“In two years, I changed from a young innocent to a child soldier.” Kosal Khiev, a spoken word artist visited UWC East to perform his spoken word poetry during ‘Writers Fortnight.’ He also gratefully shares his stories to students. Aged 36, and he tells us his story about the journey he had been through.
Kosal’s parents fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. That’s when Kosal was born, in a refugee camp, March 2, 1980. His family was promised with ‘peace and prosperity’ in America, but later on, he was separated from his father as he wasn’t accepted into Asylum. He spent his childhood being raised up in Santa Ana, California.
Later in life, at the age of 14, he joined a gang with the other Cambodian-Americans. “It almost felt, they understood” Kosal said, after realizing they understood him more. His parents didn’t seem to understand him when Kosal was sent to a home for boys and girls a year later but they. He was cutting down trees with a buddy. He was heavily punished, and finally got his way out. He hated such treatment and ran from home for 2 weeks and stayed with his trusted gang members.
Then at the age of 16, Kosal was involved with a gang shoot-out. He stated “In two years, I changed from a young innocent to a child soldier.” He was jailed for 16 years. Kosal had been locked up in solitary confinement and experienced loneliness, “I am caught up alone between the past, present, and future.” He started to question his existence, “Am I gonna die here?.” In 2001, he was released from solitary and began working in the laundry room with other prisoners who spoke small verses of poems. He went to weekly spoken poetry class, that’s when he learned to just “speak from the heart.”
After he served 14 years of 16 years prison sentence, he was sent to a detention center for another year. Then he was ejected from the US permanently, to Cambodia with nothing left of him. He had to start fresh once again. His words came directly from his emotions, fear, anger, regrets and experiences and from the heart.
“My left arm is the bad arm, my right arm is the good arm.” All his life, his right arm has done good deeds but has destroyed and caused trouble with his left arm. Ever since prison, he has started to tattoo by his inmates having discovered his talent to draw. His left arm started developing artworks that continued to change his bad side. This has had an effect on him, by which he has hope of living through this deserted hell.
During his life, he always thought he was abandoned by everyone. He thought everything left him for good. But what he discovered within himself during prison time, was truly amazing. He has found his passion for spoken word poetry - wanting to speak from his heart. “It felt so raw, so natural.”