A Second Chance

By. Cindy Truong

As I woke up the next morning I realized that
it had not been a dream. I lay cowering on my cot and
gazed at the deteriorating ceiling. The snores coming from
beneath me sounded like the whines of a dying beast
gasping for air. I was paralyzed with fear as I had
watched the acts I committed replay in my head like a
scratched record. As of the last night, I had become
inmate number 9616615 in the Robert Presley Detention
Center, Riverside California. Just the thought of the
reality made my eyes bead in tears. I continued to
weep silently until the stained, dingy towel disguised
as my pillow was nearly drenched in warm, salty tears.
My heart ached when I thought of how my parents felt
when they heard the news. The moth-eaten sheet I used
to cover myself with in last night was now hanging by
a string at the end of my bed. As I reached for the
sheet, I was again hit with the mortifying sense of
reality. The vile sensation of the rough, stale
smelling jumpsuit draped on body was the ultimate
shocker. Seeing the cell wasn’t enough. I had to feel
the rye jumpsuit against skin for everything to become
evident. I sat silently inspecting my jail cell. It
was too unreal. I wanted to pinch myself so that I
would wake from this horrible nightmare.

“Truong! Get ready you’re going to court,” was my
wake-up call. Still in a state of shock, I did as I
was told. As the pod officer operating the central
switchboard down below unlocked my cell, I could hear
the release of the cold steel bolt echo in my head
like a gunshot. When I left my cell I slowly walked
along the railing upstairs not knowing exactly where
to go. I felt dozens of shaming eyes peering at me
through the human cages in the dayroom. I stood
against an icy wall as the correctional officers
prepared me for court.

A female officer dressed in a riot gear jumpsuit came
out of the station with the “jailhouse jewelry.” I was
told to face the wall and spread my legs. The officer
took hold of my left hand and snapped a frozen metal
cuff down onto my wrist. Soon my right hand was in the
same position. Within a few seconds, I was completely
shackled from my wrists, to my waist, down to my
ankles. Any pride that I had left was completely
stripped from me as the officer led me to the elevator
like a dog on a leash.

My mind was in a severe state of oblivion on the way
to the courtroom. Walking through the underground
tunnel, passing other shackled criminals and hearing
the catcalls of the male convicts were all surreal. I
couldn’t believe what was happening. I was a good
girl. I was a straight A student. I was daddy’s
favorite child. This wasn’t happening, but then again
it was. I kept telling myself that I didn’t belong
here. I sat in the holding cell pitying myself, hoping
the other inmates and the officers would see that I
was innocent. I looked around and saw more than half a
dozen women in the holding cell, some napping, others
chatting and a few just completely strung out on dope.
My heart began pounding through my chest…I really
didn’t belong.

After about two hours the holding cell door slid open
and a butch looking female officer called my name. I
followed her up the to courtroom hoping that she would
say, “What’s a pretty young girl like you doing in a
place like this? You don’t belong here,” but not a
single word escaped her lips. I sat in the courtroom
and silently waited for something to happen. All I
could think about was why they were being so cruel to
me. I wasn’t supposed to be in a place like this. My
mind wondered again with thoughts of self-pity, but
suddenly I was punched in the face with the fist of
reality when the condemning voice of the judge
verified, “Case number CR68768. The people versus
Cindy Truong.”

“John Ruiz for the people your honor.”
“Regina Filipone for the defendant.”

The court lingo befuddled me completely. I tried to
understand what was going on but I kept slipping back
into my thoughts of trepidation for what the system
would do to me. When I couldn’t follow the barking
lawyers any longer my mind drifted off and a scene
from last night began coming back to me...

