Chanthon Bun

After surviving the trauma of the Cambodian genocide, Bun was unjustly sentenced to 50 years in San Quentin State Prison for his role as a lookout during a robbery. After 23 years, Bun reentered society, yet still faces the threat of deportation.

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Photo by SF Chronicle

Bun was born during the Cambodian genocide and grew up in a Thai refugee camp.

Most of his childhood was filled with struggle. He remembers being hungry all the time and seeing guards hurt people when they stole food to feed their family.

His family immigrated to Forth Worth, Texas in the 1980’s. After a year, they moved again to Los Angeles to reunite with other family members.

In Los Angeles, Bun and his family faced racially-motivated violence. He saw his family members robbed and beat up. In response, his community gravitated towards each other, and the gang lifestyle, for protection.

When Bun was 18, he was arrested for his role as a lookout during a robbery.

Despite it being his first offense, he was given an unjust 50 year sentence.

Bun saw the injustice in the criminal legal system and gave up hope. 

While Bun was in solitary confinement, his grandfather passed away.

That moment motivated him to change his life. He switched his mindset from just surviving in prison to thriving and doing the best he could to better himself.

During this journey, California passed the Juvenile Law, giving people like Bun a second chance.

Finally, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

On February 8, 2020, Bun appeared before the parole board. Due to his effort to improve his life while in prison, they granted him parole.

However, ICE said that they were going to detain him as soon as he left the prison and begin deportation proceedings to Cambodia.

Days before his parole date, Bun caught COVID during an outbreak at San Quentin State Prison — one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the United States.

Thankfully, he was released on his parole date and brought back to full health with the help of his community.

Photo by SF Chronicle

Bun now works with Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (ALC) and the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants (CERI) in the New Light program, where he does wellness check-ups with folks that have been deported.

Despite building a thriving life and being an active community member, he still faces the threat of deportation every day.