Love Is All There Is

I really don’t like asking for help. Looking inward, perhaps it’s because I’m afraid to look weak, incompetent, or needy. I want to be seen as independent, capable, and fierce, and sometimes, I think that if I ask for help, it blemishes that reputation. That kind of thinking is harmful, I know.

So, I’m going to ask for your help. But before I do, I’m going to be vulnerable with you and share the secrets of my heart and of my past to explain why I need your help. Let’s take a trip to 1992.

Do you remember your first love? Was it magical and reckless and passionate and wild and tender and agonizing? They say first love is bittersweet. Sweet because you always remember it well; bitter because when it’s over there won’t be another one like it. It holds innocence, youth, naivete, and a belief in ever after. It’s the first dance, a song’s serenade, a joyride to nowhere, and a night at the beach on the rocks of mile long jetty where the salty splashes of waves sprinkle on the honey scented taste of locked lips and a soft embrace.

My first love was all those things and more. Vu is his name. He was handsome, strong, and had an endearing smile that he wasn’t afraid to flash. He wore his heart on his sleeve, doing too much for others and never enough for himself. In the era of our youth, the vultures of Vietnamese gang culture preyed on guys like him. He was physically strong and emotionally vulnerable to those in need. He was the “do anything for your friends even at the cost of yourself” type. He learned Bro Code. Bravado. Honor. Through a series of unfortunate events and loyalty to a friend, he found himself facing a life sentence in prison. We had broken up by then, but I always had a soft spot for him.

His sentence was 60 years for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. This was 1997. Today, guys are getting 10 years for the same charge. His mother asked the judge if she could hug her son. She was escorted to his holding cell where she held her son and cried.

When he began his 60 year punishment, he wrote me:

Thao, I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I don’t know how I’m going to pay you back. I know there’s a lot of things that came between us. I hope I didn’t cause you too much pain or anything for you to hold any grudges against me. I’m sorry if I did. I wish you well and best of luck in the future. I hope you find happiness wherever you may be. You deserve it. Please take care of yourself.

Love Always,
Vu Tran

P.S. I’m glad our lives crossed each other. Smile for me.

And that was it for me and my first love. An occasional birthday or Christmas card would come to my parents’ house. But no letters. No phone calls. No prison visits. No maintaining of anything. Just some bittersweet memories of a first love that I had to move on from.

His family dealt with the pain of constant disappointments in appealing the case. Vu’s friend confessed to the family, “Yes, Vu is innocent. I’m the one who did it.” But it takes years for appeals and by the time the trial was set, his friend had started a family. That changes anyone’s life.  He couldn’t honor Bro Code anymore. He was forced to choose, so he chose his family and left Vu to lose his last appeal. Vu and his family were devastated. They thought the confession would save him and he would be home soon. Instead, they cried with heartache that their brother, their son, would be locked away for life.

By then, I had made my way to earn a PhD and a career as a college professor. Through the years, I would think of him. I had loved again, even married, and planned to have children. But through my journey of self- growth and awareness, I adjusted my sails and chose a path that was true to myself and not what the world expected of me. It is a path of being childless and being unmarried. Two years ago, I was on sabbatical and started writing a memoir – a Vietnamese gang affiliated young woman who watched her friends fall one by one and then turned her life around to become a college professor who gives her all to those in need.

I remember my decision to leave that life behind. I had witnessed too many people close to me get steered toward sad endings – drugs, suicide, incarceration, even death. And then myself, getting shot in the middle of crossfire during a pool hall brawl. One after another, we were met with misery in the way life turns out when you’re lost and looking for somewhere to belong, for someone to feel like family, and what you find is a lifestyle that’s thrilling and dangerous and wrong but it feels like home so you think it’s safe. And then it catches up to you and now you’re paying the price for the stupid choices you made and can only understand why you made them after a lifetime of reflection.

