Happy new year from the Asian Prisoner Support Committee and 18 Million Rising! And welcome to the first Did You Eat Yet? of the year!
Bun: My name is Chanthon Bun and I am a 1.5 generation Khmer community member. I was incarcerated for 23 years and now work as a Reentry Coordinator at APSC, supporting formerly incarcerated people in their reentry. I’m a father of 3 boys, and in my spare time, I love drawing and fishing.
Ke: My name is Nghiep “Ke” Lam. A former juvenile lifer and ICE detainee, I now assist formerly incarcerated folks with accessing resources in their transition back into society. I was one of the co-founders of San Quentin State Prison’s ROOTS program, a weekly class for currently incarcerated folks to learn about immigration/refugee history, intergenerational trauma, leadership development, and reentry planning. The ROOTS program has reached over 250 participants. I also enjoy restoring bicycles to donate them to our system’s impacted communities.
Peejay: My name is Borey ’Peejay’ Ai, a 1.5 Khmer American, and a former juvenile lifer. I am now the Community Advocate for Asian Prisoner Support Committee where I represent APSC in meetings, coalition spaces, lobby visits; conduct workshops; and more. Every week, I also attend CERI’s male-identified elders’ group where survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide gather to unpack our trauma and find healing. I believe that together change is possible and I want to make a difference in the lives of individuals in all communities.
Maria Legarda is the fourth member of #APSC4 and the first female Reentry Intern in 2020. Today, she serves as the Reentry Consultant for APSC. Her work consists of providing reentry support to the API community and formerly incarcerated folks coming home from state prison, jails, and detention centers. She is also the co-founder of APSC’s Community And Re-Entry Empowerment (CARE), a monthly support group for women in California which started in 2022.
And for APSC, as an organization dedicated to fighting for people displaced by the horrors of war, born in refugee camps, and caged within prison walls, our liberation is directly tied to the liberation of the Palestinian people. The Asian Prisoner Support Committee unwaveringly stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their fight for freedom.
This past Martin Luther King Jr Day, we at APSC joined 18MR, Lavender Phoenix, and ASAT in Oakand to reclaim MLK’s legacy against militarism, capitalism, and imperialism! Chinese Progressive Association, AYPAL, and Asian Pacific Environmental Network were also there to join the fight!
As we welcome in 2024, we want to talk about the Pardon #APSC4 Campaign. The APSC4 members are core staff at Asian Prisoner Support Committee, whose work includes advocacy for criminal justice reform, deportation defense, reentry support, youth mentorship, and workshops. APSC4 members include: Borey Peejay Ai, Chanthon Bun, Nghiep Ke Lam, and Maria Legarda.
After our release from CDCR and ICE detention, the #ASPC4 have been role models, mentors, and leaders in the Bay Area community. Not only do we facilitate educational immigration workshops, but we also provide support for formerly and currently incarcerated community members.
Bun: I was at a low point in my life when I found APSC. I was in solitary confinement and was looking for support – folks that can relate to my lived experience, my history, and my traumas. By chance, while I was in the prison law library, I found the APSC address in a resource guide. I wrote to APSC and was welcomed with a warm response and understanding. I continued to correspond with APSC for about six years until I had the opportunity to be transferred to San Quentin state prison. Upon my arrival, I was informed that there was an ethnic studies group called Restoring Our Original True Selves (R.O.O.T.S) run by the Asian Prisoner Support Committee. I wanted to join right away but was told that I would have to wait until the next cycle. I pleaded with the facilitators and informed them that I have been a long-time member of APSC. No one believed me, but in the end, it was confirmed that I was a long-time member and I was allowed to join R.O.O.T.S. I was a participant and then a facilitator for the next four years until I was paroled in 2020. APSC’s R.O.O.T.S program has taught me my history, helped me heal from some of my trauma, and showed me encouragement and support on how to become a leader.
But the four of us could be deported at any moment, if ICE decides. This would mean ASPC would lose four beloved staff members; our families would lose their loved ones; and for Maria – it would mean death.
The only way to prevent our deportation is if Governor Newsom pardons us, restoring our legal rights. A pardon would mean the four of us can remain with our families, our loved ones, and our community. And we can continue to serve our community.
Bun: What inspires me to advocate is the need for our community to be seen. When it comes to Southeast Asian deportation and incarceration, our families and community are often silent because of the stigma of losing face. Our families and community suffer from separation and traumatize alone in silence. I want to empower our family and community, to know that they are not alone and that we can heal together by changing the narrative about deportation and incarceration.
Our continued efforts to mobilize for change never ends. Here are some updates:
- This month, we’re highlighting APSC and their four staff members who are at risk of deportation. For Maria especially, it’s a matter of life and death. Let’s keep ASPC4 members free! Join us Jan 24th at 5PM PT / 8PM ET.
- Judy Van Arsdale and Emily Warnecke are both Asian adoptee elders who cannot access their retirement or disability care. Though they both had been adopted by white American parents and have lived the majority of their lives in the US, they never officially became citizens and are unable to secure housing, social security, and more. Here’s how you can make sure our elders are cared for.
- ICYMI: Last year, California Governor Newsom vetoed the HOME Act (AB1306). We are enraged and disappointed that Newsom chose to allow ICE and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to collude to deport and separate families.
- One of our staff members is part of the #BayBridge78 and is now facing charges for peacefully protesting the genocide of the Palestinian people! Tell California DA Brooke Jenkins: drop the charges!
Peejay: Last July, I joined the HHREC Podcast to talk a bit about my life – from my family’s escape from the Khmer Rouge genocide, to turning to gangs, to prison, and transformation.
Ke: And if you’re interested in more stories and conversations from folks inside, The Uncuffed Podcast has a whole series you can’t miss. If you need a refresher on double punishment, check this out.
Talking to folks inside is one part of a larger fight. We mentioned before that our liberation is connected with those in Palestine. The same tactics used to dehumanize and justify bombings in Laos and Southeast Asia are also used to dehumanize Palestine. Check out this quick bite here to learn more or read about U.S. imperialism in Laos.
SMALL SIGN OFF / THANK YOU
Peejay: And lastly, I want to highlight a movement elder that I look up to: Yuri Kochiyama, who was a Japanese American political and civil rights activist. Yuri fought for political prisoners during her time and she played a vital role in the creation of APSC through her support of the San Quentin three. APSC and our work today is a part of the legacy that she leaves behind.
As an impacted person, I am inspired by her work in creating solidarity to bring people together, and stop the building of more prison walls and detention centers.
Bun, Ke, Peejay, APSC4 Members + Irma, Turner, Sharmin, Kari, Leyen, and Brenda – the 18MR Team
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