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Vanna Yen Finds Freedom Behind Bars

Vanna thought he was larger than life as a gang member, but a conviction for murder put him in prison where true freedom was waiting. Read Transcript


Reporter: THE ING

FAMILY, WITH THEIR SIX

CHILDREN, MOVED TO HOUSTON,

TEXAS, IN 1978, AS CAMBODIAN

REFUGEES FROM THE VIETNAM

WAR.

THEIR YOUNGEST SON WAS ONLY

THREE.

AND HE FOUND IT MORE A PLACE

OF FEAR THAN REFUGE.

THINGS WERE ROUGH GROWING

OUUP BECAUSE WE DIDN'T

UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE.

WE WERE TOLD BY OUR

NEIGHBORS AND CLASSMATES IN

COLORFUL LANGUAGE TO GO

HOME.

WE'RE NOT WANTED HERE.

Reporter: OUTSIDE THE

HOME, VANA FACED RACISM.

INSIDE THE HOME, HE WAS A

VICTIM OF DOMESTIC

VIOLENCE.

IF WE DID SOMETHING THEY

THOUGHT WAS WRONG, IT WOULD

LEAD TO PHYSICAL AND VERBAL

ABUSE.

AS I GOT OLDER, I STARTED

LOOKING FOR TROUBLE.

I DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO VENT MY

ANGER.

Reporter: WHEN THE

FAMILY MOVED TO CALIFORNIA

IN 1992, VANA TOOK HIS ANGER

TO THE STREETS OF FRESNO.

HIS OLDER BROTHER JOINED AN

ASIAN GANG, AND VANA SOON

FOLLOWED.

WE WERE VERY, VERY

CLOSE.

I ALWAYS THOUGHT OF HIM AS A

TOUGH GUY, A GUY YOU DIDN'T

WANT TO MESS WITH.

IT WAS SOMETHING TO DO,

SOMETHING TO BE A PART OF.

WE HAVE CAMARADERIE.

WE DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER.

WE LIVED THAT CODE OF WE

WILL EVEN DIE FOR EACH OTHER

OR DIE FOR THE GANG.

WE ROBBED AND STOLE -- WE

DID EVERYTHING.

Reporter: IN 1993, VANA

WAS DEEP IN THE GANG LIFE,

AND ATTENDED A GANG PEACE

PARTY WHEN RIVAL GANG

MEMBERS GOT TOGETHER TO CALL

A TRUCE.

WHEN I SAW MY ENEMIES, IT

WAS LIKE I WAS A BULL AND I

SAW RED.

I TOTALLY IGNORED THE

PURPOSE OF GOING THERE.

I DID THAT BY CUSSING THEM

OUT, AND TELLING THEM WHO I

WAS, AND THIS IS WHO WE

ARE.

ONE OF THE RIVAL GANG

MEMBERS, THEY GOT TIRED OF

IT, AND SO HE GAVE ME A GOOD

PUNCH IN THE FACE.

AND THEN WE LEFT THE SCENE

OF THE PARTY.

WE FINALLY GOT AHOLD OF

ABOUT TWO GUNS, WENT BACK TO

THE PARTY, AND WE SHOT THE

PLACE UP.

Reporter: VANA AND

FELLOW GANG MEMBERS SHOT UP

THE PARTY IN A DRIVEBY AND

MURDERED A RIVAL GANG

MEMBER.

AUTHORITIES ARRESTED VANA IN

1994, AND TRIED HIM AS AN

ADULT.

VANA WAS CONVICTED OF

SECOND-DEGREE MURDER.

I THOUGHT ABOUT MY LIFE,

AND I WAS, LIKE, WHY AM I IN

THIS PLACE, WHERE I'M FACING

25 TO LIFE.

HOW DID I GET HERE?

Reporter: WHILE

INCARCERATED, VANA STARTED

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS IN HIS

CULTURAL RELIGION OF

BUDDHISM.

I WAS, LIKE, YOU KNOW

WHAT?

MAYBE IT IS BECAUSE I WASN'T

TRUE TO BUDDHA.

