This image constitutes the part of the APICAG banner that Felix and other cultural group members were ordered to paint over in advance of an annual banquet event • Courtesy of Felix Sitthivong

I want to start this month’s installment with a bit of vulnerability, and I need to be as transparent with y’all as possible. If you didn’t know, I’m currently serving a 66-year prison sentence for a 2010 gang-related shooting that resulted in people being hurt, and me being convicted of first degree murder, two attempted murders, and an assault. All but one of the victims in my case looked just like I did: young Southeast Asian men with hopes, dreams, and families.

We were all in our 20s at the time. I was 24.

I don’t think this is an appropriate time and place for me to spill my guts, but I do wanna say that not a day goes by that I don’t regret my actions. I also wanna express that I love our community… and I love our people with all my heart. And it’s as much those lost hopes and dreams, as it is love, that continues to motivate me every day to protect cultural platforms such as the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG) to just maybe help prevent other young people from going down the same negative path I went down.

It’s APICAG that has provided me and my brothers with a safe space to unpack our trauma, acknowledge the harm that we’ve caused our communities, and hopefully begin to find a pathway towards some sort of healing for all of us.

Throughout the years, through APICAG, we’ve hosted youth summits, organized immigration seminars, planned social justice forums, and offered an anti-domestic violence/family communication curriculum.

The foundation to all we’ve been able to accomplish has been rooted in finding our culture, preserving our traditions, reclaiming our true identities, and love.

Simultaneously, cultural repression has always been deeply embedded within the fabric of the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC). Between these fence lines, family names are replaced by plastic green IDs, individual fashion is replaced with prison khakis, and the very essence of a person is reduced to a DOC number.

The name of the game? Power and control.

Despite the positive impact that APICAG has had on our members and community, it’s that desire for power and control that ultimately drives the DOC to continuously threaten our very existence. It’s our autonomy that they view as a threat and our love that they fear.

Currently, there continues to be an all-out attack on APICAG from prison officials statewide. We have been struggling to survive and navigate the many obstacles they’ve been placing in front of us, including the multiple suspensions of our Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC) chapter, and retaliatory actions against our members for our advocacy work (i.e. cell searches, mail rejections, getting labeled as gang members, arbitrary infractions, stints in solitary confinement, all the way to unwarranted transfers to facilities far from home.)

As we are attempting to launch a new official APICAG chapter at the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton, Washington, we are facing more of the same from the DOC, and are in desperate need for community support.

Nearly six months ago, we submitted formal proposals to begin hosting general meetings with our community sponsor a family friendly cultural celebration, a youth summit, an anti-domestic violence class, and an immigration seminar as of this writing, we are still waiting for an “official” response from local administration.

The only responses from WCC prison administration have been informal verbal communications deflecting our inquiries, and a kiosk message neither providing a decision or specifying any pathway towards resolution, nor a specified sender of that message. Members who submitted the proposals, including myself, have responded by requesting a formal meeting with local administration at WCC, with our community sponsors present, to share what our vision and intentions are and to clear up any miscommunication. Weeks after that request, and we have yet to receive a response.

To add insult to injury, some members at WCC have also been told by prison staff that administration is now labeling us a “political organization,” which is allegedly the main reason why they will not allow us to meet. We believe that the coded language in that label is discriminatory in nature and continues to minimize our need to reconnect with our community and our culture. What the hell does that even mean anyway?

While WCC is not allowing APICAG and our community sponsors to meet, other prisoner-led groups such as the Black Prisoners Caucus and Concerned Lifers Organization are regularly scheduled to meet with their sponsors, allowed to operate despite local administration also placing various obstacles in their way we simply want the same opportunities for our members.

Additionally, our SCCC chapter program proposals are also being stonewalled, clearly illustrating that these are systemic issues within the DOC that must be addressed immediately. Honestly, I really don’t understand how the DOC continues to get away with these discriminatory practices, y’all. They perpetually gaslight our concerns, ignore our needs, and repress any forms of cultural expression and autonomy.

APICAG is not a gang. We are not a “political organization.” We are not the delinquents the DOC wants the public to believe we are. We are a group of state violence survivors who want to make amends with our community for the harm that we’ve also caused. Why do they hate us so bad?

We request:

1. Our proposals be given equitable consideration.

2. WCC administration meet with members of APICAG and our community sponsors without the threat of retaliation toward our members.

3. Our community sponsors be given access to WCC and approved to help host APICAG meetings immediately.

4.) We DEMAND to be treated with respect and dignity!

We need our community… we need our people! Please get involved!

Until next time, keep dreaming!

Felix Sitthivong is a journalist, organizer, member of Empowerment Avenue, and advisor for the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG). Through APICAG, Sitthivong has organized immigration, social justice and youth outreach forums and has designed Asian American studies courses, an intersectional feminism 101 class and an anti-domestic violence program. You can reach him with questions for “On the Fence Line” via Securus (WA #354579) or write to him at Felix Sitthivong #354579, PO Box 900, Shelton, WA 98584.     

Previous articleAPI Chaya’s 29th annual vigil honors victims, empowers survivors of violence
Next articleVolunteer, former Minidoka incarceree Kimiko Danae Oki passes away at 101