Kaomang, 35

Kaomang, 35

Meet Kaomang…

I was born hearing for a short time and became deaf after I got sick. My mom was 14. I was born in Thailand and lived in a refugee camp in the mountains.

Kaomang, 35
Incarcerated: 21 years
Housed: San Quentin State Prison, California

I was born hearing for a short time and became deaf after I got sick. My mom was 14. I was born in Thailand and lived in a refugee camp in the mountains. There was a war at that time, so they brought all of us to America when I was nine months old. I have three brothers and three sisters that were all born in Richmond, California. I attended public school with a group of deaf students. The teachers were my full support system. They helped us because we all have struggles with the English language, our culture, and being deaf. My mom still hasn’t learned any English or sign language. So, she can’t communicate with me. I

have been struggling to communicate with her for years. I became frustrated because I need unconditional love from my siblings and I need someone to talk to. I always saw my parents commit domestic violence in front of all my brothers, sisters, and me. I thought it was normal. I got in a lot of trouble at home and in school. So they put me in eight different foster homes, and that made it worse because they also couldn’t communicate with me, no one knew sign language. It led me to more anger, violence, and emotional trauma. It led me to destructive behavior that caused me to harm someone, which led me to prison with a life sentence. It took me some time to make a change to be a better person. When I started to participate in a variety of self-help groups, it changed my attitude of violence to self-control. I learned a lot about my past mistakes and learned how to take control of my own life with a positive attitude. I thank God for blessing me every day and guiding me on the right path.

Renee, 33

Renee, 33

Meet Renee…

I might not feel the healing at the moment, but I feel the trust to talk about things that I wouldn’t have the space to in any other area.

Renee, 33

Incarcerated: 3.5 years

Housed: Itagui, Colombia

Diane: Tell us about you. 

Renee: I’m from Itagüí and have been here all my life. I don’t like to talk much about the crimes I committed because I’ve had a lot of issues in the past. I’m a musician and a composer. I play the guitar and that’s what I love the most. I’d love to be in touch with people around the world, perhaps through letters with people in jails in other parts of the world. I love that this interview will be seen by a lot of people. I’m also a poet, and that’s one of the things I love the most. I traveled through Brazil just selling poems. I’ve spent a lot of time in Cartagena selling poems and going to events with poets. When I was young, I used to sell poems to my friends that were having fights with their girlfriends. They’d pay a penny for a poem to give to their girlfriend who was really mad. 

Diane: Do you have a poem memorized that you want to share?

Renee: Yes, it’s a poem I wrote for my girlfriend. I have a lot of poems, and this one is one of the biggest ones. 

I don’t know why you’re in my path. 

I don’t know why I met you. 

I don’t know why God put you in my path, 

but when I hold your hand, 

I know God brought you into my life 

because you are my destiny.

Diane: It makes me cry, I feel that.

Renee: That’s the first poem I wrote to my girlfriend. She’s 59 years old and I’m 33. I was 13 when I started dating her, and she was the wife of a very rich man. With poems and ice creams I won her heart. We’ve been together for 20 years. I had a foundation for animals, so I know a little about ethology.

Diane: What kind of animals did you take care of?

Renee: Cats and dogs because people in the neighborhood knew I took care of animals. Some people left an almost dying, skinny horse at my door. Some people left some dying chickens with their babies. One time someone left a pregnant dog. It’s because people knew that I had a big heart about animals. They’d always leave them at my door. I mostly had cats and dogs, but I always had my house open for any animal that needed a hand. 

I want to tell you the most important part of my life.

Diane: I want to hear it.

Renee: The most important part of my life was my childhood. My mother was pregnant by this guy from Africa who refused to recognize me. In the old days with my grandparents, if one of the girls got pregnant, she had to marry. Because the guy was from Africa, he denied the child and didn’t show any interest, so she couldn’t get married. Her grandfather threw her in the street pregnant, and she lived on the streets. She went into labor and some paramedics helped her give birth in the street. I lived all my childhood in the streets. We used to live under bridges, eating from trash, waiting for the restaurants to close so we could dig in the rubbish. Then I went into foster care, and lived from house to house. I never had my own house, watched TV or did anything like a regular kid. Throughout my childhood, I worked informal jobs selling candy or asking for money in the street. I spent my teenage years in foster homes. Then, when I got to prison, my mom told me I have double nationality: African and Colombian. I have the possibility to go to Africa, but I have to talk to my father to do that. I don’t want to. My father was never there, so I don’t feel comfortable reaching him right now and telling him to sign the papers for me to go to Africa. 

Diane: Have you had any contact with your dad whatsoever?

Renee: No, never. I’ve never told anyone this before, just you: Sundays are one of most difficult days because it’s a busy day, and everyone gets to see their dads. Every time I hear the word “dad” it feels like a stab in the heart. Last Sunday, there was this guy who was super excited for his dad’s visit. He said in a full sentence the word “dad” four times, like, “Hey, how’s it going, dad …dad…dad…” It was so hard for me to feel the absence of my own dad that I had to go to the bathroom to cry. When I was in the streets I never actually thought about my dad, but being in prison has made me think a lot about him and the roots I have of him that I don’t know about.

Diane: Talking about it, and talking about it with us today really helps healing.

Renee: I might not feel the healing at the moment, but I feel the trust to talk about things that I wouldn’t have the space to in any other area. To come here and to see both of you and feel like I can let it out. Also, I dream about going to North America to sing with the highest of the highest like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre… because I think I’m on the level of rap and music that they do. Because I’m here in this situation, I’m unseen, but I think I have what it takes to be in the highest of the highest. I dream about being in North America and being seen as a musician.

Diane: Humans of San Quentin, we can be your platform. We can put up your poetry, we can put up your rap… anything you want to send us or put on tape we will put out there on the internet for people to see.

Renee: I’d really really really like to receive letters and the dynamic of sending and receiving letters. Like “I don’t know you, I don’t know your crimes… but I love you.”

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