Releasing Their Stories: API Prisoners’ Narratives

On Saturday, May 5th, 2007, the co-editors of Other: Asian Pacific Islander Prisoners’ Anthology (2007), Eddy Zheng and Ben Wang, held a book reading at Eastwind Books of Berkeley that brought in a packed house. Audience members included such prominent friends of Eddy Zheng like Yuri Kochiyama, Richard Aoki, numerous Asian American Studies professors, community activists, and more. Eddy spoke at length to the audience on life in prison for an Asian American, discussing the lack of research, study, and even public awareness or community support for API prisoners. He talked about the hardships of language barriers, feeling ostracized from the Asian community, the shame that families of prisoners feel, and encouraged the audience to engage actively in more outreach programs for API prisoners. The two co-authors read excerpts from their book, which may be heard here on YouTube.

Before the reading began, Eddy handed me a copy of the book. Since I came half an hour early as Eddy’s chaffeur, I managed to read through more than half of it. If it weren’t for the fact people were piling in and I sat in a public space, I would have teared up right then and there and bawled like a baby. The narratives tackled racism, discrimination, loneliness, ostracism, inner turmoil, rebellion, and bleeding through the pages were the pains and wounds of beautiful individuals the rest of society has decided not to care about anymore. Also throughout the narratives ran the brewing sentiment desiring and pining for a revolution. Something must be done, a change, each prisoner seemed to implore. We’re not invisible bodies. Do not pretend we are so. In addition, the book includes artwork and poetry by API inmates, which are just incredible.

I noticed at the beginning of the book an illustration of the U.S. and the same illustration in reverse, its mirror reflection, at the back of the book. I pointed it out to Eddy with a question mark on my face. He smiled slyly, “There’s meaning behind that. Those drawings were done by one of the inmates. We can discuss the significance of it later.” Unfortunately, fans and supporters swarmed around him afterward that I did not have the opportunity to ask him again about the significance. I do, however, leave it open to other readers of the book to ponder.

Eddy Zheng spent over 19 years behind bars for a robbery he committed at age 16. During that time, he rehabilitated himself, mentored at-risk youth, organized poetry slams, and earned an Associates Degree. In 2005, the parole board released him for being a model inmate, but immediately following his release, Homeland Security dragged him back behind bars, this time detaining him under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IRA-IRA) of 1996, a retroactive law that, due to malpractice on the part of Eddy’s attorney when he was sentenced in 1986, meant Eddy had no citizenship status and would be deported back to China. He fought for his appeal, which is now pending in federal court. In the meantime, in February 2007, Eddy was released and is now working actively in the community, volunteering at every opportunity he can, speaking around the state at universities and high schools about API/APA issues, and working as a case manager and outreach worker at San Francisco’s Chinatown Youth Center. To read more on Eddy’s case, see here for a former entry by Akrypti.

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Author: akrypti

small town roots. enthusiast of many trades. oh, and yeah, high-maintenance like you wouldn't believe. tweet with me @akrypti.