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Quan Huynh might be an author now, but there was a moment in his life where he thought that he might never be free again. Specifically, Huynh received a prison term of fifteen years to life because he shot and killed a man in Hollywood, California, in a gang-related incident. Huynh decided to change his mentality while he was in jail, and he wrote about his redemption recently in his book Sparrow In The Razor Wire: Finding Freedom From Within While Serving A Life Sentence.

Quan Huynh is not only a celebrated author but the post-release program manager for Defy Ventures. Defy Ventures is a nonprofit dedicated to helping individuals with a criminal past transform themselves through entrepreneurship. The organization was founded in 2010 and is dedicated to addressing the issues that arise through mass incarceration and recidivism.

Never Fitting In

We often hear about children that aren’t truly able to “fit in”, and Huynh is honest about how this lack of belonging truly changed his life forever. He believes that losing his father at the age of thirteen was one reason he became directionless and intrigued by gang culture. He recalls that his family first moved to Utah, where there was mostly a white population. 

In Los Angeles, the situation wasn’t that much better. Huynh is Vietnamese, but never spoke English well enough to fit in with English students. At the same time, Quan didn’t speak Vietnamese well enough to be accepted into their social circles, and he admits that a Vietnamese gang offered “solace and acceptance” for a change.

It didn’t take long before becoming more and more involved, eventually getting sentenced to seven years in the California Youth Authority when he was fifteen. The charge? Three attempted murders. He then was sentenced to fifteen to life once he was convicted of murder in 1999.

He has spent 22 total years of his life in a correctional institution as a result. Quan realizes now that this natural desire to belong that, unfortunately, caused him to make many wrong decisions down the road.

Prison Can Be Beautiful

While you might expect Quan Huynh to speak about how horrible prison is, you might be surprised to find that he considers the years before he was paroled “some of the best years of his life.” He believes that you can make small and intentional choices to change the way that you think about your life. He admits that even though he was in prison with many other criminals, he spent much of his time there reading books and aspiring to one day become an author.

He has now fulfilled that dream but believes that he truly learned from these books even though he was in prison. He also felt like he was obligated to “share his secret” regarding changing the way that prisoners thought about prison.

Huynh was tired of the way that he had lived his life. He realized that he had not much done besides leaving a path of destruction and death in his wake. He says that he grew tired of how he was living, to the point where he would ask himself questions like “Is this it for me?” It appears that Huynh understands his purpose more than ever, thanks to his role at Defy Ventures and his new book (which was released in September). He states: “Even if I was stuck in this prison, I felt like it didn’t need to imprison me.”

Getting Out Of Your Own Way

Huynh noticed that readers were connecting with the book, but he was still unsure about just how well it would be received. He recalls when he dismissed some people praising the book, believing that they may just be biased friends wanting to see him win. After some time, he realized that he had to get out of his way regarding readers and what they learned from the book and how they chose to interpret it.

He believes now that people “get their own lessons from the book,” and points out that many readers think that the book is for more than just those who experienced jail. Huynh also had a “slap in the face moment,” where his coworker helped him realize that more people might be extrapolating more knowledge from his writing than he realized.

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