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How do you repay an unforgivable act?
That is the question that our latest guest on the Inner Edison Podcast has been asking himself since January 15, 1999, after he shot and killed a man as part of a gang shooting.
If you go to Quan Huynh’s website, you’ll see these words written prominently, “I wasn’t born a murderer.” It’s a powerful quote that begins to tell the story of a man trying to right his wrongs and transform his life.
In his new book Sparrow in the Razor Wire, he shares how he found freedom within the walls of a California penitentiary while serving a life sentence. It is a story of raw pain, hope, and transformation.
Here is what he had to share.
No Country & What Came After
Quan and his family moved from Vietnam after the war to Provo, Utah. The reason they moved to Provo was that his father wanted his wife to experience snow. Quan was a toddler at the time.
Growing up in Provo, Utah, Quan felt like he didn’t fit in. He also experienced racism first-hand. At the age of 8, a few older boys started yelling at him and his younger brother to go back to their own country and saying racial slurs.
Quan and his brother ran away, but after Quan dropped some of his GI Joe action figures, his brother stopped to pick them up. The older boys threw his brother to the ground, beat him up, and shoved dirt into his mouth. Quan sat by crying as his 6-year-old brother got beaten.
When they returned home, his father asked him, “Why did you let this happen? You always protect your family at all cost!” Those words stuck with Quan. After that, he says he always had a chip on his shoulder.
Loss of Innocence
At the age of 10, Quan’s father was diagnosed with Leukemia. The family moved to California for care.
Quan spent from 10 to 13 praying every day that his father would become well. At 13, he lost his father to the disease. He recalls feeling angry at his mother, his father, and God for taking him.
Shortly after, he and his brother started running in the streets. His first arrest came at the age of 17. He was convicted for conspiracy to commit murder when a friend of his shot at a group of teenagers.
Although he wasn’t part of the act, he got tied to the event. He spent two years in a juvenile detention center with other Vietnamese kids. These bonds with other kids his own age created his descent into gang life.
Life Sentence, Parole, and Transformation
In 1999, Quan received a life sentence in prison only after destroying evidence, lying on the stand, and coaching witnesses. For the first ten years of his sentence, he didn’t think about ever getting out or changing his life.
Always a bookworm, he read four to five books at a time while incarcerated. Then, he started reading books about saints that weren’t always good. These books transformed his life and began developing questions in his mind, like:
- How did my life end up like this?
- Why does prison need to be a punishment?
- Could my time here be spent learning to better myself?
It was these questions that truly transformed his life. Finally, he realized he had a choice to become a better person.
Making a Difference
While still in prison, he began seeing a therapist to grieve his father’s death. He also began reading books about the grieving process.
It was then that he noticed that many men were dealing with the same grief. So he created a syllabus and handed it to his therapist. Together they created the grief and loss program.
Now he owns a commercial cleaning company and employs four formerly incarcerated workers. He is also the senior program manager for Defy Ventures, a non-profit that helps formerly incarcerated people explore entrepreneurship. Last, he is working on getting his book into the libraries of correctional institutions across the United States.