Thanh Nguyen/ Class 1: Values

by Thanh Nguyen

16. Who are you?

Someone that wants to be heard, to understand how I became the person I am today. Someone with some joy in my life, but more heartaches and pain. I grew up always seeing myself as a victim. Self-pity with the circumstances of how I was raised. Lacking assurance of love and living under poverty.

Today I am starting to let go of my past and start preparing for a better future. I believe my life’s experiences can reach out to kids at risk and its a career I want to start building on. I’m striving to be the best that I can and a role model for others. I want to teach, that with every experience of pain and negativity is a opportunity to become a stronger person. I want to show how I overcame each obstacle successfully and learned it with wisdom. After all, life comes more from living, than you do studying.

17. Describe your background with regard to your education, vocation or career, troubles with the law.

I grew up with no father, single mother working night shift leaving me with no real home, in the hands of multiple daycares and babysitters up to the age of 12 with no sense of belonging or attention. Feelings of unwanted and unappreciated led  to my runaway at the age of 13. Living on the streets filled with criminal activities led to my whole juvenile life in boys home, booth camp and juvenile prisons. I became part of a Vietnamese gang to watch it become the most notorious around, to only witness its own destruction. gang banging led to many deaths of loyal friends and multiple stabbings to myself causing my own death. I was resurrected by the blessing of God to see my 18th birthday only to spend it in county jail. Violating my probation for the 4th time gave me a chance to graduate high school with a GPA above 3.5 while incarcerated. It was love that pushed me to do better. It was the separation and abortion that introduce me to a life full of drugs money and power. I was highly addicted to the new lifestyle. I went from being the poorest to owning the world. A hundred grand easily before the age of 19. 4 years of nonstop traveling, smoking weed, drinking, clubbing, popping pills, and a whole lot of gambling living the good life. All a cover up just to fight away my inner demons constantly coming back to haunt me. feelings of past failures.

All the money in the world couldn’t make me happy. I was miserable and lifeless knowing life wasn’t right.

I was indicted at the age of 22. During my last 52 months of incarceration, I have matured into man. My friendship, loyalty and pride were all tested allowing me to open up my eyes.

18. What are you going through now?

I am currently serving my last year. I’m scared to death of what the future might hold for me but I still feel confident, confident because prison has matured me in many ways. Its taught me to become a better person. Humble knowing good things will come. Patient and forgiveness. For years I have distant myself from cousins that were indicted along with me but were released early for cooperation. I held grudges because of my loyalty and hated the decision because if affected my family and even more hurtful- knowing I still wouldn’t have cooperated if given the chance again.

Today I am learning to forgive. To be a better person, to free myself of any negative feelings and try to find peace within myself.

Describe your vision of the best person you can become during the following time frames:

19. Time remaining to serve.

I am currently in the drug program with some time before I actually start. I am using this time trying to put together a autobiography. I’m currently on a basketball team and also on a 1900 calorie strict diet, trying to be in the best shape as possible. Most importantly I’m trying to become a better person as each day goes by. Practicing patient, judgment of others and wants I don’t need.

20. One month after release.

I believe the years in prison has really given me an opportunity to mature into a man far beyond my years. The trust of my probation officer wouldn’t be a problem because I know what I have to do successfully to be place on house arrest. I will use these months reconnecting with my family and friends, adapting back into society. Largely the internet to explore my options and opportunities for a better way of life. My biggest priority is finding a job that could launch my career.

21. One year after release.

Only having one year of probation, I am no longer in custody of the BOP. My goals toward my future would be my priority. I would by now have gain the trust of my family and peers and also a decent job that could help provide my family.

22. Five years after release.

By now I would hope to have found someone to build a future with. A future that consist of family and dedication upon building a new business that would take care of the family. I would also like to be a huge part of Michael Santos network. Helping to improve the lives of others, being a example of a true survivor with a difficult past.

23. How do those in society perceive people in prison?

The world is blinded and prisoners are easily stereotyped as all bad prisoners. Majority of society would view all criminals as they would see on television. Disruptive and violent. gangbangers with no sense of direction. The government spends millions of dollars on prisoners but yet majority of prisoners doesn’t even get the real help that they truly need.

24. Describe how television programs and movies depict prisoners:

25. Compare and contrast your prison adjustment with the prison stereotype.

while most prisoners are doing time  for a crime they may have committed, doesn’t mean its all violent and intentional. were all humans and we make mistake. some got caught and some don’t. Prison can also be a life changing experience, a window of opportunity to take a good look at yourself and change for the better.