In the writing process, I conjured the memories of my youth, and then, the deep emotions for Vu that I had buried began to resurface, brewing back to life the simmering feelings of young love. But young love is sometimes stupid love. Back then, I lost him because I was too immature to deal with hurt feelings, so I abruptly left him instead of having the kinds of conversations that could lead to forgiveness and continued nurturing. After a few months, I wanted him back, but my pride got in the way. He had his pride, too, so he didn’t wait for me to come around. When I eventually did, I told him I still loved him, but it was too late. He had already met someone else. But he always gave me signs that he still loved me. Like when he told me she got so upset that he was looking at our old pictures. Like when he asked me to go to his old apartment to retrieve a drawing of us that he had stashed in the a/c vent because he promised her that he would throw it away but he just couldn’t do it so he hid it. Like when he knew he was in trouble when the cops were looking for him so he called me and asked me to meet him because he needed someone to talk to. When I arrived at our rendezvous spot, I watched from my car as he was being arrested. That was the last day I saw him as a free man. It was always just a little too late for us. These are the kinds of moments that make you wonder, “What if? What if things had been different? What if we had made different choices?”

I sometimes wonder if we had stayed together, would he have been out with his friends that fateful night? I reimagined a different story for us. It could have been date night… maybe we were at the movies or having a late night meal at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Or maybe we would have been making out on the beach under the Texas moonlight, and he would not have ended up where he is. It hurt me to think this. I laid up at night crying over these thoughts.

After two decades of not contacting him, I reached out to him in a letter asking for forgiveness. He wrote back:

Your letter was very emotional to me to say the least. I have read it many, many times in the past few days. At the moment I am overwhelmed by the feelings and memories it has brought back of our time together. It made me smile and for some strange reason, it made me feel happy and content with my life.

Why would you think I would ever be upset with you for moving on and living your life? You seem to forget that I was once your friend first. I have always wanted what was best for you with or without me. I am so proud of you and the things you accomplished, through all the adversity it is amazing to me. By reading your letter now, I truly know the true meaning of the saying, “If you love something, set it free.”

And so, in the summer of 2018, a new journey presented itself. It led us to a renewed friendship and an opportunity to explore who we are as people today. We wrote letters every week.

As a professor who volunteers my time to mentor formerly incarcerated students, I’m dialed in to that area of work. When a media outlet had a call for essays from Asian American incarcerated voices, I encouraged him to do it. He didn’t want to, being scared that his 9th grade education meant he wasn’t smart enough. But he did it for me as a gift for my birthday, which is in October, and his is, too. As my gift, I wanted to fly to Texas to visit him.

He hesitated for a bit. I was a bit surprised, thinking that surely, he would want me to visit. He explained:

I do want the opportunity to see you, but at the same time, it scared me. Not that I think it’ll be awkward but because we’ll click and what it’ll do to me. Someone once famous said that love is devastating and for some reason those words always stuck with me. It describes love perfectly, don’t you think? But no matter what the cost is, it’ll be worth the chance to see you.

I really started this journey believing I can just be your friend, but who was I fooling? For some reason, we are connected too strongly. I do hate myself for feeling this way because reality is with every step you take going forward in your life you move further out of my reach. You told me to fight for what I believe in. As you say, we shall see how this all comes to be.

I’m happy to finally get a chance to see you. I can’t wait.

It might devastate me, but I’ll always be fine no matter what. I will continue to love you from afar as I always have for years. I honestly believe that we can still love each other without ever being together again. You might ask, how can I say that? I can say that because I loved you when you broke up with me, I loved you as I sat inside these cold concrete walls, and I love you now while you are in love with someone else.

Yes, I was seeing someone at the time. But it did not have depth. As I processed these emotions that I had for Vu, I started to wonder if I had shut myself off and not been open to being vulnerable with anyone else again. Had the pain of losing him cut so deep that I never wanted to be that deep in again?  Was I protecting myself by always giving someone only a part of myself? I was honest with the guy I was seeing, and we talked about Vu. One night he said to me, “It seems that I have your body, and he has your soul.” I didn’t know how to respond, but I couldn’t refute it. Because the truth was, my feelings for Vu had depth. I was very much looking forward to seeing him again.

Sitting across each other, separated by thick glass and a rusty wired vent through which we talked, it felt like old times. We smiled and laughed. I was so happy at just the mere sight of him. We talked about what we could do to help him make the time go by faster to reach 2027, the year he would see parole. I said, “I can’t wait to kick it with you like good friends do.” To which he flashed that endearing smile and replied, “Oh no, we aren’t going to be friends.”  Then he laughed. I kept saying to him and telling myself, “Only time will tell.” And as time went on, through more letters, more visits, then weekly phone calls that lasted for hours, things blossomed organically. I eventually left the man I was seeing for reasons outside of Vu. It was clear we were not a good fit, and he needed to work on himself.

