In prison, David B. Lê, 35, is known to many as “the professor.” After serving close to 13 years of a 40-years-to-life sentence, he paroled from San Quentin in July.
“David is a young guy with an old soul,” said Tien, an inmate who did not give his full name. “I already miss talking to David and hearing his not-his-age, insightful advice. I’m happy that he gets to start his life over again.”
Lê was a San Quentin News staff writer, circulation manager, and donor outreach coordinator. He pioneered the Vietnamese translations of the paper.
He was also a math tutor for the self-help group Project REACH and a teaching assistant for a Prison University Project algebra class.
“It’s that type of character that makes me confident that Lê is going to go onto do great things,” said inmate Anthony Faulk.
Lê used his time in prison to rehabilitate himself by first understanding how to come to terms with his previous unhealthy choices that led to a murder conviction.
Lê received his A.A. degree with an emphasis in social science from Lassen Community College in 2015. Afterward, he began to study for a B.S. in business administration through Adam State University, and plans to enter U.C. Berkeley.
His reputation as a dedicated and exemplary student earned him his nickname, “the professor.”
In 2016, Lê was a featured San Quentin TEDx speaker (www.youtube.com, search tedxsanquentin, and select clip titled, “Am I really a violent offender?”), and helped organize Asian community programs focused on common cultural issues at San Quentin.
His desire and efforts to better himself and his community convinced for- mer Gov. Jerry Brown to commute Lê’s sentence, which made him eligible for parole, that he was later granted.
“David Lê is an incredible human being,” said Marcus Henderson, SQ News’ editor in chief. “He is so humble. It’s certain people you are proud to know, and he’s one of them.”
“My life is better because David took the time to share Lê’s wisdom with me about improving our- selves and helping others,” said David Ditto, Lê’s successor at the News. “I look forward to hearing of his continuing successes as a free man.”
News designer Jonathan Chiu referred to Lê as “a philosopher and believer in the human spirit.”
After leaving the prison, Lê sent words of encouragement to some of the men at San Quentin.
“So excited to be out,” Lê wrote. “I always hear that life out here is very busy, but to witness it has a somber feel to it.”
He included messages for the News staff:
• “Wali (Henderson), maintain the goodness that is inside of you.”
• “Juan (Haines), When I see people busy with their lives out here, I think about you.”
•(David) “Ditto… You’re the most level-headed person I know.”
• “Joe (Garcia), You are smart. Develop your heart.”
• “Jonathan (Chiu), you’re a talented person. I hope to see you out soon. And don’t sweat the small stuff.”
• “(Javier) Jimenez, fishing sounds good about now.”
• “Juan (Espinosa), you have a lot of living expe- rience behind you. With that,
I believe you can use that to help people out here.”
• “(Aron) Roy, Tariq (Anthony Faulk), and Michael (Johnson), may your journey in prison be a positive one.”
• “Kevin (Sawyer), stay hopeful.”
• “To the Vietnamese translation group, I have not forgotten you.”
My biggest hope is to receive a photo of Lê standing under Sather Gate, the entrance to U.C. Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, holding a letter of acceptance to the university. Maybe he’ll be holding a copy of San Quentin News, too.