I VISITED THE TEMPLE EVERY

OTHER WEEKEND JUST TO HELP

GET MY LIFE BACK IN ORDER.

THERE WAS NO POWER IN

BUDDHISM.

I WAS SEARCHING FOR IT.

I WAS TRYING TO GET OUT, BUT

I COULDN'T.

Reporter: DURING THIS

TIME, VANA'S CELL MATE BEGAN

TO TELL HIM ABOUT JESUS.

THE GUY'S NAME WAS

GABRIEL, AND HE KNEW AT THE

TIME I WAS SEARCHING FOR

PEACE, AND HE JUST TOLD ME

ABOUT THE LOVE OF GOD.

AND I TOLD HIM ABOUT

BUDDHA.

AND SO WE WOULD HAVE THESE

RELIGIOUS DIALOGUES.

HE WOULD JUST TELL ME ABOUT

HOW JESUS CAME ON THE CROSS

TO DIE FOR ME, AND HOW BY

HIM BEING THE PERFECT

SACRIFICE, HE IS ABLE TO

FORGIVE THE SINS OF THE

WORLD.

AND SO THAT STUCK OUT FOR

ME.

Reporter: A PRISON

CHAPLAIN ALSO BRINGING VANA

BOOKS ABOUT FORMER GANG

MEMBERS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES

TO CHRIST.

I READ ABOUT AL CAPONE'S

GET-AWAY DRIVER, AND IN

READING THAT, IT IS WHERE I

READ A VERSE, JOHN 15: 16,

AND THE VERSE READ: "FOR YOU

DID NOT CHOOSE ME, BUT I

CHOSE YOU."

THESE PEOPLE WHO HAD

COMMITTED CRIMES MORE

HEINOUS THAN I -- SOME WERE

ROBBERS, THIEVES, AND A LOT

OF THEM WERE MURDERERS, AND

THEY KNEW THE GRACE OF

JESUS.

I READ ABOUT THE GRACE OF

JESUS, AND HOW JESUS MET

THEM IN THEIR PRISON CELL

AND THEIR JAIL CELL, AND HE

FORGAVE THEM.

AND I'M THINKING, WOW, IF

GOD CAN FORGIVE HIM, AND IF

GOD SENT JESUS TO DIE FOR

THEM, HE DID IT FOR ME.

I WOKE UP A BROTHER THAT WAS

WITNESSING TO ME FOR THE

LAST FEW MONTHS, AND I SAID,

HEY, GABRIEL, I WANT TO GIVE

MY LIFE TO GOD.

FROM THERE I WAS EXCITED.

I WAS EXCITED BECAUSE NOW I

KNEW THAT SOMETHING AS

SPECIAL AS THE GIFT OF

SALVATION SHOULD NOT BE

BOTTLED UP.

AND SO I JUST STARTED

TELLING EVERYBODY ABOUT

JESUS.

Reporter: AFTER

BECOMING A CHRISTIAN, VANA

RENOWNED HIS GANG TIES.

HE WAS ABLE TO STRIKE A PLEA

BARGAIN AND WAS MOVED TO THE

CALIFORNIA YOUTH AUTHORITY

UNTIL HE WAS 25 YEARS OLD.

IN 2001, VANA WAS RELEASED.

JESUS GAVE ME THE POWER

TO WALK AWAY.

JESUS GAVE ME THE POWER TO

GIVE MY ALLEGIANCE TO HIM.

AND SO THAT'S HOW I WAS ABLE

THROUGH CHRIST TO LEAVE THE

GANG LIFE.

Reporter: TODAY VANA IS

MARRIED AND HAS A SON.

HE WORKS AS A PASTOR AND

YOUTH COUNSELLOR IN THE SAME

NEIGHBORHOOD IN FRESNO THAT

HE USED TO TERRORIZE AS A

GANG MEMBER.

THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN HURT,

IF THEY WANT TO BE RELEASED

FROM ALL OF THE VENOM AND

PAIN THAT THEY HAVE -- IT'S

NOT GOING TO GO AWAY HOLDING

ON TO IT.

THE ONLY WAY THEY CAN HAVE

TRUE HEALING IS THROUGH

JESUS CHRIST.

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