I remembered early that morning when I woke up, I
received a call from one of my gang affiliates to go
rob a house and tie up the girl inside the house.
Without any questions I got dressed in my baggy black
pants and blood red, hooded sweatshirt. I drove down
the street to pick up my accomplice and from there we
drove to the victim’s house. I parked my car on the
driveway just to make it looked like my car belonged
there. Chuy told me to wait in the car for a few
seconds, then I could enter the house to tie up the
victim. The huge Mexican convict pulled a sheer black
stocking over his head and walked through the open
garage door. After about ten seconds, I heard a
high-pitched scream coming from the house. That was my
cue. I made my way through the same open garage
door and found Chuy standing over the victim, who was
lying on the floor face down.


I hadn’t noticed until then how much my victim was
trembling. Seeing the scene in my head again and
again, I began to see more and more of the details. As
the lawyers argued back and forth at each other, I sat
and watched the movie in my head repeat. I remembered
recklessly tying up my victims with duct tape. Then I
heard a murderous voice warning, “If you scream, I’ll
blow your fuckin’ head off bitch!” I recognized the
voice. It was mine.

“Hey Chuy, go check out the rooms for shit. I’ll be
there as soon as I finish this bitch.”

Then I bent down and whispered to my victim, “I could
put a bullet in your head right now. All I have to do
is pull this trigger back just a little bit.” I cocked
my handgun and pressed it to her temple just to hear
her whimper like a dog. I remembered how much
adrenaline was pumping through my veins knowing how
much power I possessed. Then I pushed the pistol to
her cheek just to see if I could get a different
reaction to keep my adrenaline flowing.

On and on the two lawyers went at it, and again and
again the incident looped in my head.

I wanted to pull the trigger so badly that I pointed
it towards the sliding glass backdoor and fired. I
wasn’t ready to kill anyone yet. I just wanted her to
know without a doubt that I was the one in charge of
the situation. After my so-called power trip I walked
into the bedroom where my accomplice was already
ransacking the place. We turned the house upside down
in a matter of minutes. We weren’t looking for
anything in particular, just anything that looked

Before I knew it I was heading back to my cell with
the clinking sounds of the shackles stuttering behind
me down the empty hallway. No sooner had I arrived
back at the “High Power side” dayroom, was I ordered to
get in the position that I was getting far too
familiar with; face the wall, hands against the wall,
feet spread apart. Soon as the officer removed my
shackles, she handed me my court papers and sent me
back to my cell like a hated stepchild. Surprisingly,
I found my cellmate in the same position from whence I
had left, still snoring like a beast. Not wanting to
wake the monster, I hopped up onto the top bunk and
began to read the charges that I supposedly committed.
To my dismay, I was facing three felony charges;
strong-armed robbery, burglary, and false imprisonment
with a maximum sentence of fourteen years in the state
penitentiary and a bail amount set at $250,000. I
could feel the blood drain from my face…I did belong

As time went by, the days turned into weeks, the
weeks into months and finally the months into a year.
Through the duration my incarceration, the friends
whom I thought I thought I had never showed their
faces in the visiting room. Not one of them. When I
joined the gang, I believed they would have my back
through thick and thin. At least that’s what they led
me to believe. They said that they were my true family
and that they would always be there for me, but they
lied. And I came to realize that my real family never
abandoned me. I was ashamed to look my parents in the
face the first time they came to visit their
delinquent daughter. My parents and siblings didn’t
deserve to be embarrassed this way. This was what they
meant when they said blood is thicker than water. The
gang was water that needed to be flushed down the

I learned the ropes quick. I killed time writing
letters to my family, playing cards everyday with the
other inmates, and working in the prison kitchen.
Eventually I was promoted “trustee.” A trustee was an
inmate with special privileges. There were two
appointed trustees to a dayroom. Each dayroom held 40
women. A trustee’s job was to serve all the meals,
clean up the dayroom after every meal, and assist the
officers with any task we could. I began to get used
to my new living quarters. My cell was no bigger than
an eight by twelve room with an icy cold metal toilet
attached to a sink, rusty bunk beds, and a
graffiti-decorated table.

The day had finally come. I was going to face the
judge again and this time he was going to send me
home. I deserved it. They kept me locked up for a year
away from my family. I deserved to go home. When my
cell door unlocked, I walked along the rail upstairs
and I could hear the familiar voices of the inmates
wishing me good luck.

