To the Oakland and Bay Area Youth,
My name is Thonsanh Phongsavat, my homies here call me LA. I am originally from the country Laos, and came to America when I was five years old. My family was having a very hard time out in my country, and came here with the hopes of starting over and finding for themselves a better life.
I was raised in a very cultural family, and I guess we had a hard time conforming to that of America’s life style. For those of you reading this who are from other countries, you may understand where I am coming from. Being a stranger in any place is hard. We grew up relatively poor, but my parents did their best to provide for us. Initially, our family first moved from Laos to Hawaii, the island of Oahu. I grew up there, and left when I was a teenager to California.
The California lifestyle was so different to any lifestyle that I was familiar to. There were a lot of other Laos people in Sacramento where we ended moving to. But the culture here was so different from the culture that surrounded me as a kid. California seemed to be more about gangs and violence than about anything. In my neighborhood, literally everyone I knew was involved in gangs or some illegal activities. I’ve lost many people that I’ve cared about to the streets, and many more who ended up just like me, incarcerated.
I have been in prison for fourteen years now. In 1995, I was convinced of second degree murder. The details of what happened, its still somewhat of a blur to me. I am writing in the hopes that my experience and thingsI have been through will help deter you from following down the same path.
My crime itself was not gang related, which goes to show that the decisions we choose to make can be so monumental. Everyday I regret my actions, and am forced to live with the fact that I took someone’s life. It’s very hard being in prison, but so much harder living with the burden of what I did. I often have these dreams at night, and that moment in my life will play itself out again. Only this time I choose right. I choose not to have the gun in the first place. I choose not to press the trigger. I choose not to take a life.
Prison teaches you many things, mostly it teaches you about the desicions you make in life. How important they are. How one thing can change everything. If I could, i would take back that one moment in which I refuse to take the time to think. Please, for those of you reading this, always take the time to think.
My life here is filled with great pain and suffering. Prison is always about suffering. I have been working these past years to change my life, and even though I know if given a second chance, I would never come back to prison, I still recognize there are things in me I need to work on to become a better person. All people continually have to work to become better people.
My advice to those of you reading this: work on finding who it is that you are. When you know who you are, you can then make better decisions. Peer pressure always plays a big role in what we do. If we learn who we are, then we become stronger with ourselves and can make decisions tha serve to help rather than hurt.
Anyone can come to prison. When I was growing up, I never thought that this place was possible. I actually grew up wanting to be a doctor. I know it was just a dream, but sometimes I think that it was possible. That anything is possible as long as we make the best decisions.
I go to my first parole hearing in a few years. I am scared of what they will tell me, but still yet, know it is something I need to face. I believe that one day I will be rewarded another chance. But everyday I wish I had made the right choices at the right time, so I didn’t have to wait for them to open up the gates.