The Prison Post Bonus Episode #6 Featuring Justin Chung, Part 2 Sentenced to 82 Years to Life as a Teenager

Published on: 3rd December, 2020

Justin Chung 

Shame and Regret 

Justin was born in Seoul, South Korea on December 21st 1989, he was sentenced to 82 years to life at the age of 18. Because of a recent Senate bill called “Senate Bill 261”, Justin will be able to go in front of the parole board after 25 years of being in prison. Justin was granted a commutation from California Governor Jerry Brown, which would have allowed him to go in front of the parole board in 2019, although something happened that would send him on a different path. 

Justin grew up an only child, in a somewhat normal household in southern California. Both of his parents were working a lot, his mom had three jobs, his dad was trying to start his own business. He was a latchkey kid and didn’t have very many friends at school, so Justin felt alone most of the time. He felt his parents weren’t as supportive as they could’ve been, retrospectively, Justin sees now that they were doing the best they could at the time, to create a better life for him. 

In school, Justin was looking for any sort of connection, something to cling to and have a sense of belonging. So he started hanging out with what he saw as the popular kids, because they embraced him and started calling him “little cousin”. That’s exactly what Justin was looking for, a group of people to hang around and accept him as one of their own. 

The group, although accepting of Justin, wasn’t a great influence on Justin’s young mind. They smoked and drank at lunch during school and would bare knuckle box each other for fun. For Justin this was just the sense of brotherhood and belonging that he felt like he was missing from home. 

That feeling eventually drove him to join a gang. Where the cohesion was even stronger, he felt even more apart of a group because these guys were all in it with each other. While a member of this gang he would drive around and look for rival gang members, and a lot of the time that meeting would end in a fight. This was just the way of life for Justin, he thought this was just how you grew up and socialized in the world he was in. 

At the age of 16 Justin was living a life that not a lot of teenagers around him were living, going out to bars, getting drunk, smoking marijuana, hooking up with different girls, etc. To Justin, at the time, it was a really good life. He was hanging around people that he saw as family and was having a good time while doing it. 

Justin and the gang he joined were invited to a college party, the goal was to go and have a good time and get high. While they were at the party, one of Justin’s gang members told him that one of the rival gangs showed up at the party. Justin and his friends went out to the car, got their guns and told them to leave. The rival gang was smart enough to leave the party and drive away. For Justin, that wasn’t good enough, these were the enemies, Justin wanted to see them pay. So they hopped in the car and chased after them. Once they were on the freeway, they pulled up next to the car, rolled down their window and shot at them. 

Once in court he realized how bad it actually was, the driver of the vehicle was shot in the chin, and the passenger was shot in the head, and died two days later. The driver showed up to court and had trouble speaking, he was slurring his words and couldn’t talk correctly. That hit Justin pretty hard, he knew he had messed his entire life up and theirs. 

While the trial was happening Justin found out that the bond he had formed with his gang wasn’t as strong as he’d thought. One of the other members, and Justin's best friend testified against him. That’s when it really hit Justin, his entire relationship with the gang was conditional. 

The day that Justin got convicted was the day that he swore off gangs, he swore off his life of violence, and he decided to convert to Christianity. While in prison, Justin did everything he could to not only learn more about the Christian faith, but to spread his story and any advice that he can give to someone that is in the same situation he was. 

His parents didn’t believe that he was guilty, and didn’t understand why their son was in prison, they didn’t take it very well. After 10 years Justin had a conversation with his mother that he had committed the crime, and that he was guilty. During these conversations Justin started to notice that his father wasn’t feeling very well and was acting a little strange. While he was in prison he got a call from his mother and she told him that his father was diagnosed with cancer. In 2014 Justin’s father passed away from cancer. 

In 2013 Senate bill 261 was passed which states that the male brain is not fully formed until the age of 25. Anyone convicted under the age of 25 has a chance to petition for commutation, which would allow Justin to go in front of the parole board. In 2018, Justin petitioned Governor Brown for a commutation and was allowed to go in front of the parole board. In May of 2019, Justin went in front of the parole board and was granted parole, he was going to be let out of prison. 

During the time between Justin being granted his commutation, and going in front of the parole board, there was an election in California, in which a new governor was elected. 118 days after Justin was granted parole, the newly elected governor had now reversed his parole. Justin was devastated, but after a talk with his mother, he knew that if it could happen once, he could do it again...Justin is now studying the bible, getting deeper and deeper into his faith and his redemption. He appeared in front of the parole board again and is committed to his personal transformation. He wants to become a minister when he gets out, and help other people that are in the same situation that he was in. The video podcast with Justin will follow these episodes...#workingtogethertorestorelives #ThePrisonPost #ThePrisonPostPodcast #CROPOrganization

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The Prison Post
Transforming Lives and Healing Communities by Reimagining Reentry
The Prison Post is a podcast interviewing leaders in the criminal justice reform, restorative justice, and social justice movements. In addition, we share the transformational stories of the currently and formerly incarcerated and highlight what CROP Organization is doing by reimagining reentry for returning citizens.
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Richard Mireles

With a Bachelor of Arts in Healthcare Management from California Coast University, Richard is a dynamic public speaker and expert communicator with Advanced Leadership and Communication certifications with the world recognized Toastmasters International. Having spent over 21 years inside of CDCR, Richard made abundant contributions as a cofounder of the Inside Solutions think-tank and lead intern for the CROP Organization’s programs offered within institutions. An inspiring leader and powerful orator with over 35 transformational coaching seminars and workshops, Richard possesses the uncanny ability to capture a room's attention while conveying impactful messages to any audience. He has an advanced certification as an Alcohol and Other Drug counselor (receiving a certificate of recognition from the California State Senate for his contributions to the recovery community) and was the only known incarcerated person to earn the status of associate trainer for John Maxwell’s EQUIP Leadership and its Million Leader Mandate.