I had a good feeling about this day. I was a model
inmate and trusted by many of the correctional
officers. I had to be released. The judge would be
crazy to sentence a good girl like to me more time. A
friendly voice eased my mind, “Good luck, Cindy. Hope
everything turns out okay. Your left hand please.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Verdugo. Not too tight please. The last
time I went to court, Mrs. Flores tried to cut off
circulation in my wrists. I had to get Officer Wilson
to loosen it a little in the holding cells downstairs.”

“Yeah, I don’t like her. She has the tendency to do
that once in a while. The rookies live for the power-trip.”
“Why don’t you show her whose boss?”
“I will next week when I have to take over her
training. Smack her around a bit…you know.”

Officer Verdugo and I continued to gossip about the
new rookie officer all the way down to the holding
cells, where we parted with a trail of giggles. Little
did I know that was the last time I was going smile in
Riverside County Jail.

I returned from court in tears. Concerned inmates
flocked to their doors not with curiosity but with
sympathy. Everyone knew that when a person returned
from court with a smile on her face she was going
home. Anything else signified they were being
transferred to state prison for more time. Everyone
knew my fate and I had not even said a word. That day,
the judge had sentenced me to three years of prison
time. I sat in the jury box where the rest of the
inmates were sitting and silently prayed for my
release. As the judge announced my sentence, I saw my
family’s glow’s of happiness slowly fade to looks of
mournfulness. My family reacted as if the judge had
put a bullet in head. Before I was led out of the
courtroom, the judge allowed my family to hug me

Within the next couple of days, I was transferred to
Chino State Prison for Women. When I arrived, I didn’t
feel the terror I felt when I first arrived at RCJ. I
was now accustomed to the life behind bars. I wasn’t
frightened, but instead angry, extremely angry. I was
infuriated with the bitch who had put me here, the
bitch who pointed me out in the line up. I was full of
hate and I was going to make her pay for all of the
anguish she put me through. I wanted revenge.

My stay in Chino State Prison was slightly different
from my stay in Riverside County Jail. I had more
freedom, more peace, and most importantly, more peace
of mind. The next couple of months straggled on. Days
seemed like months. It was completely unfair as to why
I was there. I couldn’t understand why the judge felt
like he needed to send me to prison. I cursed him to
hell every night before I went to bed.
Oddly one night as I tried to fall asleep, I
re-enacted the crime in my head once again. I had
stopped thinking about the incident only a few months
after acclimating to county jail. This time it was
different. Vividly, I saw the movie one more time, but
this time I watched it from the victim’s position. My
body started to tremble with fear when I envision
myself being tied up with a cold pistol pushed to the
back of my head. My life was in the hands of a
trigger-happy psychopathic stranger, and for what?
Blistering tears started to spill down my cheeks. The
tears weren’t for me this time. They were for my
victim. I was utterly disgusted with myself. Every bit
of self-pity had vanished. How could I have put
someone in so much terror and pain, and why? What the
hell was I thinking? I viciously and maliciously tied
up an innocent girl at gunpoint because my gang told
me to do so. I didn’t even know who she was, what she
had done to deserve this, nor did I even ask why I was
doing it. I just did what my gang leader had told me
to do without any concern for consequences. Then I
finally understood why I had not been released. I
hadn’t learned my lesson. Not once had I put myself
into my victim’s shoes, until then. I was ashamed of
myself. My incarceration was not her fault. It was
mine. She didn’t commit the crime…I did. And I tried
to blame it on her for what I did wrong. The idea of
revenge that I had been harboring for so long suddenly
disappeared. I began to accept my faults and not deny
them. The very minute I understood it all, the rest of
my prison time flew by. I deserved every second I
spent behind bars.

Cindy Truong, born in Los Angeles, CA. spent most of
her adolescent years involved in Asian gangs. After a
life changing realization behind bars, she tries to
reach others through her writing.