Prisoners Rights groups from all over California have organized activities in Sacramento and up and down the state to raise awareness about the Prison System and the need for alternatives to incarceration and more funding for schools and preventative programs in our communities.
On campus today at SF State former San Quentin death row inmate Chol Soo Lee walked among us and calmly talked to Prof. Grace Yoo and my Asian American Studies students about his life - 10 years of which were ripped from him by the criminal justice system after he was framed for a Chinatown gang murder in 1973. Various universities are planning forums on Chol Soo's life and the history of the movement to free him led by the Chol Soo Lee Defense Committee, Sacramento journalist K.W. Lee, Attorney/Activist Ranko Yamada and the young legal activists in San Francisco, Sacramento leader Jay Yoo, Dr. Luke and Grace Kim of Davis Asians for Racial Equality, former LA School Board member Warren Furatani and many others. Lee is working with community activists and students from UC Davis and SF State to write a book about his experiences. The Defense Committee was one of the first national Pan-Asian coalitions and had strong representation from not only Korean American churches but also militant student and community groups, professional associations, and small businesses.
Lee did not seem bitter for losing 10 years of his life, but he did speak passionately urging students to "give back to your communities." Carry the torch for yourselves and your community. Be successful, but always be able to look back and say 'I did something positive for humanity," he said.
Lee might be known to some in the mainstream from media accounts of his ups and downs since his release in 1983 and from the Hollywood film True Believer with James Woods and Robert Downey Jr. which relegates Lee and other Asian Americans to the margins and our struggles for equality and justice as invisible while glorifying the work of well-meaning white attorneys like SF'sTony Serra. Better representations of Lee and his significance come from award winning Sacramento reporter Sandra Gin Yep's 1984 Chol Soo Lee: A Question of Justice or even 20:20's news clip on the case.
Lee was released almost exactly 24 years ago today and his case is an important one for Ethnic Studies and the broader struggle for a more humane criminal justice system in America.
Like Lee, former prisoner Eddie Zheng also did time at San Quentin. But Eddie wasn't on death row, but he was serving 7 years to life for a crime he committed when he was 16 years old. During the next 16 years Zheng committed himself behind bars to turning his life around and acknowledging his mistakes and the pain he caused to others. He also worked with other inmates to create better educational opportunities and living conditions inside as well. On Saturday night 3/31 many community supporters will be joining Eddie to celebrate his release from prison and to build a stronger community of support for him as he fights to remain in the US as the federal government seeks to deport him.
The Beyond Prisons Day organizations included - All of Us or None, CURB - Californians United for Responsible Budget, Critical Resistance, Books Not Bars/Ella Baker Center, Education Not Incarceration, and many others.
Click here for how you can Help Stop the Deportation of Eddie Zheng