Kosal Khiev, from low life juvenile gangster to Olympic renowned poet By Vir Banta 9Mse

"I remember someone telling me it takes only a couple of seconds to make a mistake, but it takes a lifetime to correct it. I'm still paying for my mistakes now," Kosal said as the eager learners and students of grade 9 UWC observed, given the opportunity through Writers Fortnight we were allowed to heed in and be educated about the enduring and inspirational life of Kosal Khiev and his incredible fortuitous journey from Gangster to Poet.

Kosal and his friends from when he was younger living in the US

Early life in the US and gangbanging at an early age

At the start of his presentation He introduced the hardships that he was accustomed to in his daily life, Born in a refugee camp after his parents fled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, he grew up in the US after being granted asylum, and had joined a gang by the age of 13. Life in the US was difficult, and Khiev said his sense of isolation contributed to his joining a gang. "I started hanging with guys that were coming from the same background as me, who felt like they were alone in the world."He explained “I remember we were living in this two-bedroom apartment, the nine of us, trying to make ends meet." This personally made me feel proud and privileged to be who I am and to lead life to its fullest because one careless mistake can end everything.

Kosal and his tattoos that express his experiences in life

A 16 year old boys incarceration and the effects on his mentality

He then presumed into enlightening us and entertaining us with stories of his prison, this was important and exciting for us because we associate prison with pop culture and movies whereas he was allowing us to enter and be educated about the realities of prison and his real life account and perspective on prison. "I'm not proud of hurting anyone. I wish I never did. But I got locked up at 16, and I got tried as an adult... why would you throw away the key? Then you're saying that this kid has no more redemption." He described prison as a place that changes you."When you're in an environment of monsters you almost become a monster in order to survive." He claimed that in the “hole” he spent 23 hours a day staring and thinking in complete silence, evaluating his life and his mistakes and thinking upon what he was going to do when he was released, he often questioned and contemplated his life. "You come to talk to yourself, and you're forced to confront yourself, all parts of yourself. It made me say - is this it? Is this all your life is going to amount to? Are you going to die in prison?"

Kosal helping others much like himself

Cambodian Blood, American Heart, Mixed Mindset

He was eventually released after serving 14 years. Kosal then described and told us about his home, not the US but Cambodia. He shared with us grade 9 students the reason he was speaking before us and the reason why he has purpose in his life, his poetry. He explained that "he discovered the power that poetry has to change a person's perspective and outlook," He stated and explained that when he was exonerated from jail in the US he took part in outreach programmes speaking to young people at risk of offending, and worked as a facilitator in The Prison Peace Project, a corrections programme. He told us that he was disappointed when finding out he was being extradited to Cambodia "I had all these dreams, all these plans in the US," he said. "When I first came to Cambodia I didn't know what I was going to do." His life in the US came to a sudden halt as he had to embrace the culture and the new subtleties that he faced in Cambodia he explained that he adapted to society by first joining it. He then proceeded to entertain and educate us with a performance of his fine poetry. His poem inspired us to be above who we are and to never give up, the poem also indulged us about redemption and second chances and how one decision can change everything. Kosal Khiev taught us that there is always something more to life and that we should be privileged and proud to be who we are.

Kosal and his love for poetry

Sample of poem performed for us

I write for men,women,and children. Anyone who ever felt alone, anyone who ever felt disowned,I write for the bones buried in a country call home,I write for you the listener so listen up, take a step back and imagine the bigger picture, cuz I write the real so feel me, I write for inner city street kids, struggling to find their place in a world to concern with race, I write for the mom and pops shops, struggling to stay a top cuz the dopeboyz got the block on lock, cant compete with the drama, so write soap operas about single mothers and brothers, about the struggle and hustle, the bustling city where empty bellies rumble, like silent earthquakes we shake, hungry like young lions, we defying the the odds, praying to God Lord give us the strength to carry on.

Ms Dinsdale (English teacher) and Mr Kosal Khiev after he performed and enriched us with his experience


Cheung, Helier. "Kosal Khiev's Journey from Prison to Poetry." BBC News. BBC, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

Khiev, Kosal. "Spoken Kosal » Words." Spoken Kosal RSS. N.p., 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.


Cheung, Helier. "Kosal Khiev's Journey from Prison to Poetry." BBC News. BBC, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2017. Khiev, Kosal. "Spoken Kosal » Words." Spoken Kosal RSS. N.p., 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

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