Daily 49er

How a prisoner became an activist

Amber Costa, Staff Writer

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Immigrant, prisoner, revolutionary – the narrative of a criminal-turned-social activist will having a special screening followed by a panel discussion at The Art Theatre Monday night.

“Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story” follows the life of a Chinese immigrant who served 20 years in California prisons and jails for kidnapping and robbery. His first offense was when he was 16 years old.  

According to the documentary’s website, while Zheng was in San Quentin Prison, he learned to speak English, earned a college degree and “transformed into a nationally recognized leader.”

Since his release, he has worked as an activist for prison reform and youth-violence prevention.

James Suazo, the communications manager at Building Healthy Communities Long Beach, said in an email that about a quarter of Cal State Long Beach students identify as Asian Americans or Pacific Islanders.

Building Healthy Communities Long Beach is an organization that works to reduce health disparities and improve overall community health, especially within the immigrant communities in Long Beach.

Suazo said he thinks students will gain something by watching this film.

“The school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline is a serious challenge in our AAPI communities,” he said. “But there are people like Eddy Zheng who are out there working to keep youth out of the pipeline.”

In 2007, Zheng was released from immigration custody; however, he was ordered deported to China and is currently waiting for the court’s final decision. Until that decision is handed down, Zheng will remain on American soil.

“Some students will have lived [this] themselves,” Suazo said. “Others will know friends and family who have gone through these challenges and are still facing them every day.”  

Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion with Eddy Zheng and Ben Wang, the director and producer of the documentary.

Additionally, there will be community advocates such as Clement Brown, a formerly incarcerated man helping current and previously incarcerated people; Jacqueline Dan, a staff attorney with Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Orange County; and Stephanie Sim, a Khmer Girls in Action Long Beach youth leader.

Suazo said that the panel will discuss how to keep children in school, avoiding deportation and stay out of trouble.

“We can’t help our community if we don’t talk about the challenges it’s facing,” Suazo said.

“Breathin: The Eddy Zheng Story” will be playing Monday at 6:30 p.m. at The Art Theatre, 2025 E 4th St, Long Beach, CA 90814. Admission is free, but an RSVP is required.

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