Dear Mr. Obama:
My name is Kosal Khiev and I would very much like to tell you my story. I am not sure how to go about this, but I might as well start from the beginning. I was born in a refugee camp by the border of Thailand in 1980. My family was fleeing our war torn country and there I was born. In 1981 we came into the United States of America and I was raised in E. Bishop Street in Santa Ana, California in a low income housing projects. There were 9 of us in this small 2 bedroom apartment. It was run down and the neighborhood was very impoverished. So at a young age I was exposed to the seediness of life. Still my family did the best they could. But still traumatized from the horrors of war that had claimed over 1.7 million lives, they did not know how deal with a child that knew nothing of that period. In my eyes I was an American who was very expressive and curious and open but my family was very closed off emotionally to give me the love and attention that I needed. I do not blame them now; although growing up I did hold a lot of resentment towards them.
So as the inner workings of my family dynamic got worse, I also had gotten worse, making poor decisions after the next. At the age of 13 I was recruited into a gang and there my poor choices continued. At the age of 16 I was charged with attempted murder during a gang related incident. Tried as an adult for my first offense I ended up taking a plea bargain for 16 years 85% with 2 strikes. At the age of 18 after pleading guilty I was sent to prison and there I stayed till I was 31. It was a rough journey, but instead of being swallowed whole as I have seen what prison can do to so many others that were in my same predicament, I on the other hand refused to be consumed. It was a long process but one day while placed in administrative segregation for over a year and a half for a mutual combat where no one was seriously injured, I came to make a very conscience decision in my life. That I was going to start changing my life and start taking back control of it. I ended up discovering spoken word and I must tell you that spoken word saved my life. It took this angry scared lost kid from the projects and gave me an outlet. It gave me purpose, reason, and a goal in mind. I started to work my way home. Home to my family. Home to my Mom and 3 brother’s and 3 sisters and my 10 nephews and 5 nieces now 6. I also ended up working my way down to lower minimum security level prisons.
With roughly 5 years left in to my prison sentence I was sent to California rehabilitation center in Norco California and there I was involved with V.I.S.I.O.N.S Visibility In Support In Our Neighborhoods; an at risk youth program that was placed for the sole purpose to veer the direction of so many troubled youths who were heading down the very same path I had walked. For nearly 3 years I was a part of this program trying to reach as many kids as we can as more continued to come in. I also started to enroll in college courses at Coastline community college taking Sociology, English1A as well as American history at the time which I ended up passing with flying colors. But as all good things come to an end my end came quickly. Due to overcrowding I was transfer out of state with a year left upon parole. Why? when I was doing so well. But no matter. I took the punches and continued to roll on. With two months left in my sentence I was brought back to California to finish the remainder of my 16 year long sentence. But there I learned and faced more hardships. I learned that I was not Cambodian-American but a Refugee and that my Permanent residence status was not so permanent. And that instead of being sent home after surviving the harsh conditions of prison life and culture, I was to be deported back to Cambodia, a country I have never set foot in. Everything I know and everything I was taught was from America.
I had pledge allegiance to our great flag as a symbol of peace, justice, and equality, with the same beliefs as our forefathers once did. So in my mind I could not have comprehended what was happening to me. I felt so betrayed and so sad because all these years I have been surviving and living with the hope that one day I would be re united with my family again but that was not to be the case. I ended up spending another year on top of the 14 years I had just completed in the custody of I.C.E. Immigration Custody Enforcement. The idea that I had no Identity, no country was such a heartbreaking one.
I was placed in limbo with no idea where I will call home. Finally on March 17 2011 I was deported back to Cambodia at the age of 31. Back to what I say? I knew nothing of the culture, nor could I read, or write the language. I had no family that I knew of and to top it off I was deported with no I.D. no passport and no money. How was I to survive? Where was I to go? None of this made sense to me. I was discarded like a piece of trash that no longer held any value. I had paid my debt to society and yet this added punishment was never included in my sentencing. If I had known I would have never taken my plea. But besides that point I was further taken away from my family. The same family that I have fought so desperately to rejoin after all those years of incarceration.
Mr. Obama, Mr. President please re-unite me and many more like me back to our families. Take a closer look at our histories and records. I made a mistake as a young angry 16 year old kid. I am not that kid any longer. You are a Father and you have a family. What if you were separated by those you love for a mistake you made as a child? What would you do? How would you feel? Please find it in your heart to be a real ”Champion of Change” and re-unite me back with my family.
I know you are a busy man and I am a very insignificant person on your radar, but I do hope and pray that somehow this letter written in a hole in the wall hotel room in Cambodia has somehow manage to come across your eyes. Thank you!