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An Unlikely Friendship

Apr 09, 2007
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One teacher’s lasting friendship with a convicted felon and her involvement in his transformation from prisoner to poet

by Loretta Sheng and Zack Kousnetz, The Paly Voice

excerpt:

When Palo Alto High School teacher Jeanne Loh was a fourth grader living in Huntington Beach, Calif., then-16-year-old Oakland resident Eddy Zheng was committing armed robbery and kidnapping. Thirteen years after he was sentenced to seven-years-to-life, the two met in San Quentin State Prison where Loh was volunteering as a teacher’s assistant.

So began what would be an eight-year friendship that would see the two share hundreds of letters and her volunteering as the transcriber and caretaker of Zheng’s online blog. During this time, Zheng would emerge as one of the Bay Area’s most celebrated reformed convicts. A poet, published author and supporter of prisoners’ rights, Zheng converted himself — in part with Loh’s help — from a troubled teenage immigrant into a dedicated and selfless contributor to society.

The more Loh got to know Zheng, the more she believed in the strength of this transformation. “If you think about your own suffering there’s always someone else who’s suffered more than you,” Loh says.

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Last Stand of Eddie Zheng

Aug 10, 2005
» Articles

by Kara Platoni, East Bay Express

excerpt:

Eddy Zheng has hundreds of supporters, an army of lawyers, the governor’s okay, and a new wife. So why does homeland security want to deport him?


The skinny, money-obsessed kid was one of three teenagers who committed an intensely frightening robbery-kidnap as clumsy as it was horrific. All three young men were caught immediately. Zheng received the maximum sentence — seven years to life — and his attorneys expected him to serve eight or nine years.

By the late ’90s, Zheng already had served twice that. He’d also made a stunning transformation from junior hoodlum to star pupil at San Quentin. He taught himself English, and earned a GED and an associate of arts degree. He developed a deep love of poetry, self-publishing his own zines and organizing the prison’s first poetry slam. He worked with “scared straight” programs, urging teenagers to avoid his fate. He carried on a torrential correspondence with civic leaders and literary luminaries in the outside world, who were attracted by his intellectual voracity and his evident desire to atone for the past. He avoided drugs and eschewed gangs. He didn’t just do time; he did it well.

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