Posts Tagged ‘Duc Ta’

Without Exoneration

December 1, 2013

Thank you, Robert Clark Young and Connotation Press for publishing this essay about my personal experiences over the years with people incarcerated in America. (This was written before my trip to Northern Ireland and the chance to work in the prisons there.) If you’re interested, read it here.

What Duc Is Doing

August 3, 2013

If you read my last post, you know about California’s Three-Strikers hoping to be re-sentenced and released from prison and the obstacles they face. Duc Ta is now the point man, hired by Amity, to work on putting together the sorts of transitional plans that will win release. He is working constantly with hardly a moment for any personal phone calls or emails. So if any of you are wondering why you haven’t heard from him, now you know. There are people who need his time right now more than we do!

Duc Ta is Free!

July 11, 2013

I am so excited I can’t wait to share the news. This morning I walked into the conference room for a meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership and heard someone call my name. It was Duc Ta! Just released and living in transitional housing with the Amity Foundation and representing Amity to ask questions and speak from the perspective of the incarcerated. He said he is taking it slow, just getting out, getting himself together. There will be more news to share soon. On parole, but free!

I’ll be writing about the LARRP in the next few days but wanted to post this right away as I know people check this site for news about Duc. He’s not ready to see a lot of people or talk a lot yet, but I hope to provide updates soon. Many thanks to all of you who kept the faith and cared for so many years.

Freedom for Duc Ta!

March 29, 2013

Just a quick note for those who check in here from time to time to find out what’s happening with Duc.

I am so happy to report that Duc’s parole hearing ended today with the recommendation that he be released in five months.

It’s about time!

The decision still has to be agreed to by the whole Board and by Jerry Brown, but we don’t anticipate any glitch there.

[Update: I realize a number of people have ended up at this post without finding the further information so it finally occurred to me now (May 2014) to add this note: Duc was released to housing with the Amity Foundation in downtown LA where he was hired to lead seminars for other men on release and also took on the responsibility for lining up housing and services for prisoners eligible for release after the barbaric Three Strikes law was amended. It’s a huge job that keeps him very busy and after a short while, Stanford University’s Three Strikes Project became his direct employer though he remains in residence at Amity. He is a remarkable man!]

Diane visiting friend Duc Ta in prison

And many thanks, as always, to Leslie Neale who has been an enduring support to Duc ever since she featured his story in her documentary, Juvies.


* * * * *

And I’ll be reporting soon about her new documentary, Unlikely Friends, about the healing relationships that have grown between violent perpetrators and their victims.

Unlikely Friends

Tickets for the screening on April 27th in Los Angeles to benefit the Amity Foundation can be purchased by clicking here.

Karen Connelly and The Lizard Cage

July 21, 2012

Why hadn’t I known about Karen Connelly and her novel before? With my involvement in the anti-torture movement and with exiles and refugees, how on earth did I miss such a powerful novel about a political prisoner in Burma? I only learned about it after Connelly chose a story of mine for Magnolia: A Journal of Women’s Socially Engaged Literature. I figured then I should find out about her.

The Lizard Cage stunned me: its language, its knowledge and depth of understanding. It’s the sort of book that always makes me wonder how a mere human being could have written it. I immediately ordered a copy for Duc Ta. This is what we’ve talked about in the past: how to survive in prison, not just physically, but psychologically and spiritually. He–the essence of him–survives as Connelly’s protagonist Teza does: through meditation and Buddhist practice, his commitment to feeling compassion and forgiveness for those who put him where he is and who commit brutality around him, his attempts to find meaning in his life by bringing whatever help he can to others.

Duc, facing a life sentence, has spent only one year in solitary in a California prison. Connelly’s protagonist, Teza, faces twenty years in solitary confinement. During that one year, Duc was forbidden to have books, magazines, newspapers. He could receive letters and the wonderful Leslie Neale photocopied whole novels a few double-sided pages at a time, and mailed an installment every day. He says that’s what kept him sane (along with origami paper she sent. Believe me, he made a lot of cranes.) In Connelly’s novel, Teza’s situation is more extreme in every way. Possession of pen or paper is a crime. He treasures and reads scraps of newsprint he finds inside cheroot filters.

Connelly doesn’t spare the reader any of the brutality suffered by her characters and yet she’s written a book of grace and singular beauty.

Duc Ta writes on the Dharma Life

February 11, 2012

As most of you know, I am a friend and supporter of Duc Ta who is still unjustly incarcerated. I just saw that Duc Ta has published still another essay–this one about dharma and Buddhism. It was posted by the Under 35 Project of Shambala Publications. I’m copying it here. Along with a photo of Hector Aristizabal and me visiting Duc in prison.

What It is Like to Live the Dharma Life

By Duc Hong Ta | October 27, 2011

Like everyone else who finds themselves in prison, you either find religion or you find the devil’s playground. At age 16, I found both.

