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Going before the parole board for a hearing is a big fat joke. Before I even had a chance to speak up for my release, the decision to deny my parole had been made by a state forensic psychologist. I still went before the parole board anyway, so I could appeal the decision. 

I appeared before a psychologist for a comprehensive risk assessment (CRA) in the fall of 2019. The psychologist asked me the necessary questions required, and I answered the best I could. 

About a month and a half later, I received a copy of the report. At the end of it, it said, “Due to Mr. Kha’s significant positive gains in the past two years in self-help groups, work with his Buddhist mentor, increased ability to take responsibility for the life crime, abstinence from substances, and appropriate parole plans, a moderate risk level was considered. However, since his last CRA, he has demonstrated behaviors resulting in two violence-related Rule Violation Reports (2014, 2015), expulsion from two self-help groups (2018, 2019), and a suicidal gesture (2019). These behaviors represent instability and impulsivity most consistent with a high violence risk rating.”

The report gave me a high risk rating based on some information found in my central file. There were two counseling chronos, or notes from staff, stating I had expulsions for bad behavior during self-help groups. The first chrono said I was kicked out of Narcotic Anonymous (NA) for disruptive and combative conduct and not adhering to other rules. The second chrono that I was sleeping when I should have been participating in Criminal and Gang Members Anonymous (CGA). The file also listed two serious “115” disciplinary actions for fighting in 2014 and 2015. 

The psychologist never gave me an opportunity to respond. 

Had I been able to respond, I would have pointed out that I had already graduated NA about two months before I was accused of being disruptive in that class. As for the CGA class, I requested to be taken out of that class because of problems with the way it was run. The two disciplinary actions were for fights that never happened, but it shouldn’t have made a difference anyway because the law states that you should be suitable for parole if you have five years without a 115. 

I’m also a youth offender going before the Parole Board, and the California Penal Code states: “When a prisoner committed his or her controlling offense, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 3051 , when he or she was 25 years of age or younger, the board, in reviewing a prisoner’s suitability for parole pursuant to Section 3041.5 , shall give great weight to the diminished culpability of youth as compared to adults, the hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity of the prisoner in accordance with relevant case law.”

It doesn’t seem to me that the Board has ever applied this standard of “great weight” at my hearings. If they were taking into account my age at the time of the offense, why did the Board still blame me for my life crime? 

The following is the exact language of the decision: 

“The Panel must determine if the inmate continues to pose an unreasonable risk to public safety and the denial of parole must be based on evidence in the record of the inmate’s current dangerousness. 

The law requires us to give great weight to the mitigating effects of the diminished culpability of youths as compared to adults, hallmark features of youth, and any subsequent growth and increased maturity in reviewing your suitability for parole. The evidence considered was the inmate’s central file, the comprehensive risk assessment, written responses received from the public, and your testimony. The confidential file was reviewed, but the Panel did not rely on any information today. 

Based on the legal standards and evidence considered, Mr. Kha, we find that you do pose an unreasonable risk to public safety and are therefore not suitable for parole today. And, Mr. Kha, try not to be too disappointed. This Panel can see the significant improvement you made since your last hearing. So please listen to the constructive criticism that we’re going to offer you so that it could be a roadmap and help prepare for your next hearing. 

In regard to the facts that mitigated your risk, we found that programming was neutral for you. Factors identified in the comprehensive risk assessment as remaining relevant for you have been somewhat addressed through active participation. 

The Panel did give great weight to the youth, youth offender factors we found to be present. At the time of the crime parts of your brain were not fully mature resulting in a lack of impulse control, inability to plan ahead, and an inability to avoid risks. Your negative behavior began early at around seven years of age for shoplifting and vandalism. By the age of 12, you were involved with gang members. You were picked up by law enforcement and ultimately sent to camp, but none of that altered your conduct.

You clearly acted impulsively and immaturely. Your conduct showed that you had an undeveloped sense of responsibility, and you also clearly had trouble weighing long-term consequences. You demonstrated immature thinking, you had a traumatic childhood, and you were involved in various criminal activities, not realizing that you were adding trauma to your and other people’s lives. 

You were subjected to a negative and abusive environment, and you had limited control over your living environment. And at the time of the crime, you exhibited the hallmark features of youth resulting from your incomplete brain development. Your absence leading to and throughout the commission of your crime demonstrated significant immaturity in your thinking and decision-making. And due to your young age, you were more vulnerable and susceptible to negative influences. And your gang membership clearly impacted your thinking. 

Your absence in decisions demonstrated significant recklessness. And as with most youthful offenders, your conduct in prison has been mixed. Although there’s some growth in the form of educational upgrades, your disciplinary record until very recently still shows impulsive and poor decision-making. 

And in regards to subsequent growth and increased maturity while incarcerated, it is limited. You have engaged and considered reflection, and you’ve made a significant attempt to think about the reasons for the impact of your actions. However, we find that despite giving great weight to the youth offender factors, they are outweighed by factors that aggravate your current risk. The comprehensive risk assessment determined that you pose a high risk relative to long-term offenders. 

In regards to your criminal and parole history, you had an early onset of criminality as early as the age of 12 with gang activities. You were engaged in multiple crimes in a short period of time and your violence escalated in seriousness. You committed the current offense less than a week after being released from an intensive supervision early release program. And you went from committing burglary to second degree murder.” 

That was me then, it’s not what I am now.

What I am now is a group facilitator, a hard worker in my job with California Prison Industry Authority and more.  

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Tue Kha

Tue Kha is a writer incarcerated in California. He is working on a novel titled "Kormic."