Oral Histories

Interview of Jimmy Wu

Creative writer and a case manager at InsideOut Writers, an organization that serves at-risk youth through using creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation.
Narratives of Justice:Criminal Justice Activism in Los Angeles
Social Movements
Community History
Community Activism
Biographical Note:
Creative writer and a case manager at InsideOut Writers, an organization that serves at-risk youth through using creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation.
Aoki, Kyoko
Wu, Jimmy
Place Conducted:
Inside-Out Writers office in Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Kyoko Aoki, interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; MLIS, UCLA Department of Information Studies. She has advocated for the human and civil rights of incarcerated people in Ohio and California through involvement with student, grassroots, and community groups as well as in the legal field. She also processed the Arts-in-Corrections (AIC) Artwork and Records archival collection at the UCLA Young Research Library Special Collections and conducted a series of oral history interviews with participants in the AIC program, which she donated to the Center for Oral History Research.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Wu was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Narratives of Justice oral history series documents issues related to the criminal justice system in California through interviews with a variety of people who seek to reform that system. It includes interviews with individuals who provide services to at-risk youth; individuals engaged in community-based reentry services for people leaving prisons and jails; and activists in other areas related to criminal justice reform.
Wu family migration from Taiwan to Los Angeles – Growing up in San Gabriel Valley – Attends mostly Asian private school in Alhambra – Parents divorce when Wu is 12 years old – Mother and Wu relocate and he transfers to public school, where he is first exposed to racism – Not fitting in at public school – Brother born in 1988 – Wu lives with mother, while brother, Aaron, lives with father – Relationship with brother and memory of his birth – Enters public high school and feels isolated – Extracurricular activities as a child and through middle school – Introduced to Asian gangs – Wah Ching gang prominent in San Gabriel Valley – Gang members beat up Wu and follow with threats of extortion – Mother reports incident and threats increase – Sent to boarding school in Taiwan and lives with extended family – Expelled from boarding school – Returns to the US, attending boarding school in Escondido – Suspension from boarding school – Enters Arcadia High School – Relationship with Taiwanese culture in the United States and response to returning to Taiwan – History and description of Wah Ching gang – Rivalry between Wah Ching gang members around Alhambra and Asian Boyz from Monterey Park – Introduced to an organized crime group, Red Door – Presented with illegal opportunity to make money – Accepts offer, develops a plan with three friends, kidnaps two people in the process - Beaten by police and arrested – Phone call from sheriff's holding tank to mother – Sent to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, then to Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles – Reflection on incident and aftermath of arrest – Effect of arrest on Taiwanese family – Arraignment and fitness hearings in juvenile court – Wu is transferred to adult court and faces two adult life sentences – Mother makes financial sacrifices to support legal fees – Accepts deal of 15 years 8 months and two strikes after two years in juvenile hall – Transferred to adult prison at age 18 – Transfer from juvenile hall to adult court and being held in small holding tank – Living in juvenile hall – Receives GED and graduates from high school in jail – Adjustment to incarceration.
Wu invited to join theater company Troubled Souls – Introduction to Sister Janet Harris, Mark Salzman, and Duane Noriyuke - Formation of InsideOut Writers (IOW) –Mark Salzman and changing perception of adults who visit juvenile hall – Learning to be vulnerable in a hostile environment and survival through writing – Involvement with theater group Troubled Souls – Description of IOW classes – Mark Salzman writes a book, True Notebooks, about his experience teaching writing in juvenile hall – Experience of moving from juvenile hall and entering adult Los Angeles County Jail before transfer to prison – First lessons learned in adult jail – Transfer to the reception center at Delano State Prison – Description of classification hearing and point system – At the age of 18, youngest and smallest inmate in a level IV security adult prison – Racial segregation in prison - Learns survival tactics from other Asians and cellmates – After one year, points reduced and transfers to a level III prison – After two and a half years, transfers to Folsom State Prison – Description of Folsom State Prison and relationship with guards – Transfer to Avenal State Prison and adjustment from single-cell housing to being housed in a dorm environment – Younger brother, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, becomes extremely ill – Learns about grandmother's death in a formal prison write-up – Contemplates suicide and turns to writing letters to Mark Salzman – Release from prison and first day outside of prison after 13 and a half years – Enrolls in Mt. San Antonio College and seeks employment – First job – Reflections on experience with criminal justice system and learning about restorative justice – IOW's alumni program – Begins volunteering and speaking in college classes – Attends criminal justice conference and is invited on the spot to speak on a panel – Applies for and is offered case manager position at IOW – Reflection on race relationships inside and outside prison – Development of IOW alumni program.
Description of classification system in adult prisons, adult programs, and jobs – Reading and writing in prison – Minimal information and resources provided by the prison in preparation for reentry – Realities of the reentry process – Effect of California's realignment program and impact of overcrowding and out-of-state transfers on inmates – No way to prepare for release from prison and community reentry – Description of changes in the "free world" after 13 years of incarceration - Advancements in technology – Comparison of working in prison and working in a company – First few months at InsideOut Writers (IOW) - Work at IOW today – Perspective and philosophy on social work – Description of case management at IOW – Challenges and benefits of being both an alumnus and employee of IOW – Reflections on returning to visit juvenile hall to talk about IOW – Focus on Central Juvenile Hall, where there is a high turnover rate – New program for formerly incarcerated people to go into juvenile hall to prepare youth with long-term sentences for prison life – Beginning college education now with a long-term goal to obtain a master's in social work – Goal of IOW is to eventually be run solely by formerly incarcerated people.