Yuri Speaks, a blog launched by Asian Law Caucus Yuri Kochiyama Fellowship for formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islander immigrants, recently posted an open letter from criminalized domestic violence survivor, Ny Nourn. Ny is California-based, Cambodian survivor who was prosecuted and imprisoned for the actions of her batterer. After 16 years in prison, she was released due to community organizing that helped secure her parole, but she was immediately detained by ICE. Below is Ny’s open letter and some excerpts from community responses.To my loved ones and community:
Thank you so very much for all of your support in my release from prison and standing in solidarity with me against my deportation. I am immensely grateful to be given a second chance at life after incarceration. So many friends that I left behind may never get that chance.
However, it is bittersweet. I am writing from the Yuba County Jail not knowing if I will spend another moment free in America. For years, I planned what I would do if I was ever granted parole. I planned to give back and help end the cycle of violence by becoming a domestic violence counselor and advocating for survivors that are incarcerated behind sexual abuse or domestic violence. I graduated college and was completing my certification as an alcohol and substance abuse counselor. I have been unable to follow through on those plans from detention. But, I have every intention as I did in prison to move forward with humility, gratitude, and hope.
I have come too far to remain silent as I did so many times before while surviving abuse and in my courtroom trials. Today, with my heroes at the Asian Law Caucus and with your support, I refuse to allow the deportation system to run its course and dehumanize me. I’m told that as a lifer and “aggravated felon” that it is nearly impossible for me to fight deportation. But, I was also once sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and told I’ll never leave prison. I’ve learned that justice doesn’t prevail on its own. Justice requires that we stand firm and speak up.
As I sit in here, I am filled with questions about what justice means. How does deporting me benefit anyone or anything? When will separation from my loved ones and community ever end? How many times must I beg for mercy from this system and an abusive partner? What sense is there in locking youth up for decades only to deport them after the parole board and Governor Brown find we have been rehabilitated and can be productive members of society?
I am unable to reconcile what I see in detention with justice. Deporting me and my fellow detainees is cruel and inhumane. Like me, so many of the other women here are survivors of domestic violence. Like so many of the people here, I’ve lived in the United States, a nation of immigrants, since I was a child. I have never been to Cambodia. California is the only home I know.
Thank you so much for standing in solidarity with me and for what you believe is right. I hope you continue speaking for truth with humble pride and unity. I hope you remain courageous, strong, and of unwavering spirit as you’ve encouraged me to do so. I have hope that I will celebrate my freedom with all of you in California, my home.
Much adoration and respect. I’m standing strong alongside you.
“In your open letter, you wrote that you planned to help end the cycle of violence by becoming a domestic violence counselor and advocating for other incarcerated survivors. You also said that you haven’t been able to follow through on that plan because you were immediately taken into ICE detention upon your release from prison. I hope that you are released as soon as possible so you can pursue your dreams, but I also hope that you know that you already are a powerful survivor advocate. And you are already ending the cycle of violence through your love and your struggle, in a place that few would imagine such work to happen.”
”I don’t know how to respond to your questions because I don’t believe there are any good answers — at least not in the systems our country has created. But I can tell you what justice looks like to me. Justice looks like reuniting with your family. Justice looks like remaining in the only country you have ever known. Justice looks like fulfilling your goal of becoming a domestic violence counselor because who better to help other women than someone who has been in the same situation? Justice looks like making a new life for yourself, free from the confines of metal bars and threats of exile to a land you have never known. Justice looks like our society examining how we have failed and continue to fail survivors of violence by blaming them for the abuse they suffer and then punishing them for either protecting or “failing” to protect themselves and their children. Justice looks like freedom. Continue to speak your truth and ask hard questions. You have a whole community of supporters standing with you and advocating for your freedom. I hope justice comes soon.”
“My heart is full right now because I spent the last weekend connecting with criminalized survivors and organizers at the No Perfect Victims convening in Detroit. It was so powerful to share space and connect with folks to envision and build a world without gender violence or state violence. And while it may be a long and difficult struggle, most certainly with deeply felt losses and pain, I know that at the very least, we can share that struggle, find love and grace, and dare to hope. I hope you’ll be able to join us at the next convening.”
“I sat with your question, “How does deporting me benefit anyone or anything?” This is a question I has often — how does deportation benefit anyone? The further I’ve looked for this answer, the further truth is revealed about the same system that morphs into different institutions to oppress and dehumanize people of color. There is no justification for the detention of of people, and there is no argument that can justify meanwhile bodies are being profited off. Much love and power to you; keep fighting! We are with you!”
“Our people survived the war in Southeast Asia, only to experience war in America. The war continues. And so does our work to end it. I don’t have easy answers to your questions. I, too, struggle with what justice means in a society with unjust immigration and criminal justice systems and policies. I only know what justice feels like — and that is the feeling of coming home. Coming home to California. To a community that loves you. And coming home to yourself. Ny, I am with you. I may not have met you, but I hope to one day. And I feel heart-full to know that I have a fierce advocate and sister in this fight with me. Keep writing, keep making noise. Together, we will break the silence and uplift our communities.”
“You ask how deportation benefits anyone. It doesn’t. You ask when separation from your community will end. Not soon enough for you and everyone else inside. America isn’t ready to answer your questions yet though. For far too long, we’ve been caught in a cycle of fear and vengeance. Rather than embrace survivors, the hurt, and the broken, America locks up 2.3 million people in the dark corners of isolated swamps and deserts hoping no one sees the truth. The time is coming when America will have to face the devastation of its bombs, prisons, and deportations and ask how can we heal?”