To the Young People of the Bay and Beyond,
My name is Na Joe Her. I am 34 and I have been in prison since I was nineteen years old. My family and I are Hmong who came from the mountain regions of Laos after the Vietnam War. We first settled in Lowton, Oklahoma in 1979 when I was four years old. My family then moved to San Diego a couple years later because the Oklahoma weather was too cold for my parents.
When I was in middle school in San Diego, the things I most enjoyed doing was riding my bicycle, going fishing, playing soccer, video games, and having fun at school with my friends. I had a happy childhood in San Diego until we moved from San Diego to Stockton when I was fourteen years old.
I was not happy in Stockton because I lost all my childhood friends. In high school I kept mostly to myself, because I was the new kid in town. Most of the teenagers in my neighborhood either had their own sets of friends or they were involved in gangs. The pressure to fit in with a particular group of friends in Stockton was very stressful for me to adjust to. Even though I managed to stay away from the temptation of gangs, eventually I started to hang around gang members during my junior year in high school. I chose to associate myself with a gang after I was assaulted by another gang. I did not know how to deal with the situation at the time. Instead of calling the authorities and reporting it, I chose to associate myself with a rival gang to seek revenge and a false sense of protection. Surrounding myself with gang members, I lost sight of my family values. Eventually, I ended up dropping out of high school.
I am currently incarcerated in Solano State Prison. I have been in prison for the last 15 years. I am here because I was the driver of a gang related drive-by shooting that caused the death of a human being. The peer pressure and gang involvement in what led me to being involved in the commitment of this crime.
The hardest part about being in prison is not being able to see my family and friends. Also, there is no privacy here, we all take showers together in the same dirty shower stall. Everybody here in prison also shares the same stinky toilet stall. I do the same program every day for the last 15 years. We call it “program” because it’s like we are being programmed like a robot. For exapmle, I wake up at about six o clock in the morning and wait for the officer to call for breakfast. After breakfast I then report to my work site. My job at work consists of washing all the prisoners dirty laundry. They pay me about five dollars a day. After work I come back to my dorm and rest for the same thing tomorrow.
While I’ve been here I learned that crime does not pay. I wish someone had told me when I was younger that I should stay in school and not join gangs. There are only two results of being in a gang. You either get killed or you go to prison for a very long time. And I am living proof of this. It’s sad to say that I was the lucky one, becuase most of my former gang friends are dead. I hope anybody that reads my story, if you are thinking about joining a gang, please change your life before it’s too late. Don’t follow in my footsteps, instead stay in school and make your parents proud.