

Speaker 3: Like how did my life end up like this? And contrasting that with my father's life on his foot, 38, 39 years on earth and how many people he had affected in a good way. Whereas I had destroyed and caused pain and so much pain and anger on the world and at the time, so these are questions that were popping up in my head. And you know, the saying like, you know, when the student is ready, the teacher appears, you know, there, I started noticing certain mentors around me that were on the right path. I've always been a bookworm. So I was reading like my whole prison sentence. I had always been reading, but just around that time, I was, you know, reading books on like entrepreneurship and business and personal development. Uh, one book led me to another and I ended up on these books of the saints in particular with stories about saints that had also failures in their lives.

Speaker 3: But yet they went on to create, or at least some type of legacies. I was really drawn to those stories, which in turn led me to books on meditation and all these things, I guess just made a perfect storm in my mind, my heart, my soul, where it was just one day on a prison yard early in the morning, I was standing by the fence and my head filled with these readings I had been doing. And then I just asked myself, like, why does prison have to be punishment? Why can't this be a place where I could remake myself, even if I'm supposed to die in here. And then I realized I could. And you know, just that small, subtle shift in thinking, uh, made all the difference in the world. And as you know, I remember distinctly that sun was coming up over the Hills that morning.

Speaker 3: I was able to fill the warm individual blades of grass. I saw the drops to do and up above me and raise a wire. I heard a Sparrow tripping. And yeah, I tell people that probably would've been tripping my whole prison sentence and I had not heard it, but that day I heard it. And from that day forth to begin the process of where I saw this is a journey. This is not a place of punishment. It became a place where I could connect with other human beings. Like, you know, many of them ahead of me some further along, many of them not perhaps awakened yet, but we were all on a journey together in this place. And that's just how I approached it each day from, okay, what's my lesson to learn today? How can I make myself better? And as I started to make myself better and I'd say heal, then I saw opportunities where I could begin to make an impact and help others in their healing journey. And that's, that was basically how the world just became free for me in there where I was no longer. Yes, I was incarcerated, but I no longer felt imprisoned in any way.

Speaker 2: That's a powerful moment that occurred in of course the namesake of the book is named Sparrow in the razor wire. So I want to paint a picture clear picture because I want people to understand the violence was in your, at that point was deeply in your DNA. Like that was it. It sounds very peaceful and awakening, but until that point, there were times when you, you stood around and not only were you a part of drive-bys that cause people's death and put you in prison, but you were involved in fights in prison and you were, you know, in involved in so much that it wasn't as though breaking free was easy. It wasn't hard either the way you described it. It just was a moment in time. But describe for people what a day was like in prison for someone who's maybe never even set foot in something that's like as heavy as someone who's in there for life term so that they can understand how powerful that moment of epiphany really was.

Speaker 3: Yeah. I mean, before that Barrow Innova's wire moment, it just felt like lonely. I felt hopeless and filled with anger, not even knowing it, you know, walking through the world. Like I, I had a chip on my shoulder because I got screwed over by the world. I got a raw deal. I got those, uh, somebody from my gang that testified, there were people on this yard that would just like him or, you know, our, you know, and there was a judge, there was a very judgemental part of me that, that look, okay, well, this person over there is in for this crime. Oh, that one over there, I'm not as bad as that one is he's in for a rape. This one is killed his wife or, and it was always the sense of finding or comparing myself to others just so I can make myself feel better.

Speaker 3: So I was, I would have to say very ugly judgmental, egotistical, arrogant person that had no self-understanding like, there was no sense of awareness in how I came across in the world to people around me. It wasn't a kind way I look on people. It was very harsh and critical, very similar to way I judged myself, but I judged others the same way. So it was, uh, it, all this living in there and just being very rigid and these are rules and this is how people have to abide by them. If someone doesn't abide by them, then, Oh, if violence is inflicted upon them, then, Oh, that's what, that's what happens. They deserve it. So I truly believed in, and all those things that it was a part of my, my belief system that I actually had to deconstruct and start to admit to myself, you've been living a lie all these years.

Speaker 3: And these rules that you created, like, I, my head, we're all faking and I just followed everyone else and just really believed in it. But yeah, that's a small glimpse, I guess, harp, you know, prison has its own culture, its own type of world. And you know, I could see it now where if I remember back then it was just something that we all or especially me and many of the people I associated we believe like, okay, this is how you have to conduct yourself. Everything is about image or reputation. That's a very lonely and an ugly way to live.

