To the youngsters who may care about themselves:
Hi my Name is Leng Vang. I am Hmong and I’m 30 years of age and the fourth oldest in the family. I have three older sisters, three younger brothers and then there’s the baby sister. I also have half brothers and one half sister. My dad had two wives.
My Dad was born and raised in North Vietnam and my mom was born in Laos. During the Vietnam war my family ran from the war to Thailand and was settled in a refuge camp. That’s where I was born. After two years we were sponsored and settled in Montana and lived there for only about two years. We then moved again, coming here to California leaving my Dad’s first wife and my half siblings.
I grew up in Merced, California, a small town, and have been there since the age of four. When I was in my early teens I had always hung around Hmongs, but by the age of twelve I had changed friends and started to hang around Mexicans. There were two reasons I changed the race of my friends. One, I didn’t want to end up joining a gang. Almost everyone I hung around with became a gang member. The second reason was because I didn’t want to get married at a young age. It’s part of the culture. If you were caught having sex with your girlfriend you were forced to marry them. I was at that age where my hormones were kicking in. So you see, not only did I change the race of my friends, but of the girls I was going out with, too.
Close to the end of my sophomore year I started ditching and hanging around the wrong people. My grades were still pretty good at the time but you know, the more you ditch, the less homework, the worse your grades get. That’s exactly what happened.
All this was caused by me not knowing how to deal with my stress. On October 20, 1994, my dad passed away. My dad was sick for about a month now and was hospitalized. He had stomach cancer. He didn’t want surgery; that’s just the way he was–traditional in his beliefs.
I’m a very emotional person and I didn’t know how to deal with my hurt and pain. I didn’t want to cry in class, so that caused me to ditch class. My mind wasn’t clouded only because I was hurt and in pain, but because I was stressed out as well.
At this time I was the oldest in the family. My three older sisters were out of the house already. Two had got married and one was a teacher in Fresno who visits when she gets a chance. So me, being the oldest, I thought that I was supposed to step up and be the man of the house. Thinking and believing that caused me stress. Now that I think back, I was already doing that. I was helping out already. I didn’t know how to talk to my mom about it. I tried to help out by applying for a job, but I didn’t put much effort into it. I only applied to one spot, Jack in the Box.
It would have been perfectly fine if I would have thought and stayed as a teenager then. Instead I put all of this “be the man” burden on my shoulders. Remain your age, don’t try to grow up too fast.
On November 4th, 1995, two years after my dad passed away, my co-defendants and I went out to rob somebody, anybody, just not from the town that we were in. It’s a small town, and we were everywhere. So I drove to the next town over. That town was even smaller.
I never really knew what happened or what really took place, or how the man was killed, or who shot who first. All I know is this; the man was shot and died, my co-defendant was shot in the leg, and what the police reports say. Oh, and he had a gun too.
Now I’m here at California State Prison – Solano. I have been at this prison since 2005. Hopefully not for too much longer. The hardest part of being in here is worrying about your family. If you find out that your family is going through something, you worry about them. If someone is sick, you worry about them. It goes on like that. Worry after worries after worries. It makes you feel powerless, useless, and worthless. That’s how I feel from time to time. The only thing that helps me is prayer. Because no matter how much I worry about things, it’s not going to change. I pray and ask the Lord to put a hand over the situation and for Him to comfort me. That’s all I can do.
The other thing is that everyone out there has moved on. They’ve grown up. They’ve married, have kids, career, so on and so on. That’s what I’m seeing. That’s what I’m going through. I was locked up at 17 years old, so mentally I was 17 for another seven years. When I turned 25 yrs old, it finally hit me–that I’m not 17 anymore. Time seems to stop for some reason. Even now; I’m 30 years old but don’t feel it.
I also realize that I’ve hurt my family by being here.
All this time I thought that I was doing this time alone. I wasn’t and I’m not. Whether I want to see it this way or not. It’s the truth. My family is doing this time with me. Because every time they have a party or any kind of celebration they think about me. It makes my mom cry and when she cries, everyone cries. So you see, in an event that involves everyone, they all think about you, miss you, and cry for you.
