Another longtime member of the San Quentin News team, Phoeun You, paroled before the COVID-19 Omicron variant placed the prison on a 60-day lockdown.
Phoeun was rehired to work as the newspaper’s lead design and layout person. He came on board shortly after the first 416-day COVID-19 modified program ended.
The SQNews editor-in-chief, Marcus Henderson, referred to You’s departure as déjà vu because of the number of staff that have paroled in the past year.
“Our managing editor and layout designer both being paroled speaks volumes to the work and the people we have,” Henderson said.
During the first lockdown, seven staff members paroled. Most were serving life sentences but were found suitable for release by the Board of Parole Hearings.
You’s tenure with SQNews as a graphic designer began in 2012. He worked three years and was part of the news team that won the James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, in 2014. Later, he accepted a position in The Last Mile’s Code 7370 course. He returned to the newspaper in June 2021, when he finished the coding program.
“Phoeun was a valuable stabilizing force for the newspaper during some chaotic times in the last year,” said David Ditto, SQNews associate editor. “In the midst of unprecedented staff turnover and pandemic lockdowns, he not only got the job done, but also shared his knowledge with the incoming layout designers to create a new look for the paper.”
A.J. Hardy is one of the new design and layout members of the newspaper. “He’s a good teacher,” Hardy said of You. “He threw me in the deep end and told me to swim. But he was there and ready to coach me through any challenges or questions I faced. I’m grateful for the instruction and the friendship.”
Life took You through a most unusual journey. He was born in the midst of danger and turmoil. In a short profile he wrote for SQNews, he described himself as the ninth of 10 siblings, born in Cambodia in the 1970s. His family had to “escape the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime,” he wrote.
He was a child refugee when his family arrived in Ogden, Utah. Years later they moved to Southern California. You, like many Asians cut off from their culture, arrived in a hostile United States—a new world that did not exactly welcome them with open arms.
By the time You was a young man, conflict and his role in a deadly decision led to a prison term where he served more than 25 years. But it was there he turned his life around. Before his time with SQNews, he had completed a sheet metal course.
“I knew him well before he came to San Quentin, before his rehabilitation,” said Juan Haines, SQNews senior editor. Haines and You met at Soledad. “When it was suggested that he come to work for San Quentin News, I raised my eyebrows because I hadn’t seen him in a few years.” Haines described You as a “completely new person, committed to make a difference.” He said You continued doing that while working for the newspaper.
You wrote that he started working for SQNews “with limited computer skills.” But he was serious and driven to accomplish the goals he set for himself and he was always willing to assist others in the newsroom. He studied journalism while pursuing his AA degree that he received in Liberal Arts through Patten University (now Mt. Tamalpais College).
His profile is replete with other achievements such as a member of The Last Mile, an entrepreneurship program; Crisis Intervention Peer Counseling; and co-founder of Restoring Our Original True Selves (ROOTS), a program that focuses on helping individuals connect with their cultural roots.
Technically, You is not a citizen of the United States, so he expected to face federal detention and deportation to a country he does not remember. But he has a lot of support on the outside and on the “inside.”
“If you want a good American citizen, there’s one right there,” said Charles Crowe, managing editor of SQNews. “They’d be crazy to deport him. I have nothing but love for him.”