Speaker 2: That's an incredible model when you had that epiphany. I mean, this it's 12, 13 years in like before you even have this epiphany, what was next? What, I mean, obviously you were in there and I don't know if you had the same belief other people might have is that you, you were there in falsely. You, you didn't do the thing that they had accused you of, but in your book you talk about knowing that you had done the thing you weren't disillusioned. In fact, you were really clear about the fact that I was not honest about, I was trying to get out of being incarcerated. I like buying, you know, under oath and all these things, but when you had the mode of epiphany and you saw that Sparrow, what happened next?

Speaker 3: So from there, it wasn't okay. I see the Sparrow, I hear the chirping and I'm healed and no, it was definitely like that. It was more, okay, now let's start figuring this out. Like, what does this really mean? How did I get here? You know, like one of the lines in the book says I was not born a murder when I realized that, like, it was a series of choices that I made over the course of my lifetime, no CS Lewis. One of my favorite quotes from him was in mere Christianity. It was one about where he said he was speaking about choices and he's speaking about the new moral choices that we make over the course of our lifetime. These choices turn us into a hellish creature or a heavenly creatures. So I love that quote so much. And that's really given me a perspective, like how do I figure out my choices, how my choices got me here, but then more importantly, if I can really grasp and understand that it was choices, numerous wrong choices that got me here.

Speaker 3: And why couldn't I make myself into a better person by intentional purposeful choices each day from here on out. And that's just how I approached my days and there, which after I started doing that, then that's where, you know, this sense of ownership of my life, the sense of the way I describe what my actions are. And I compared that to other men in there. And, you know, there were some that said they didn't do the crime, whether they did or not, but it's just this tenant, this human tendency I saw around me of justifying or casting ourselves in a good light. But then I always saw this as not being authentic. And this is not what personal responsibility is from what I'm reading in these books. If I, if this is, this is what I'm aspiring to do, this is how I think I would want to show up.

Speaker 3: And I began to practice it. Of course, many times I would fail, but at least at night I had this habit of writing a journal to myself. And what did I do right today? Or what can I commend myself for? And where did I fail? But failing using that word intentionally say failing means that it's not the end of the world for me, because I'm going to slip. And then I, but then how do I build on what I learned today and apply it tomorrow? And that's just how I continue to approach it. And suddenly prison, you know, was, yeah, I was, I was imprisoned, but I had this huge sense of liberation from in there every day. And, and it just became like, even on top of that, this sense of, I could feel the hurt in the other men around me. How do I also get them to this place of healing and wonder and curious, wonder of the world and what we do to make ourselves better. That's just how I approached it

Speaker 2: In the book you say, catching from the world, my faith was easier choice to make twenty-five years later, I realized it was these series of disconnections that made me capable of murder that this connect, this, this idea. So you talked about helping others. How do you have someone who is totally disconnected from their soul, who don't see themselves anymore? And I want you to kind of walk because that's part of your healing was actually then connecting with other people through this process of like an awakening, for lack of a better word of self. So what was that like helping or speaking with other people who, you know, you're no longer the same person, even though you're in the same place to be able to connect with other people who may not be able to see themselves the way you were starting to see yourself then?

Speaker 3: Well, I think a lot of it was understanding my own journey. And then when I saw some man in the same type of pain, or maybe even a different template, but there's like, no, there's this, this, I used to call like the thousand yard stare where they're so disconnected when I'm talking to them, they're not looking at me in the eye and they just held this script. Like there's a, there's a narrative that's been spinning out of there that they spun up in their head and it just recite the same story over and over and over, over the years. And they just take on this weird stare. And I, and I know that's there, cause that was mine for years, I would have to say. So I think being able to understand and understanding my own journey, it gave me a sense of this is just a lost soul behind those eyes.

Speaker 3: So how do I let him know I am there and sometimes they know for a split second or sometimes they'll know more. And I just see, they start opening up at once they start opening up, then they'll come. You know, I, it's never something that I've forced on them. It's more, they, they approached me and, you know, suddenly asked me out of the blue, like, Hey what's, can you help me with this? Or can you look through this? Or, or, Hey, do you have a book you can recommend? So that's just where things start opening. Or sometimes they're talking about something I know, okay, this person is venting. He's not asking me to fix a problem. But I think just the act of listening to them has them starting to feel connected again in a small way. And then that's where I could continue to build and nurture that relationship with them where, okay, this is Amanda.

