Ex-convict Kosal Khiev visits UWC to explain how words changed his life. Hector martin dit neuville

“It really messed with me, I didn’t know anything else but solitary confinement, it’s kinda home for me.” Kosal Khiev, an ex-convict locked up for attempted murder, announced to UWC East’s crowded conference a few weeks ago. The room was filled with grade 9 students listening intently. We were participating in an English event known as Writer’s Fortnight. On the 26th of January it was Kosal Khiev’s turn to present. His life, a series of ups and downs, is now something of an inspiration for young children and adults alike. Although his life is exciting, the poetry and philosophical ideologies also truly impress listeners.

Solitary Pain

Kosal described the effects of the tiny, horribly bare cells of solitary confinement and how it impacted the mental well-being of its victims. Kosal explained how the 22-23 hours a day spent within the cell gave him too much time to think. He also confirmed that because of the amount of time spent in the cell, prisoners tend to forget how to live. They begin to treat the cell as their home and the only place that they understand. Kosal compared prisoners to tigers brought up in non-wild conditions. Tigers that are brought up in cages, return to their cages without question, this is because they treat the cage as their home, the only thing they know to exist. Prisoners limited to solitary confinement feel the same, they know nothing else but the bare, colourless walls of their cells.

Escaping Through a Pencil

Kosal dealt with the hardships of prison through different forms of art. Labeled for his attempted murder, many forget that he eats, sleeps, drinks and breaths like the rest of us. As a human he needed to evade the emotional stress and therefore worked as a tattoo artist in prison, earning the job through his drawings. He explained that many prisoners wanted permanent memories on their skin, and turned to him to decorate them. However he described poetry as his most important escape. Poetry allowed him to travel into a world that he himself created, the one he wished to live. He claimed to have started poetry because of its ability to form a connection between himself and a girl that he had love for outside of the prison world. Poetry for Kosal is not only an escape but a form of growth. “I thought to myself, if I’m gonna get this girl to like me, I gotta change. And poetry did that for me.” Khiev later reflected in a joking manner on his 16 year old self, driven by the want to be with a girl. He was thankful however as his poetry later developed into more important and major subjects about himself, talking about trying to find his true home, and where he belongs.

Grasp On Life Loosens

On that day, Kosal demonstrated to a crowd, that change is in fact possible, no matter how lost in life people may seem. This common saying turned into a true reality when paired with his memorable stories. Students soon understood just how much change Kosal went through in his life, they understood his childhood and the impact it had on him. After being sent to a harsh camp, Kosal returned home, extremely relieved, only to find that his parents were sending him somewhere else. He was quoted saying “It broke me man, to come back from that crazy place, and for my brother to tell me I was being sent somewhere else, it broke me.” This was when he ran away, and soon became part of local gangs surrounding his area. Important to his life because of the fact that this is when all of it spiraled out of control, where he attempted to murder a man.

A story from which to learn

Students in the conference room were intrigued by the words of Kosal. I myself, learned about the growth and change that life can take on. I was enlightened about the way that I can turn my life around by simply finding something I feel passionate about. To see Kosal’s life as evidence of change through passion, created a sense of comfort for me, this was because I felt reassured that I indeed had control over my future. I asked myself a question that needed answering, can an escape actually change me? Saying this, I was not the only student touched by the words of Kosal, many students faced the same rush of emotion. They later claimed they struggled to take notes because of the grip the stories had on them. Kosal’s visit was the highlight of the day for all, It was a truly inspiring visit, by a truly inspiring poet.

Created By
Hector Martin Dit Neuville
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