Meet Khiem…

Through art I found a connection to my son. And through drawing I guided him to express his feelings in a positive way.

Incarcerated: 11 years

I have a son named Jason. Being a father who is far away, I needed to find a way to connect to my son. When I got locked up, he was nearly two. On his second birthday, I wanted to send him a card. I told myself I would learn how to draw so I could draw for him and everyone who supports me out there. I found that drawing was not only helping me build our relationship, It was also a way to express my emotions, a productive way to spend my time and it helped me focus and I’ve learned to be patient. It turned into a therapy which took me out of prison. I draw flowers, birds, koi fishes, and Spiderman, my son’s favorite superhero. I am also helping him to express his feelings through art. I could confidently say we finally found a common ground that we can talk about whenever I call home. Today, I would like to share my story and my little drawing. I hope by my sharing, it will help lift people up and help them find peace. I drew for peace in Ukraine, tensions in Southeast Asia, etc. I want to wish the world a peaceful moment. I was the kid who was growing up after the war. I’ve experienced that path and I had to move to a whole different country. I left behind everything and struggled for a new life. So peace is what I wish for, not only in the world, but for all of us incarcerated, who live in a negative environment. The blossom flowers represent a better life, better moments under the moonlight, under the darkest times. Even if the flower could blossom under the moonlight, so do we- right! 

Thank you for asking me to write and thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my feelings. I would say expressing feelings through art is one of the most powerful, positive ways which I wish I could have learned a long time ago (before I committed my crime). Through art I found a connection to my son. And through drawing I guided him to express his feelings in a positive way.

Through drawing I found a connection to my son. And through drawing I guided him to express his feelings in a positive way. He is now 13 and interesting in cooking, I am glad he found something positive to do and help cope with his daily problems.


Sweet-Sour-Spicy Fish Soup

When I miss my parents, my childhood, my hometown, I cook. I use all the stuff we have here to try to make magic. I cook by taste to a point which triggers my memory. I call my food fancy names like we did at home. One of the dishes I make the most is sweet – sour- spicy fish soup. It reminds me of my hometown. Food is the most important tool to connect me to my feelings, memories and also to help me with my loneliness.

I don’t have enough stuff to make the recipe exactly, but I can make a similar version. At home, we make it with freshwater or tropical fish – sometimes we use rock fish or pink fish, but it’s always good with catfish from the Mekong River. I kept telling my friends that my cooking is not based on formulas such as 1 teaspoon, 1 pinch salt, 1 cup water, etc. I use my memory and taste. Whatever the taste I want, I will find something to match: instead of lemon and sugar, here in prison I use Kool-Aid Lemonade or even sugar and lemon juice, or sugar and vinegar. If you look for sweet, sour, spicy then you can use jalapeño juice and sugar to try to balance it with other spices. We don’t have catfish so I use mackerel or even tuna or sardines instead! Recently, we have been allowed to receive a few vegetables: tomatoes, celery and onions. I am looking for sweet, sour, spicy and a bit salty. If the fish sauce isn’t salty enough (remember fish sauce is for the favor, it is super strong so be careful) I use salt to make it salty instead of fish sauce. Optionally, you can use sriracha or tabasco sauce instead of jalapeño pepper. Tom Yum paste is rich in flavor so it can be used on its own with just lemon for sour. I only use lemon for sour. The miso soup base pangsigang is already sour so I balance the flavors with fish sauce and salt. Optional: you can also add shiitake mushroom, sour bamboo shoot or sour mustard, to taste.

I love to make magic in the kitchen. With everything I am lacking, it won’t stop me from making a good recipe.

Makes 2 servings


1 ripe tomato, chopped

1 stick celery, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

½ medium onion, diced

12 oz. canned mackerel or sardines

2 -.23 oz. packets Kool-Aid Lemonade Drink Mix

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 – 1.05 oz. packet Nora Kitchen Islander Style Miso Soup Base (Pangsigang Sa Miso)

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp. sugar

1 seasoning packet from Chili Flavor Ramen Noodle Soup (save the noodles for serving, or another use)

Cooked white rice or noodles, for serving


In a medium saucepan, combine the tomato, celery, jalapeño pepper, and onion. Strain the fish, reserving the liquid in a medium bowl. Gently break the fish up into bite-sized chunks, and then add to the pan with the vegetables.

Bring the fish mixture to a simmer on medium low and cook for 30 minutes – do not let the mixture boil.

Meanwhile, make the sauce: add the Kool-Aid Lemonade Drink Mix and chili seasoning to the bowl with the strained fish liquid. Add the fish sauce, lemon juice and sugar.

Place cooked rice or noodles in two bowls. Split the fish mixture between the two bowls, spooning over the rice or noodles, then top with the sauce.

Recipe tested by Sheri Codiana


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