An Education While Incarcerated | The New Yorker

In April 2000, Eddy became one of the first fellows on the program to be awarded an associate’s degree. Keep taking lessons. That year, some Berkeley students arrived in San Quentin wearing yellow armbands. One explained that there was a strike on campus to defend Berkeley’s Department of Ethnic Studies against the proposed cuts. “I think that’s where I really tried to understand more” about Asian American history, Eddy said. These students were free, yet they wanted more. He would recite bell hooks and encourage his younger colleagues to do the same. He exchanged writing with poets such as Ishle Yi Park and published his own writing. He rose to the rank of OG – the original gangster – defused tensions with other cars. Anmol Chadda, an undergraduate student at Berkeley, was teaching a prison class about apartheid-era South Africa. One student asked why blacks, who make up the majority of South Africa’s population, joined oligarchy. Eddie turned to the student. “Look at us,” Shada remembers saying. “Look at our situation. We greatly outnumber the guards. But we are sitting here, generally satisfied with the situation.”

There was no golden age of imprisonment. However, there have been moments in the recent past when institutions have made greater gestures toward rehabilitation. In the early 1990s, nearly twenty percent of federal inmates had taken a college course while incarcerated. But a provision in the Violent Crimes and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 prohibits incarcerated people from receiving Pell Grants. By 2004, the number had dropped to about 10 percent, with the closing of programs offering associate’s or bachelor’s degrees to inmates.

Eddie wanted more San Quentin classes, so, in 2002, he and three other inmates, Stephen Lieb, Viet Mike Ngo and Rico Remedio, circulated a petition to include racial studies in the prison curricula. Eddie managed to avoid getting into serious trouble for sixteen years, but now he’s been placed in solitary confinement along with Mike and Rico. Eddy was guilty of sharing his writing with strangers without prison consent.

Send Eddie a message to boiled, The Berkeley Newspaper, inquiring about its submission policy. Shad, an editor, agreed to print anything Eddie sent him. He asked if there was anything else he could do. Eddie asked for help finding a lawyer.

Shada realized that Eddy needed not only a lawyer, but a political campaign. Chad started the Asian Prisoners Support Committee with Yuri Kochiyama, a longtime activist who was close to Malcolm X in the 1960s. The committee’s immediate goal was to support Eddie, Mike, and Rico, who became known as the San Quentin Three. Mike and Rico were eventually moved out of solitary confinement. But Eddie, who was technically still eligible for parole, was kept in isolation for eleven months.

Chadda consulted Victor Huang, a civil rights attorney who had met him in an Asian American class. Hwang introduced him to a network of lawyers, community leaders, and local politicians, all, to some extent, alumni of the 1960s social movements that gave birth to Asian American identity. Chad needed to convince state lawmakers to support Eddy the next time he was parole.

In May 2003, Eddie was sent to the California State Prison in Solano. As a teenager, he was treated in a prisoner reception center; From the courtyard, he could see the Solano Building, just across the street. Since this system was introduced, in 1986, California has built three new universities and nineteen new prisons. The state’s prison population has more than doubled.

Slowly a campaign to support Eddie arose. Paul Doch, a graduate student at Berkeley who taught Eddie in San Quentin, performed poetry in the streets to raise money for Eddie’s attorney. Eddy wrote up to ten letters a day to friends, former volunteers, politicians, activists, and college students. “From inside the state prison, he was able to network and build a community,” said Ben Wang, an undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis, who started messaging with Eddie. Jane Law, another Berkeley teacher whom Eddie had approached in the late 1990s, helped him create a blog. In his posts, he would talk about prison food, yell at friends, exchange poetry, and even campaign for political candidates he had befriended by mail. At one point, he asked people to stop sending him books; He’s got more than he can read.

“At first, we didn’t tell anyone, because we lost face,” his father recalls from the family home in Auckland. “We were ashamed. We cannot face Chinese society.” But after hearing Kochiyama speak at a rally, he realized he needed to do the same. Chada took Eddie’s parents to Sacramento, where they went door to door to speak to lawmakers. “They were the slugs,” Shada told me. He remembers a meeting of Asian American community leaders where Eddie’s mother, too scared to admit that her son was in prison, gave an impromptu speech in a dance hall full of strangers about her family’s trip from Guangzhou to San Quentin.

Eddie began studying meditation. In one exercise, he had to count to ten. If any thoughts snuck in, he had to start over. The exercise is similar to his struggle for parole; Apply more than a dozen times. In November 2004, the board voted in favor of his release. Gray Davis was called by California electors, now Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did not object to the board’s recommendation. One day, in March of 2005, a prison official called Eddie and said, “Hey, Zing, write this ducat”—a statement that inmates need to move freely. It was for Eddie’s release.

But the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 expanded the categories that make non-citizen offenders vulnerable to deportation. Upon Eddie’s release from Solano, he was handed over to ice Agents transported him to a field office in San Francisco. As the truck was making its way through town at lunchtime, Eddie looked out the window. Not many people have seen free people in nearly twenty years.

Spent nearly two years held before ice In Marysville, North Sacramento. While in custody, he married Shelley Smith, the volunteer he had befriended in the late 1990s. “There is nothing traditional about our marriage,” he said on his blog. “We are just two giant puzzle pieces of finding our places to complete and achieve our mission.”

As more people learned about Eddie’s situation, the movement to free him intensified. The family he was a victim of has been largely silent throughout the parole process. But while Eddie was in Marysville, daughter Jenny Tam submitted a letter to immigration court. “My family is no different from mine,” she wrote. “It saddens me to see so many people gather for Eddie.” Tam went on to describe the isolation and paranoia that had come to define their home life: “Part of me feared that I would feel like the one who had done something wrong . . . . to me, any accomplishments he claimed would have swayed the court to rule in his favour. My steadfast wish is that Eddie be deported.” .

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