Speaker 3: I think I could help. Or sometimes I can even help them where they'll feel a little bit tension. And they're terrified, especially when we start talking about things and I'm reflecting back to them. What they're saying, a lot of the reaction can be like, no, you're wrong. This goes against what, you know, especially if it goes against this identity that they put up for themselves, it becomes terrifying to admit it. So they'll become angry or furious at me. And that's when I know, okay, this is what's happened, but then usually it's more, okay, I'm sorry, this is what I see this item totally wrong. This is what I'm hearing from you. I'll be here tomorrow, if you want to talk again. And it's just more like that where I just have to, and sometimes they'll never show up again, but I had to realize, and that person is not ready at this time for me to help them in some way, perhaps hopefully I pushed them in some way to go to another person that could help them. And they said, discover something about themselves. So I think just realizing that I was not there to save them or even save any money, but perhaps to provide some small measure of healing, to get them to, to move along on their journey, to have other people help them. And, um, I think it made it a little bit easier where, where I felt, I didn't feel like I had to save every single person in that place, which I correct.

Speaker 2: So, w let's let's help people see the transformation you have this activity started helping people, see people notice you in a different way, or at least they start seeing you, maybe the way you notice the Sparrow that day, they noticed you help us walk us through the steps because you talk about spending time, a law library, reading a lot and having a mentor with it in the prison system that started helping you start think differently. The old about that transition from just an awareness to taking action.

Speaker 3: Yeah. I mean, like I said earlier, you know, when a student's ready, the teacher appears and I saw all these opportunities around me. I actually checked in and spoke to a therapist and I began 25 years after my father's death began mourning and grieving his death. Once I understood that once I understood my own process and, you know, being that cuts a bit bookworm, I pour myself into understanding books on grief and loss and, and understanding, you know, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross his theories and things like that. Just really taking into it. I noticed that there are forms that there were men grieving all around me and it didn't have to be losing somebody or losing a loved one. It was just, you know, it came in a form of them being transferred to other prisons and losing all their friendships, them being denied multiple times at the board.

Speaker 3: And basically just losing their sense of hope, losing friendships or, or, you know, getting in arguments with, with good friends on a prison yard. But then they don't talk to each other for years because they're both too proud to ever talk about it and suddenly they've lost a friendship. So I actually put together a syllabus and submitted it to the prison psychologist who loved it. And we created our first grief and loss group and I saw the sign up list. So even in doing that, I started to see that I could affect or make an impact on that yard. You know, so, you know, a little forgotten corner of the world that the world has shoved us into. I was there and yet I saw I can make an impact on that little yard in this little piece of our world. And it just, I don't know, made me feel alive.

Speaker 3: And it gave me a sense of purpose for in my life. So then I got involved with other groups and it's just starting to see the impact. And, and, uh, I went up to say how me and other men that were on this path, we've got to slowly change the culture of that prison yard from like one of violence and, and, and harshness to one of like, you know, shared understanding and, and, and the beginning of treating each other with dignity, and this is on a prison yard. And I saw firsthand over those few years that I was there. And, um, I'm sure to, there were many men that took up that same work behind me after where yeah, we could change for you to change this place,

Speaker 2: Powerful Testament to that shift. So you talk about the journey of trying to understand the, you call it the board, the commission that it allows and hears prisoners requests for parole. Talk a little bit about that journey because you know, you talk about learning and diving into understanding, you know, what are the odds and chances of being paroled when you're on a life sentence. And also then how do you begin to understand whether or not you have enough of fortitude and will to pursue something like that?

Speaker 3: Yeah. The prison transcripts played a huge role in, I mean, it's, it's in my book as you saw those, that's the hook on it, the thing, but it just kind of, I imprisoned a culture of prison. Men do not share their prison hearing transcripts. So when they, when they go to the pro board, it's an actual transcript of what the commissioner says and what the prisoner says. And men in particular did not share it is. But for some reason, one of my friends decided to let me read all of his, which he had like six or seven of them. And I had never gone to the parole board when I started reading them. It opened my eyes to what's happening inside that parole process. And at the same time, I was, since I was reading all these other books on like making amends and restorative justice and personal responsibility, they all seem to tie in, like I could use the themes that I'm understanding in my own journey of making myself better and applying it to why he was not getting come suitable.

Speaker 3: And I realized what he told me happened at the provost and what actually happened were two different things. And then also more importantly, I felt, I think I see why the pro commissioners are denying him as I'm reading the transcripts. And then at the end, when they're denying him parole, they're laying out the same exact things I saw in what he said. So I realized it's so important, what people say or listen to what people say. And then more importantly, what these, uh, at some point to what comes out of my mouth, because it kind of describes on how I see the world. So I just began sitting down with him and, you know, basically like, Hey, I called my Bobby. I think I can help you grow. So he sat down with me. People thought we were crazy because they said like, what are you and Kwan doing?

