Vincent Chew

“A Second Chance”


Listen to Vincent in His Own Words

“In an instant, all I could see was a group of kids running down from the bus rushing towards us saying ‘get the kids from Novato’.  My first instinct was to run. Then I stopped running when I realized ‘why am I running, I am not a part of them’.”

vincentMy life has been full of struggle. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, then moved from New York to Malaysia and back again. When I first arrived in California, I thought everything would be different. But it turned out there would be more pain in my life.

Going to school in Malaysia I got into trouble and got caned. Caning is a beating with a cane that is legal in Malaysia. People would either get caned in a room or in an assembly or rally. The reason I got into trouble was because I was ignorant and I wouldn’t listen to the advice from my family. I was involved with some triad activities. Triads’ are organized crime groups. People in triads get the benefits of protection and money, and, they do not have to pay for the consequences of their crimes in the justice system. The justice system in Malaysia is very corrupt.

My family realized I wouldn’t have a future if I stayed in Asia.

They decided to move me back to New York to live with my uncle. To me, blood is thicker than water.  But living with my uncle in New York was a different situation; my brother and I had to pay to live with them. My parents worked hard to pay our rent in New York, but the currency rate is 4 Ringgit Malaysian to 1 US Dollar, so my parents could pay only so much.

In New York, I got into trouble again.  Every time I got arrested and released I did not want to go back to my uncle’s house because the consequences were harsh. I would be grounded for a long time and they would basically use what I did wrong to make me a slave to them.  They used me to clean the house and everyone’s mess.  They would buy expensive things for my cousin in front of me, and then make me carry those things while we walked around the city shopping. They also made me feel bad by disrespecting my parents and telling me that I was useless and a waste of my parents time.  They told my parents they couldn’t depend on me to help them when they came to US. This hurt me very much.

So I stayed in the subway and wondered around from park to park. People probably think I did not even go to school, but they are wrong. I did go to school but I didn’t attend classes. I was a drug dealer and sold marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. I was not a big time user though, I just needed to find some extra money to feed both me and my brother. All the hanging out eventually led to me serving time at Rikers Island.

At Rikers, I was put into C-73, which is where most of the gangs are, and that’s how I got involved in gangs. When I got out, I got into an altercation with another gang. Here’s what happened.  I was walking down the street with some friends. We saw this group across the street walking the same way we were walking. We were on our way to the Southside Jamaica Queens projects walking under a lonely bridge walkway that is pretty quiet and isolated. All we heard is “get them niggaz”. They were like bees swarming towards us.

At the time, we did not know why they wanted to fight us. But later we found out that they were getting revenge and trying to gain respect in the neighborhood. During the fight, I was stabbed on my neck with a small steel bar. I was fighting this kid on the side of the street and didn’t realize there was someone behind me ready to hit me from behind. When I fell to the ground he aimed for my neck while the other kid hit my eye with a baseball bat.  The rest of them kicked me and punched me all over my body. We were outnumbered 10 to 1 and couldn’t fight back.

I now have a scar on the corner of my left eye from the assault.  Without money or insurance, I couldn’t go to the hospital, so I left my wound the way it was and let it heal by itself.  My neck actually has extra skin and scarring where I was wounded.

After the incident, I have been shot at but never got hit. I was shot by different gangs. I have visible and invisible scars from penitentiary time to the fight to the shooting. All these violence had change me to a different person with different mindset. I had became more violence and every time when something happen, I felt like people is trying to threaten and kill me. I was paranoid in the streets. I became more cautious when I am walking alone. My anger became more explosive and I felt like I was a whole another person. After I was released from Rikers Island, I moved to California to reside with my white uncle in Marin County.

Nine of my friends and idols in New York and California faced death one by one, within 5 months. Both of these deaths were my family friend from North Richmond. Recently, I lost 2 more friends from New York.

One day when I was waiting at the San Rafael transit for a bus to go to my internship in the Canal, I saw a group of friends that I knew from Novato, so I just walked over to see them.  Just as I walked over, the number 70 bus from Marin City came.  In an instant, all I could see was a group of kids running down from the bus rushing towards us saying “get the kids from Novato”.  My first instinct was to run. Then I stopped running when I realized “why am I running, I am not a part of them”.

Suddenly I was hit. I was trying to fight back but they managed to get me on the ground and broke my nose with a lighter, and cut my lip with a box cutter. The surgery for my nose was around $4000 and my lip was sewn in Novato Sutter hospital emergency room. I did not pay for my surgery but my uncle did, but to pay it off, I work for him to pay it off and I think my mom gave him some money too.

Street life in Marin is just as harsh as New York. [Return to Youth Stories]