Being Chinese American, I was raised Buddhist. Everyone in my family for generations was a Buddhist. I remember being dragged from temple to temple for this holiday and that holiday. Sometimes they would take me straight to a temple right after I was suspended from school for fighting. Maybe they thought it would remove the bad spirits thought to possess me that made me fight people. I prayed to three different shrines twice a day. I held the incense in my palm bowing three times before placing it in one of those ash filled cups. I knew I was a Buddhist. I told people I was a Buddhist. But I didn’t live the way of my faith. Did I really know my faith like I was demonstrating with my daily prayers and bowing to the Buddha? I didn’t have a single clue.

Life wasn’t the greatest for me growing up. There were sweet moments here and there, but the bitterness of my father’s temper and abuse out weighed everything else. As in any typical Asian immigrant family, if one screwed up, you most likely got your butt whooped. Just the way it went, especially with the Chinese folks. Seems to be part of their tradition and culture. You can’t disrespect the elders and bring shame to the family name. With my bad temperament and ego, I grew up fighting and being beaten by my father on a regular basis. I asked myself that if my father was such a devoted Buddhist, how could he treat me like this? Yet, everything I did involved those same ingredients that were used raising me.

I had my father’s bad temper and tendency to violent outbursts. I rebelled against everyone and anything. No one could tell me anything and eventually I found myself in a situation where shots were fired out of my car at two other people while I was driving. By the grace of Buddha, no one was hit or physically injured though I can’t say the same for the damage done emotionally and mentally to all involved. I was arrested and booked in the local juvenile facility and what I thought would be just a weekend trip ended up being a 35-year to life sentence at the age of 16. My entire life spun out of control and crumbled. I couldn’t comprehend the seriousness of it all. I had no criminal record or run in with the law prior to this and I was just a kid. It was a death sentence to me. My life was over. Before I knew what hit me, I was being shipped off to one of California’s state prisons for hardened criminals. I thought I was tough but I knew I wasn’t as tough as the men awaiting the arrival of this new fish. Those guys were going to tear me apart and have their way with me. I couldn’t let that happen. I followed the advice from some guy at county jail, telling me I better assert my dominance as soon as I got off that bus. And that’s just what I did.

At least for the first seven years of my prison sentence. Although I practiced meditation and read countless books on Buddhism, violence was the problem and the solution to everything I encountered. I saw endless counts of violence that have been etched into my skull and will haunt me for the rest of my life. The first book I ever read in my life was The Way of the Warrior by Thich Nhat Hanh when I was first locked up in juvenile hall. I never forgot what I read, that there was another way to be a warrior than the one I thought I had to be. But I had become a product of my environment, a product built by violence and for violence. While I’ve done things I’m not proud of, things I thought were necessary at the time to survive, I never completely forgot my faith. It was always behind me even when I didn’t know it, as if it knew I would one day turn around and there it would be in all its beauty with open arms. It wasn’t until a very dark and difficult time several years ago that I read Ruling Your World by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche that my world completely changed.

I took a deep look into myself as a human being and looked at the things I was doing. I was only in my mid-twenties but I looked much older. I was letting the system win by chipping pieces of my soul away and I was falling faster than I knew. No longer did I want to be a contributor of violence and negativity to my life and the world I lived in any more. Deep down I knew with all of my heart that I was not a person of violence. It was a choice that I thought I had to make from being so afraid and immature. I made a vow to myself that I was going to live a life of love, compassion and kindness. Like Buddha who lived amongst the poor and suffering I would find solace and goodness in the people around me. I saw that life was about suffering and I needed to learn how to understand my own in order to cope with my ordeal. I made the choice not to let the hate and anger of this place take me, instead I practice dealing with the negativity and violence around me with love, compassion and kindness. By doing that, I learned that one can resolve anything without striking another and that love can truly overcome anything, even the meanest and toughest of them all.

Living the Dharma life gave me a new life. I was resurrected from the dead and my soul is thriving to live the life I was meant to live. I am a better son, a better brother, a better friend, but most importantly a better person. Through consistent meditation and practice of Buddhism, I no longer feel the emotion of hate towards others nor does the thought of physical violence ever approach my mind when I am confronted by anyone that is hostile. If anything, my heart breaks when I see violence being done to another, physically or verbally. I have dedicated my life while still in prison to be of service to those in need. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I feel beaten and worn down. But Patience and Compassion are key elements to my practice. I find myself failing from time to time. But to me failure simply means that method didn’t work and now you know not to do that again and to find a better way. After all I am a Buddhist practitioner not a Buddhist monk. I am going to be tested and I will fail but I will just breathe and pick myself up and move forward. We’re not perfect and we never will be, but we can learn to be a better person simply by practicing.