By John Lam
Journalism Guild Writer
During his years in San Quentin, Ngheip “Ke” Lam never failed to light up the room with his bright smile. Now, after serving 22 years in prison for first-degree murder, he can smile for the outside world.
Lam was found suitable under SB 260 and paroled in December 2015. “It was through the grace and mercy of my victim’s family who forgave me that I was found suitable,” said Lam. “The mother of the son I murdered said she believed in my change, and she hopes that I would do well when I get out.”
SB 260, whichbecame law in 2013, requires the parole board to give special consideration to youth offenders who committed their crimes before the age of 18.
“I want the brothers and sisters who are doing time to know there is hope, so give yourself a chance,” said Lam.
“Ke has been an ambassador for change and guidance to many men here in San Quentin and has been someone I have always looked up to and modeled my behavior after,” said Mike Tyler, a paroled Kid C.A.T. member. “I know that the San Quentin community will definitely feel the impact of his absence when he paroles.”
While incarcerated, Lam dedicated his time to playing team sports, going to church and mentoring kids on the weekend. Lam scrambled throughout the week facilitating various self-help programs. In the past 12 years, he has been a founding member of many self-help groups, including the juvenile offender group, Kid C.A.T., and R.O.O.T.S. (Restoring Our Original True Selves).
Phoeun You, co-founder of R.O.O.T.S. said, “Ke is a pioneer and leader in this community; he saw that we needed a support group to teach and assist the Asian and Pacific Islander community here. Ke connected us with the Asian Prisoner Support Committee volunteers, who are now sponsors of the R.O.O.T.S. program. Without his help, there would be no R.O.O.T.S. program.”
Lam said his change started in 1996, when his brother passed away. That helped him feel more connected with the loss of his victims.
During an interview, Lam said one of the greatest lessons he learned in prison was “that doing the right thing doesn’t always equate with real change. After serving 17 years, I thought my change was complete until I was denied five years for a lack of insight in 2010.”
“I knew the right words to say. I knew what the board wanted, but being denied allowed me to realize that I wasn’t ready; I had to go back and examine deeper, and I had to [reflect and improve] for myself and not the board.”
“It is important for others who are doing time to know this because with so many reforms happening, guys may be feeling increasing pressure to sign up for groups to get chronos [documentation of achievement] for the board, but may miss the bigger picture of going to self-help groups for themselves,” said Lam.
“I was able to gain insight and transform from being lost, depressed and irresponsible to become who I am today. Through V.O.E.G. (Victim/Offender Education Group) I became aware of the impact and magnitude I had on my victims as well as on the community. Through Kid C.A.T., I learned how to reconnect and deal with my childhood traumas, and mentoring kids through SQUIRES helped me reconnect with my younger self,” Lam added.
“Ke has continued to show increasing leadership over the past five years since my wife Gail and I first met him in Kid C.A.T.,” said Phil Towle, Kid C.A.T. volunteer. “Now he exits in a good position to have a positive impact [on] those around him.”