26. In what ways is your adjustment similar?

one of the major reasons of over crowding in prison is because of drugs. When your young, its easy to be deceived by the riches it brings you and blinded of the consequences. A person is judged by his actions and my actions shows criminal thinking at the time I was arrested.

27. In what ways is your adjustment different?

My criminal thinking! Prison has given me the opportunity to watch my surroundings and learn with discipline. I think about the consequences of my actions and have developed many positive changes in my life. I no longer let my pride my get in the way, I know how to be a better person. INTEGRITY!!

Describe what opportunities for personal growth and development exist in the different prison security levels:

28. High security. 29. Medium security.

tensions are always high making it uncomfortable to ever be at ease. To many prisoners acting tough, always trying to prove something to someone. Most are forced to choose a side or group to be affiliated with. Racial and divided is heavily common.

Respect is a must, due to the violence that could take place at any given moment

30. Low security.

31. Minimum security.

32. Prior to release, what do prisoners generally say about their prospects for returning?

I have never heard anyone say they are coming back but a lot due. A lot of it has to do with how they spent their time in prison. It is hard to just flip the switch upon release and start working. They key is learning in here so we are ready. Also making sure we are working on the right things. This program has helped me think about my past and work on how to better prepare for the road ahead. I am working hard and it feels good.

33. In what ways, if any, do those who never return to prison serve their sentences differently from those who do return to prison?

The key is a plan, a real plan. I know what I should be doing all day every day. Somedays I am not perfect but I am working to hold myself accountable. I am sticking with my plan and that will help me. It feels good to improve.

34. What steps can a prisoner take to improve chances of success upon release?

I would have to leave my past behind me and a change of lifestyle. I need to focus on developing my goals and spend less time trying to catch up on life. Staying busy will keep me from falling back to my old ways. I’m currently spending my free time around people with a sense of knowledge, people that I can learn from. I do alot of networking hoping to benefit from others to have friends for future references.

Sentence length is not a factor that is controlled from within prison, but adjustment inside prison may influence success upon release. For a better understanding of prison expectations, describe your thoughts on:

35. What length of time would you consider long-term imprisonment?

Alot can change within a year or two but can easily be adapted to. I think anything over 3 years is harsh and 5 years or more is devastating. Your frozen in time while lives of others must go on. Prisoners are easily soon forgotten.


36. What expectations do those in society have for long-term prisoners?

most will doubt that any success could be in our favor. They will only remember us as we were before coming to prison. Only thru dedication and action can you change  the minds that doubt. Ambition but only humbly and with righteousness. A strong desire to change that takes strong will power.

37. What expectations do you suppose long-term prisoners have for themselves?

most would have none. Long time prisoners are easily forgotten and by the time they reenter society, life is completely different. Many would even believe coming back is most likely, not being able to adapt legitimately to meet ends need.

38. What do prison administrators and staff members expect of long-term prisoners?

Dishonesty and deceit.

39. How would you define a “model inmate”?

A model inmate isn’t even conscious of a staff guard or administrations. He minds his own business and doesn’t engage into any negativity. He abides to simple rules and just doing what is expected, which isn’t much. A model inmate would be someone who doesn’t gamble, sell, buy, or do drugs. dependant of self and your easily assumed a model inmate.

40. How does Michael’s prison journey support or refute prison stereotypes?

Michaels journey throughout these years is remarkable. A notable icon that should be the face of prisoners that gives hope. His action speaks louder than words. The “power of his will” will have touched many and spread like a wildfire, reaching prisoners from all over.

41. What role did the prison infrastructure play in influencing Michael’s journey through prison?

A reason to be motivated to stand up for inmates with a sense of urgency. Michaels intention only shows his motivation to better the lives of himself and prisoners of the future. How the system doesn’t work and only gets worst as time goes by. Change is needed as more support is needed for Michaels goals to be accomplish.

42. What vision governed Michael’s decisions as a prisoner?

The idea that he would one day be free and that he had to ready. He knew what people would think of someone who had been in jail for so long, so he worked to reshape that perception. His journey for so long is inspiring. His vision centered around being ready.

The Straight-A Guide includes seven attributes that he describes explicitly in the books Triumph!  And Success! What do the following attributes mean to you?

43. Attitude: What level of commitment do you make to preparing for success upon release?

I try to read as many self help books as possible. I’m currently reading titles such as Guerrilla Marketing, How to invest and real estate strategies. I also read alot of business magazines.

