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Freedom is one breath away

Jan 01, 2012
» Reflections

Happy new breath all my relations!

It is the beginning of another beautiful year. I’m reminded that this is my fifth annual reflection since I’ve been physically freed from the Prison Industrial Complex and immigration detention. When I reviewed the past four annual reflections, I realized that each passing year has been better than the previous. What a blessing!

As I begin to reflect on all the happenings in 2011, I hold in mind a creed from our national treasure Yuri Kochiyama, “To always keep in mind, that any opportunities, achievement, or happiness I have had, I owe to someone else; to be grateful for whatever has come my way through the aid of another, to repay every kindness, but should such a circumstance not arise, to pass it on to someone else.”

In my professional life, the Community Youth Center of San Francisco (CYC) continues to provide me with the opportunity to service the youth and community as a Project Manager. Besides working with the two violence prevention components of Invention and Street Outreach, I have the privileged to be a part of spearheading a pilot multicultural youth leadership program called the Bayview Youth Advocates (BYA.) BYA aims to empower youth to advocate for themselves, families and community as well as promoting racial harmony. The creation of a CYC branch office in the Bayview district is a proactive action to address racial tension transpired two years ago between African Americans and Asians. The process of establishing service in the historically disenfranchised African American community has been challenging. However, CYC and myself are committed to do our best to contribute in the betterment of the community.

I continue to go into the Department of Juvenile Justice as a contractor with Project IMPACT (Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things) to facilitate workshops on male accountability with incarcerated youth. I have had the pleasure of working with my co-facilitators, who are mostly formerly incarcerated life term prisoners, to utilize our experiences to stop the cycle of incarceration.

My two year appointment by former Mayor Gavin Newsome on the San Francisco Reentry Council (SFRC) concluded. During my term, I believe I was able to maximize my voice to advocate for the currently and formerly incarcerated, especially the often neglected Asian and Pacific Islander population. I learned the intricacy of working with city departments and understood the important existence of the reentry council. Therefore, I reapplied to serve on the reentry council so I can continue to provide input and represent those in need . Mayor Ed Lee appointed me to another two year term on the San Francisco Reentry Council. As the cities and counties across the State implement Governor Brown’s Realignment Plan to decrease the overcrowding prison population, SFRC is way ahead in terms of preparation.

As the co-chair for the Asian Prisoners Support Committee (APSC) based in Oakland, California, my team and I have been working diligently to improve our existence and services. APSC became a part of Chinese for Affirmative Action’s (CAA) Asian Americans for Civil Rights and Equality (AACRE), which include the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA), API Equality, Hyphen Magazine, and the Network on Religion and Justice. This alliance will enable APSC to expand our efforts to raise awareness about the prison industrial complex and raise funds through CAA’s fiscal sponsorship. We attended healthy fairs in San Quentin and Solano State Prisons. We went inside San Quentin whenever we can to meet and brainstorm with APIs to create the curriculum for our cultural competency program. Wecontine to sell and distribute the “Other: An Asian and Pacific Islander Prisoners’ Anthology” and “Letters from the Pen” ‘zines to the public and educational institutions to raise awareness and generate funds. I’m always amazed by the dedication of the members of APSC to volunteer their time and energy in supporting the API incarcerated population.

My public speaking engagements gave me opportunities to connect with over 2,500 people across the nation. I was able to interact with people from all diverse backgrounds and different age groups from City College of San Francisco, Oakland’s Laney Community College, University of California Berkeley, University of California Davis, Arizona State University of Tempe, San Francisco Unified School District, Adult Probation of Alameda, Juvenile Justice Department of San Leandro, churches, and Community Based Organizations in the Bay Area. My story of transformation, redemption and successful reentry created space for me to engage in dialogues with people in addressing the issues of school to prison pipeline, Prison Industrial Complex and deportation.

Politically, it was an honor for me to be a part of the Run Ed Run campaign in the city of San Francisco. We were able to successfully drafted Mayor Ed Lee to run for Mayor. With support from members of the community, we were able to make history by electing the first ever Chinese American Mayor.