Speaker 3: And Bobby tells them, Quan's helping me prepare for the board. And they said, how can bond help you when he's never been to the pro board, but yet maybe that's probably why I think that was able to help me. Cause I came from it with a fresh lens. Like, this is not what everybody in here, you know, like that prison culture, this is what the belief is. And just take on that belief. I looked at it with a different place and since men never shared, nobody ever knew what was going on. Everyone only knew what their experience was. And I came in from an outside perspective and got to see, this is why he's getting denied. And it's not because these are people that are out to get us. Yes, many of them are from law enforcement background and had this mindset. But I think if we can just connect to them as human beings and understanding our journeys and, and, and, and telling them like, this is where I failed.

Speaker 3: You know, unfortunately I got to read quite a bit of transcripts later on during my latter years and the vast majority of men, and I guess, and in general, the vast majority of humans do not want to accept responsibility for the mistakes they have done, whether it's committing murder to, you know, something little like, uh, arguing with their bunkie or something like that. It's just, they do not want to say, I mean, like, even in listening to people say, I am sorry, it's I, it's not this, okay, I'm sorry for doing this. I'm sorry for doing this, but it's because you did this, this, this, this. So I saw that happening over and over and over. And that's when I started talking to the guys and said, this is where you're coming across wrong. And I think if you just owned it, because I realized as I owned my own mistakes, it came with a sense of power and liberation, because I don't have to worry about impressing anybody around me.

Speaker 3: I can just say, this is where I did wrong and being okay with it. Instead of trying to impress everybody around me and live up to this, this expectation that I'll never be able to live up to. And yeah, that's, that's just how the process began. And a lot of people were doubtful until I helped. One of my friends get found suitable. It came back and was found suitable to pro board and suddenly, okay. Other men wanted to start sitting with me to coach them. And at the time I knew, okay, this man's motivation is to just go home, which is fine. But my motivation is to share this huge sense of freedom I've found and hopefully get them to displace so that they don't need to have to go home before they're already making impact and where they're already trying to give back on a yard. And the ones that, that actually understood it in a weird way. It's the same ones that were actually most likely to be found suitable that I saw later on. So they're all, they're all tied in together.

Speaker 2: Right? So let's talk about your journey. So you're helping people. You're showing people that there is a possibility they just need to understand what they need to do personally, before they are considered. It's not just about how to get out. It's about, that's not the goal. The goal is to transform into the person you're saying you, you are when you're not. So what was your process like? So, so of course, you know, you're wanting also to apply these things, to talk about that, like, as you're helping people, what was the shift as you started to apply it to yourself, you're finding more peace. You're reading, you're learning, you're committing to helping and serving in your own, in a space that you're in. What was the journey that happens now,

Speaker 3: Let me see. I, I, the more people that I sat down with, you know, one of the requirements I said is they had to give me their arrest paperwork there. They had to give me their psyche vowels, and they had to make it to read their transcripts if they had gone to the board. And as I noticed, I'm able to help them. I see a lot of, like, if I haven't seen like, something about them, that was when I started noticing this is because I also have this same issue or I have this same problem. So a lot of the times, not only am I helping them, I knew they in their way were also helping me to continue to build on what I was trying to build for myself, if that makes sense. And then suddenly, I don't know, like, it's just those last few years before I was paroled, if it felt like I am exactly where I'm supposed to be, I didn't have these, these dreams of, I hope to one day be home is it's more, I'm living in this present moment. I am here during this time to help these men at this time. That's the only way I could describe it.

Speaker 2: Yeah. That's great. How do you reconcile or how do you help other people reconcile the fact that you did murder someone you were responsible for the death of someone else? How do you reconcile that now? And how do you, did you reconcile it when you were getting out and standing before a parole board to help them understand why you should even be worthy of going free into the society?

Speaker 3: Yeah. I'll share two stories. So one of the first ones, even after I began this process of, you know, my process of transformation or what do we want to call it, but this process of change itself examination. Um, I still carried that guilt. I still carry the identities inside. One of the works that was in, it was an exercise. It was called, who am I? And I was supposed to write on 10 sheets of paper, right? The question was, who are you? And, you know, I wrote brother, son, you know, all these things, but one of the words I described myself was murderer. And then the exercise they asked us to go through and crumple up that like open up that piece of paper, like, so I opened up that instead of said, murderer, they say, crumple it up and Trop it. Imagine if you did not describe yourself in this way, imagine if this was no longer part of you, how would it feel?