The first three or four years that I was locked up, my older sister (the teacher), never visit me. I was a little upset but told myself that it’s my fault that I’m here. Which helped ease me a little, but then that feeling arose again and again. So I questioned her. Her answer ripped my heart apart and made me realize what I have done to my family and how many people I have hurt.
It was also her who answered the phone when I first got arrested. It was around 1:30am when I called home from juvenile hall. She answer the phone and I froze. I couldn’t speak. The staff had to tell her for me, and I could hear her scream through the phone when he told her that I was arrested and in juvenile hall for homicide. I was at least five feet away from the phone and I heard the scream as if I was on the phone. Yes, it was that loud.
Well, what my sister told me the day I asked her why she wouldn’t visit, she said, “It hurts me too much to see you in prison.” It broke me down. Even today when I think about her words it still hurts me because it reminds me how much I have hurt her, and everyone else.
To go through what I do with my siblings and to hear it from my mom and what she goes through, only brings me heartache to think about the wife and kids of the man that died in my case. I can only imagine what she goes through. Her kids asking her why she’s crying. Where their father’s at. What she has to tell them. How many times she has to tell them because they’re too young to understand. How many times they ask in one day. Each time they ask her, that’s each time she cries. That’s not counting the times she’s by herself or late in the midnight hours.
I pray that they have forgiven me. I know what I have taken from them, even though I’m here. I still grew up without a father so did my brothers and sisters. I took a lot from them. I wish I could go back in time. I know we all wish that sometimes. I regret what I did that day, everyday. What I took I cannot give back.
My everyday is the same. I’m told what to do, when to do it, how and why I should do it, and where I should do it. What I eat, what I wear, how I should wear it, and why I should wear it. Showers are “when”. Work is “when”, “where”, and “why”. Restroom, “when”. Recreation time, “when”. Visits – “when”, and “how”. So you see everything that you do and have is regulated by someone who don’t know you, don’t give a care in the world about you, who don’t even know your name — you’re known by a number — and who don’t even like you. The funny thing is this. If I was listening to my mom and those who love and care for me, then I wouldn’t be listening to these people who don’t love or care about me. Think about that. Yes, I do care.
The other things about being in her is being looked down upon. Most of the correctional officers look at us as if we’re less than animals. The most degrading of all is stripping naked. Being locked up is like being locked up in the bathroom, especially if you’re in a cell (6’ x 11’). I’ve spent my first eight years in a “bathroom”. Now I’m in a dorm setting, and have been for the past six years.
Know this though, even though we, human beings, make bad / stupid choices that doesn’t make us bad / stupid choice (although some are). It’s the choice we make.
When I made this stupid choice I didn’t think about the severity of the consequences. I knew there were consequences if i got caught, which i did, but i didn’t think it through. I didn’t think about who i would be hurting and how much i and everyone that gives a care about me would be losing.
i think about what i missed out on. How i didn’t get to take my girlfriend to the prom. When i see a movie that has a prom scene or a high school reunion, i regret what i did to get myself here.
I never bought cigarettes (i did smoke). Never been in a club. Never bought alcohol (not a drinker). Never been to a bar. Never got a driver’s license nor fishing license. Never been in a relationship longer than nine months. Never had a job out there. Never really traveled, but twice. Once to Montana for a cousin’s wedding (eight years old), and the second time was to Minnesota. Never traveled in California. Never been to a beach. Never had a car or a place of my own.
So you see — I never did much, nor been anywhere, because I, like many youngsters, want to fit in, and fall under peer pressure. I made a stupid choice, so i got a lot of “nevers”. i could only pray that someday soon I’ll be able to make most “nevers” disappear.
i could only pray that my story will and have shine a little bit of light on the path that you travel. I hope that you will think about my “nevers” and really take it to heart.
Always remember that you do have a choice no matter what the situation is.
Take care and God bless you all.