44. Aspiration: Where do you see yourself at various checkpoints in the future?

I’m very ambitious and not succeeding is not a option. I do struggle with trying to accomplish everything as easy as possible. I only have thoughts on a positive future. I see myself being self employed, hardworking and happily married.

45. What distinguishes an aspiration from a fantasy?

Aspiration to me is determination. Fantasy is dreamlike. It takes determination to succeed. Wished upon fantasies are impossible without determination.

46. Action: What steps are you taking toward aspiration?

It all starts with myself, Having good morals and being a good person will lead me to great opportunities. Surround myself around positive and well educated people.

47. Accountability: How are you measuring progress?

My current evaluation is my health. I measure it by the amount of time I put into my daily workouts and what I eat.

48. Awareness: How knowledgeable are you about the atmospherics around you?

I believe I can easily adapt to anywhere that I am at. I have great communication skills, a people person, intelligent and not afraid to ask. I am old enough and wise enough to make the best of all my situations. I think before I act no, especially the consequences.

49. In what ways do you reach beyond the boundaries that currently confine you?

By constantly letting my mother, sister and future wife know, that even though I am currently incarcerated, I will make a difference in the future. That I am motivated and ready to prove with actions. I try to be emotionally supportive as I can and always reminding them “to not give up on me”

50. What do you know about the challenges that will confront you upon release?

My challenges will be staying away from old friends. Using my time wisely and being productive towards building a future instead of trying to catch up on time that I have missed out on. My toughest take will be “being satisfied with a temporary job that might not best suit me at the moment.

51. Achievement: When do you celebrate success?

Celebration will come when all is right. When prison life is way behind me. When I am a successful business man. Being a productive member of society and living right. Most importantly when my family is taking care of.

52. Appreciation: What role do others have in your success?

My only motivation and appreciation is my family and God. My family who I want to make proud of. God because I know all obstacles are put in my way to overcome. I know that these obstacles and experiences in life are all part of building my character into the person I will become.

53. Where did those choices lead?

failing in school and problems at home led to my runaway at the age of 13. I than joined a gang, where i felt accepted. i was exposed to alot of criminal activities at a young age eventually being part of the juvenile justice system up until i was 18.

54. What did you value then?

I valued friendship more than anything at the time because i was very good at being one. I was loyal and had alot of pride in being part of the gang. A gang that I help build from the bottom up.

55. How would you guide your children if they were making choices in the same way?

my children wouldn’t make the same choices because they wouldn’t need a gang to fill accepted. I would want to be involved in my kids life as much as possible and set a example as a role model. Its important to not only act as a father but also a friend.

56. What would you do differently if you could?

there is alot I would want to do differently but than again I wouldn’t want to change anything. I believe everything that I have gone through is apart of building my character into the person I will become.

57. Describe the differences in your life today from the first days of your confinement.

coming to prison I always felt like I had something to prove. But as time start going by, I realized the only person I have something to prove to is myself. I have matured into a man that’s far beyond my years. most importantly, i now know how to put my pride to the side

58.  How have your activities from last week led to your activities for this week?

I spend all of my free time exercising, reading, and studying. Alot of self study books that could possibly help my future. I’m involved in every sports activities from playing basketball, softball and soccer.

59. Identify the values by which you live.

Prison has taught me to humble myself, I know how to choose my friends wisely. I still value friendship and consistently practice my judgment of others. I’m well discipline and believe I have a good heart with good intentions.

60. To what extent do your daily activities harmonize with the values by which you live?

I wake up every morning knowing im a good person. I have no fears and worries because I believe I’m blessed. I have along life ahead of me and I feel alot of opportunities will come by my way. Its a self assure feeling because of my kindness and gratitude towards others.

61. How do your professed values relate to your perceived role in society?

I am going to be that person where anybody that knows me will someday say to themselves ” I knew zach was going to make it. My hard work and dedication will bounce me higher than ever before. never settling for less.

62. Where does your allegiance lie?

My allegiance will definitely lie with my family. I no longer have pride in being part of a Vietnamese gang but pride in the person I will become. A great son, brother, husband and most importantly. a friend to all. Only by the blessing of God.

63. Are values situational or absolute?

Everything in life is situational. Its how you react to each and every circumstance. how far you push yourself and always try to make the situation as best as possible. the only thing that is absolute is failure, if you don’t fight.

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