Way Quoe Long is your typical proud father. He likes to brag about his two twin sons, saying that they’re basically larger versions of himself. He chalks that up to nutrition: they ate well and became big and strong, he says.
But unfortunately, they’ve grown up without him, and he’s had to watch them mature from his prison cell at Victorville FCI in California.
"I talk to them sometimes," he told Civilized during a fifteen minute phone call, "but I know it's not a problem for the family. I'm the one that has to live with it. They've been through a lot. I consider most of the stress on them to be growing up without a father."
Decades ago, he was charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, continuing a criminal enterprise, and using or carrying a firearm during or related to a drug trafficking crime in May 1998.
Long has been in prison for 22 years for a nonviolent, marijuana-only offense. If he serves his full sentence, he won’t be out for 28 more years. It’s a de facto life sentence for the 55-year-old.
Long adamantly maintains that he is innocent. Sure, he smoked pot, and sure, he dealt a little from time to time, but he’d been out of the game for years when he was charged, and there was never any weaponry involved, he said.
He was born in Laos, where he says that marijuana crops are as common as fields of grass here. It wasn’t really considered much of a drug, or something that was dangerous.
He moved to California in the 1970s, hoping to make a living in music. From there, he became involved with the small, tight-knit Asian community in Fresno.
"Every time somebody got busted, they said they worked with me, or were somehow involved with me," he recalled. "So throughout the years, when somebody got busted, they kind of used me as a get-out-of-jail free card."
He was arrested in 1996, six years after the birth of his sons. His trial took place over 16 days, and was largely based on the testimony of other small-time dealers trying to reduce their own sentences by ratting on him, according to Long. There was very little, if any, physical evidence presented at his case.
"They just make up whatever, you know?" he said. "It's kind of like throwing paint on the wall, some's going to stick."
Long hoped that the lack of evidence would mean that he would be safe, but that’s not how it went down.
"It’s hard to find good musicians"
Long has spent his time in prison doing whatever he can to stay busy. He spends a lot of time in the law library, helping others with their cases and looking up what he can to help his own appeals.
He also continues to play music, sometimes jamming with other inmates, but mostly just playing by himself.
"It's hard to find good musicians in a penitentiary," he said. "You get a good groove and they stay for five to ten years, you know? People go in and out like a bus station."
He isn’t sure what he’ll do if he gets out - if the countless appeals are successful. But he hopes to go back to Laos.
"It's wide open there, there's a lot of opportunity over there," he said. "I know a few people who went back home, and they've done well, they're kind of like the movers and shakers these days."