I join the 16 weeks tele-course Peace Ambassador Training with renowned social healer James O’Dea and over a dozen of the top peace builders internationally. The intention is that participants will be deeply empowered in the coming months to become powerful peacemakers in their lives, homes and communities, as well as to become certified Peace Ambassadors for The Shift Network, playing a healing role in its global programs for the Summer of Peace 2012. This training has 5 pillars: Peace Within, Healing Personal and Collective Wounds, Communicating Peace, Mastering Systems Change, and Activating and Organizing for Peace. I look forward to cultivate the knowledge of peace and share them with others.

I was humble to receive two Community Service Awards from Chinatown Community Development Center of San Francisco and Project IMPACT of Stockton.

The beautiful and talented Joy Liu from Swash Design Studio updated my website I started sharing the journal that I kept during my 11 months of solitary confinement in 2002 and 2003. Please visit my website.

Ben Wang, who is the filmmaker for the Richard Aoki documentary, started the documentary project “Breathin’ The Eddy Zheng Story.” We were able to reach our online fund raising goal through Foundations and individuals from the community donated generously to the project.

I submitted a 5 minute video for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ “What’s Your Story” Video and Essay challenge. Out of 200 videos submitted, I made it to the top 20. If my video makes it to the top ten, it will be put on the White House website for public voting. The top winners of that voting will be invited to share their stories in person at the White House. I hope I will be one of those people.

As for my immigration status, there is a glimmer of hope in my request for a waiver of deportation (called the § 212(c) waiver) since my last hearing. On May 6, 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled in a published precedent decision that I deserve a second chance to stay legally in the United States. The Court was reviewing the prior decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) which had found I should be deported to China because of my convictions at age 16. The Ninth Circuit determined that the BIA decision against me was incorrect and incomplete, because it failed to consider one of the most important factors in my case – my value to the community. In the meantime, my case is back in front of the Immigration Judge. I’m waiting for a new merits hearing so I can demonstrate to the court that I’m worthy of getting my permanent legal residency back. While the court goes through its legal process, I’m still a participant in Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP.) I have to report to ISAP office once every two weeks, stay home once a week for a home visit and subject to voice recognition once a month. Also, I have to report to the ICE office once every six months. Though I dislike that hassles of supervision, it beats being locked up.

Life is good. As I embrace the year of 2012, I continue to count my blessings and be mindful of those who are less fortunate. I can never become who I am and be where I am at without the unending support from my family, friends and community. I’m always grateful and encouraged by your presence in my life. I implore you hold my actions accountable so I may learn to improve my shortcomings.

Some of the goals I have for this year are: take better care of my mental and physical health, prioritize my needs versus wants, continue to focus on multicultural youth leadership programs and promote racial harmony, be more organized so I may do more self development, staff development, relationship building with CBOs and communities nationally, listen more and talk less, make an effort to stay connected with friends, keep cultivating compassion for self and others.

Freedom is one breath away! It’s up to you to discover what freedom means to you. Please remember to appreciate the breath that is sustaining your beautiful life.

Happy new breath! Happy new day! Happy year of the Dragon!


I stayed up to ring in the New Year. I thought about my family and friends. The building was lively before the clock strikes midnight. Guys were singing, yelling and banging. It’s just another day of lockdown.

I slept all morning. Then I finished reading the book by Gao. I’m at the end of my cold. My sinus is partially blocked.

I wrote to S and talked about love and Mike. I only scratched the surface fo the topics. I’ll talk more in person.

I wrote to S a short letter to say hi. I sent the two letters I wrote two days ago.

Dinner was garbage. The cop said he felt ashamed to serve it to us. Chicken chucks with mashed potatoes, salad, spinach, bread, chocolate milk and watery pudding.

I wrote a couple of pages to J. I’ll send it out when I hear from her again. I don’t know where she is yet.

T made a spread around 9 o’clock. He sent it to me in a bag without flattening it out. It’s stuck outside my door. I’m hungry too. I’m staying up to wait for the Officer to give it to me.

New Year’s day. Another day. May the year gets me out of prison. I want to be released.