by Elizabeth Turnbull
Close to three decades after Oloth Insyxiengmay was incarcerated as a teenager, he has established himself as a youth advocate, while also fighting against the threat of his own deportation.
On Friday, Sept. 10, Insyxiengmay went in front of the Washington State Clemency and Pardons Board to petition for a pardon of his criminal convictions in order to diminish the risk of an order of deportation. Ultimately, the board voted against recommending that Gov. Jay Inslee pardon Insyxiengmay.
Prior to Friday’s hearing, over 60 individuals wrote letters in support of Insyxiengmay and over 350 people, including members of the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, joined a Zoom call on Thursday, Sept. 9, to advocate for his pardon.
Due to incarceration at the age of 15, Insyxiengmay was unable to obtain citizenship along with his other siblings as a young person and incurred an order of deportation due to his crimes. If deported, he would be sent to Laos, a country he does not remember.
In 1995, Insyxiengmay was sentenced to over 75 years in prison after he was convicted of two counts of murder in the first degree for his involvement in the shooting of two teenagers, Robert Forrest and Michael Welden. The teenagers had egged a house that Insyxiengmay and other members of the gang, the Original Loko Boyz, were affiliated with in Spanaway, Washington.
Insyxiengmay’s incarceration ultimately ended 23 years later after the State’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board (ISRB) decided upon his release.
During his incarceration, he helped create the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG) at Clallam Bay Corrections Center (CBCC). Following his release, he went on to study at the University of Washington and is now an influential local activist through his work with No New Youth Jail efforts and his fight against Washington State’s three-strikes law.
At Friday’s hearing, Insyxiengmay said that he was requesting a pardon not to wipe away his past but to ensure he can build on his current work and future.
“I want to emphasize that I’m not here to petition this board for a pardon to run away or hide from my past but to hopefully show how we as a society can hopefully practice forgiveness and restoration …” Insyxiengmay said. “I’ve dedicated my life to making transformations within myself and changes within my community so the same mistakes I made as a child — that had such a profound impact on many — would not occur again …”
But family members of the two teenagers who were shot and killed 27 years ago disagreed.
“The impact of my brother’s death has had a significant impact on both my parents, notably my mother, who is also an immigrant, who also came to this country not knowing the language, not knowing the American culture, but she survived,” Kathleen Forrest, the sister of Robert Forrest, said. “As Mr. [Insyxiengmay] probably knows, in the Asian culture, children are the most important thing. My brother was her life.”
Forrest went on to describe why she was not in support of Insyxiengmay’s pardon.
“Granting the pardon, I believe, erases everything that happened, and as a result it erases all of our pain and suffering for the past 27 years,” said Forrest. “[Insyxiengmay] has moved on, and we have moved on, but what we do not want is a complete erasing of the pain that we have endured … the right decision is to deny the petition for pardon.”
Some board members disputed whether Insyxiengmay was in direct threat of deportation and if a pardon would completely eliminate this threat. Ultimately, the board voted three to one, recommending that the governor deny the petition for Insyxiengmay’s pardon.
Following the trial and in an interview with the Emerald, Insyxiengmay expressed remorse for his role in the shootings, which he maintains he did not commit. At the same time he said that he felt that the verdict showed a disregard for immigrants and a lack of understanding for what life is like under an impending deportation, which has loomed over Insyxiengmay as a general threat since his conviction.
“It’s anti-refugee, anti-immigrant sentiments,” Insyxiengmay said. “Unless you are the one sitting with the order of deportation, then you’ll never feel what families and other individuals that are dealing with that are going through.”
Insyxiengmay emphasized that he has already served his time, and his main concern was for his ability to build his future.
“I think forward, thinking about … maybe starting a family, buying a home, and all the other stuff,” Insyxiengmay said “But how could you possibly do that when, on any given day, if your ICE officer happens to get a travel document for you, they can be like ‘Oh yeah, we’re coming to get Oloth.’”
At this point in time it is uncertain when the governor will make the final decision whether or not to pardon Insyxiengmay.
Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.
📸 Featured Image: Oloth Insyxiengmay, incarcerated at the age of 15, helped create the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Awareness Group (APICAG) at Clallam Bay Corrections Center. (Photo: Alex Garland)
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