How a passion for wordplay changed the life of Ex-Convict Kosal Khiev By: Jerome Helbling

Kosal Khiev, an ex-convict from Cambodia, debated whether he could really salvage all the life he had left in him. Kosal explained his captivating experiences to Grade 9 students at the Crowded Conference room, during the Writer’s Fortnight at UWC East on the 26th of January. Kosal, now a world-renowned poet, has become an inspiration for students and adults alike.

Kosal retelling the astonishing events he has experienced in his life to a group of Grade 9 Students at the Writer's Fortnight - January 26, 2017

How returning "Home" Changed Kosal's Life

He stated with a sense of relief in his voice, “moving back to Cambodia changed my life, and changed my view on this world”. Stepping foot in a foreign land that he would now have to call home, was all but easy for Kosal, being extradited from the United States, was the most back-breaking thing he’d ever have to experience in his life. He’d been through alot but had his future in his mind, instead of dreading on the past, reassuring us that he was a changed man. Opening up his poetry to the public changed his outlook on the meaning of his life, and what he was set out to do. His upbringing was rough, but his morals were strong, his experiences helped himself differentiate between right and wrong. He proclaimed to the Grade 9 Students that his Grandmother was the main reason he was able to march forward, and regain confidence within himself to help his community and become the changed person he is today.

Koala in National Cambodian Army Uniform showcasing his patriotism to a country he never truly knew about until now - March 6, 2016 - Center for Asian American Media

Lost Connections, Hopes and Dreams

“I feel sorry for the choices I made, I chose to be part of a gang and that ultimately led me into prison, I just wanted to belong to something, be a part of something”, Kosal explained to the Grade 9 students who couldn’t understand why he would subject himself to such dire circumstances and why he couldn’t have made better choices. He was lonely, you could see it in his eyes when he reminiscenced about his past, he was just in the need of wanting to connect with others, and that was the only way he could see fit. Kosal lived in a desolated area of California, where even having a roof over your head was a privilege.Things never came easy for Kosal, he wasn’t able to succumb to the fact that he was living a Gang Piled neighborhood, that was like a blackhole ready to reel him in.

Poetry & A Love For Wordplay

His profound love for wordplay enticed him to become a poet and write about his time in Jail and all the experiences that taught him life lessons whilst being in there. “Man, Jail was hard, they put me in solitary for one year, thought I was gonna go crazy”. Kosal thanks poetry, and his ability to put his mind into something positive, to the way he was able to escape the treacherous situation he had forsakenly put himself in. The Crowd of Grade 9 Students were all in awe, picturing themselves being locked up for 23 hours in a single day, was out of the ordinary and never something they'd ever have to contemplate about. He compared the treatment of the prisoners, similar to the treatment of tigers, the jail being the wild sanctuary in which they were encapsulated inside.

What's Next for Kosal?

Kosal proved to himself and all the Grade 9 Students that day, the cliche that seems to work so vividly in unisense with anyone enduring a tough time, that life is all but what you make it. Mr. Khiev made it apparent that he wasn’t going to be known as an extradited Cambodian with a criminal record, but instead as a Poet who would change the lives of others and himself. He made clear that the only thing in his way to a path of success was himself, and noticing that was his first step to greatness and all the amazing things he has encountered throughout his last 6 years. Kosal went through tough times, but in the end don’t we all, Kosal use his perseverance and tenacity to fight through the adversity put against him, the harsh words that were meant to tumble him down, instead made him stronger and in the words of Kosal, “Now I’ve come back, I just want to do good”.

Kosal inspräng the Youth at one of his Poetry Performances, "The Cambodian Son" in London - April 26, 2014 - Aljazeera America

Kosal Kiev, Poetical Phenomenon, Changing Lives Everyday

Kosal made an impact on everyone in the conference room that day, touching their hearts and beaming what hope looks like in the context of struggle. For me, Kosal made me wonder how many people are going through problems similar to him each day, and how through growth , perseverance and a willingness to succeed, anything is possible. It was a truly inspirational moment for me, and made me think back to all the hardships in my life, and how I faced them with that same mentality that I would be able to push through. The Writer’s Fortnight Event allowed students to fascinate over some of the most astounding stories whilst being able to ask questions to gain valuable knowledge they would be able to use in the future. Through the words of these amazing speakers, Grade 9 students finally understood how to effectively portray a situation in a variety of ways, ultimately one day being able to create a piece that would hopefully convey the same effect.

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