Speaker 3: And then I realized, why am I holding onto this? Yes, I committed murder. But that does not mean that does not define me. I do not have to call myself a murderer for the rest of my life and understanding that and realizing like, okay, this is still a form of me just holding on and being prideful. Like if, especially I'm talking about from the, of my faith and when they're talking about forgiveness, like, who am I to say that I cannot be forgiven? If, Oh yeah, this is I'm the worst person ever. I mean, that's still a form of priceless. And so I realized I don't have to hold on to this. Still feel remorse and to still feel that I have to give back. And that's, that was where I started to let that title for myself or that way, descriptive for myself, go, of course, there were times when it would rear its head up again, and then at least I would catch myself and then I could just gently remind myself, I'm not a murderer anymore.

Speaker 3: You know, I committed murder, but I am not a murder, which has two different distinctions in my head. And I could feel it when I say it. So at my second hearing, even the district attorney brought this up where, because I was denied, I was given a five-year denial of my first hearing. And then I petitioned to advance my hearing and come back early. So I came back early about a year and a half after. And the district attorney had, was really pressing me inside of bordering. Like, how can you say that you feel bad when you feel so bad? Why would you petition this paper, this paperwork to go back to the board early. You just want to go home. And I almost fell into it just thinking, you know what? He's right. I am white. I do feel bad. And that's true. And I go, wait, this does, these are two, we're talking about two separate things.

Speaker 3: I mean, if, if I hold onto this thing where I say, I'm never forgivable, I'll always be a murderer yet. Did I just sit there and feel sorry for myself, the rest of my life and be in prison and rot and die. But then how does that serve anybody around me? How does that help my family? How does that help me and what I'm doing with helping men on the yard to heal and to make an impact and to give back. And particularly if I'm doing that, then I should be trying to go home because I do want to come home to, to make an impact and to give back. And I would have to say, now, you know, my book is now published and you know, there's going to be, I think just from the first week of sales, like I was matching everyone, that's purchased to donate to prison. So there's going to be over a thousand books. That's going to be going into them and be able to give to men that are incarcerated and women that are incarcerated and hope, you know, this is how I'm giving back. And yes, I committed murder, but this is a way I will always carry. And I said, so that's probably the best way I could describe it. This is how I reconciled it. That's something I did in my past. I'm no longer the same person. And that's why I'm doing what I'm doing now.

Speaker 2: Right. And what was your age when, when you were committed for life?

Speaker 3: 23, 24. Some good too. When I was 24, I think I went to Toronto. Some good first went in at 17 and in and out. Yeah. I think it was 23, 24.

Speaker 2: What do you say to, to people who are maybe still in a place of hurt or harm or judgment when they think that you're free when someone's life's taken or reconciling, even with that family in your own mind, the people that have lost somebody because of violence. Not that that person wasn't at all at somehow somehow a harm or not saying that at all, or sorry at fault, but how do you reconcile that now that you're here or to anybody who brings it up to you? Because obviously it's not a perfect road here. We'll talk a little about what happens in what you're doing now that you're out. But how do you address those issues? Why mean

Speaker 3: It would be the same? Like I know like somebody let's say, if I run into a victims group or a victims advocacy group, I'm sure sooner or later this conversation will come up. I mean, I posted about my book launch last week when it came out. And one of the groups I posted in was this Asian, um, networking group, which is pretty active. And I was there particularly on what I said, like, you know, I went to prison on January 15th, 1999, I shot and killed mr. Miller. And I left his name and the date. And it was overwhelming. A lot of positive responses. One in particular stood out where this woman says, I remember that day very well also that's the day my best friend was killed. And she went in and laid out how, what I did. And it was when I read it, I was so shocked.

Speaker 3: I was sad. I didn't know what to say, but yet I, I saw the, she came from such a place of, you know, I don't think it would, I won't say forgiveness, but she wanted to understand more. And, and she's like, I was supposed to be there that day. It was my birthday that he was going up to that club. I didn't show up because one of my friends was sick. And for me it was, I just had to reach out and say, okay, I am so sorry for taking your friend's life. Like, what would you be willing to share with me about him and just trying to listen. So I think I'm from victims or for so many, you know, I'm sure there can be people to say, this guy should have never been released is a monster. Or, you know, he, he did the unthinkable, he killed a person in cold blood.

Speaker 3: And my answer would have to be, yes, I did do that. But yes, I mean, yes, I am no longer the same person. And that's why I lead the life. I do. I mean, this is the way I will carry. And I know that saying truly well, let's say even if my book goes on to affect all 1000 of these incarcerated people that will still not make up for the life of one human being that I took off the face of the earth. I know that, but I realized this is my way of, of giving back. And it's my way of, I guess, reconciling it in, in my, in my head.

Speaker 2: I appreciate that. And appreciate it. Let me ask that question, tell people what you're doing now. So you get released after being in business for almost 20 plus years. What happens next? What are you doing now to help people understand the, the picture that we're painting here? Because we want there to be redemption. People are hoping for a positive outcome. It's not that you're just writing a book. Tell us more about that process.

Speaker 3: Yeah. I work full time at a nonprofit that helps men and women with criminal histories, uh, transformed their lives through the journey of entrepreneurship. It's called a D five ventures. I am also, I also was involved in the program when I was still doing my life sentence, came home, stayed involved with them and created my first company six months after it's a commercial cleaning company. So pre COVID, I had a team of seven, seven employees, but, and five of those seven were formerly incarcerated themselves. And I tell you what those are by far my best workers, but then COVID happened like in a span of four, six weeks, I saw canceled contract at the kinds of contracts. We lost like 70% of our revenues. And I had filed for the paycheck protection program, but because I was on active parole, they qualified me. But then somehow I got a couple of news outlets, found out the ACLU, took up a class action lawsuit on my behalf.

Speaker 3: And then they paired with defy ventures to Sue the SBA. And we got the SBA to change the language for small business owners, with criminal histories to allow some of us to be able to qualify which I did. So I was able to get my PDP on June 30th, which was the last day of the program at the time before they extended it. And with that little bit extra money, I say, pay now, how do I pivot what our company has done? These offices are closed. What's the problem, you know, in entrepreneurship and in defined would say, what's the problem? How are we solving it? And the problem was, you know, COVID and sanitation. And so our company pivoted into that, I think today, I I'm very proud and happy to announce that we're in a process of interviewing training and onboarding about 28 new employees nationally, that I was able to partner formalized a partnership with a disinfectant company.

Speaker 3: So, yeah, so that's happening. And I actually reached out to other organizations in other States to see if they work with the formerly incarcerated, because I'd like to give an opportunity for these, uh, our returning citizens to find meaningful work and to work at a place where I could see using the skill sets that they've learned in prison to better themselves to apply out here and to make this where they can earn more than just minimum wage. And I could pay them and pay them so that the continue getting them benefits and all that. Yeah. So that's basically what I'm up to and my book won starts with, so yeah, the been a, it's been a whirlwind of a four and a half years almost heavier.

Speaker 2: We talked a little bit about it, but let's talk about for just the two minutes here. I mean the book process, what was it like writing the book described to the people who were thinking about writing the book, how you did it, how long it took you and any learnings you might have after doing that?

Speaker 3: Let me see. I, when I committed to the team at private, it was six days a week, one hour, a day, 250 words a day. That was minimum. So, and I kept at it for six days a week. It was difficult. It was challenging. It was therapeutic all at the same time. I remember some of the, where I had to put myself back into my younger years, especially in juvenile hall and to California, I really questioned like, do I want to be here? Like, why would I want to write this story? You know, every fiber of my being wanted out of prison and now here I am placement by self, like into it. But then I realized this story is not about me. It's for the men that I left behind. And that's what I'm trying to do. Then this is a small sacrifice that I have to do to help them on their way. So I think realizing, and you know, maybe if somebody is writing, considering writing a book, being clear first on who they want to write it for. And then once they understand that and just always reminding themselves, yeah, it's not about the writer. It's like, who are you writing for? And I could just look at that and then try to share stories off of who I'm trying to write the book for.

Speaker 3: It's been such a pleasure. We can learn so much from your book. Your book was challenging for me and inspiring at the same time, gives me hope each individual's ability to find themselves. And I want to thank you so much for that. It's been a wonderful opportunity. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. Thank you

Speaker 1: For listening again, to another episode of authors who lead, we appreciate you being here and we hope you subscribe. So you get this delivered to your device every week. And if you haven't left us a review, please do so. It really helps. And if you have a book in your heart, you've been wanting to write a book, please go to authors who lead.com and join us on this journey of becoming a published author.

Episode Resources:

Sparrow in the Razor Wire

Alternatives to Violence Project


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