Over time, Vu and I were bonding – we would write and talk for hours about great works of literature, poetry, philosophical quotes, and lessons learned over the course of our lives. We felt aligned. Could it be that I was falling in love again? I wrestled with this. I recalled a quote he had read to me from C.S. Lewis, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” I began to envision that perhaps it could be. There was a Texas bill in the pipeline that could give him a chance for parole immediately if it passed. It was a bill that would give inmates like him credit for working while incarcerated. Vu always had a job inside, but the Texas system pays him nothing for his labor. That is correct, $0.00 for his labor. This bill would give him “time served” credit for his labor. He had done 21 years, so if he earned time served, he would be at 31.5 years and would be immediately eligible for parole. I turned to my grassroots activism and got his family involved in speaking out to their legislative representatives to say yes to the bill. I wrote a testimonial letter to the Texas Inmates Family Association, and they wanted to include it in their testimony packet that they presented to the Texas House Committee. I poured my heart into it, but it failed to get out of committee. The bill died, and so did our hopes for his earned time credit.

I was heartbroken, devastated. And that’s my fault. I had expectations and when it didn’t come through, I couldn’t manage my emotions. This is something I’m working on and learning to undo. Expectations only lead to disappointment. I have to be grateful for whatever is in the moment without any expectations of the future. But at the time, I was not there yet. And so, I was cut deeply again. And through my selfish need to self-soothe through someone else instead of myself, I went to the place that would bring me comfort – into the arms of another man, an old friend who had been giving me a lot of attention lately. He was a good man. Not broken like the last guy. This guy had his life together, and he was on a journey of self-growth, which is what I needed. Again, I made it about me. And even though he wasn’t a good fit for other reasons, I made myself adapt to what could make us a good fit. In the course of this, Vu never wavered. He was torn, I’m sure, but he told me I had to live my life to the fullest. His voice, one of the sweetest sounds I know, was firm yet gentle, “You live your life the way you need to. And when that day comes that I’m out, I will never make you choose. You have to remember that whatever you do in life, you have to choose your happiness over anyone else’s. But I lost you once already, I’m not making that mistake again. So, I choose to love you and be in your life no matter what the circumstance unless you don’t want me.”

When I told the new guy about Vu, he was very caring. He cared about Vu and Vu’s situation, and he told me the same thing. “Thao, I would never make you choose. You have to do what is best for you. I’ll always support you.”

F*#+……… I was torn. And so, I carried on with both men in my life, buying myself some time to figure out how this would all work out in the end. I didn’t visit Vu for Christmas so I could spend time with the other person, even though he offered to drive me to visit Vu. Vu didn’t want us to spend our time together visiting him. I made it up to Vu by visiting him in January before school started. Then work started and I was a busy bee again. The one thing that was always a thorny issue with men in my life was how much time I spent with them. My new guy regularly had moments of unhappiness because I wasn’t giving him enough time or attention. For instance, in February of this year, I had an opportunity come up for a huge project. He wasn’t initially happy about it because he knew it would take up a lot of my time. That made me feel suffocated. Also, he has children. They’re really great kids. Well behaved, kind, and loving. But my aversion to being a mother made it difficult for me to want to fully engage. And their mother was not someone I felt a good energy with. This guy was giving me his all, but I couldn’t give my all in return. It didn’t look promising for us. And most of all, it wasn’t fair to him. I do love him, but it’s not the right kind of love that he deserves.

At the same time, what was promising was Vu’s writing journey. The essay he wrote for my birthday, “My Name is Chino” published in February. You can read it here. We felt aligned again – both of us presented with great achievements and opportunities at the same time. We celebrated with a marathon phone call that lasted 8.5 hours. It was like being young and together again when we talked on the phone all night into the next morning and neither person wanted to hang up. But the topics are mature now. One of our life goals was a writing project. We wanted to change the world one story at a time. Vu’s essay was featured in a national literature festival. He had also inspired and mentored several guys in his prison unit to write their stories. They were incredible essays. I had my students read the essays, and they learned about prison life from the eyes of prisoners themselves. They said it was one of their most favorite assignments ever in their college experience. These guys wrote me and told me the experience changed their lives, too. Vu and I made a good team. I had begun to see a vision of love in my future unravel before my eyes.

I had been working a lot on my inner self. Loving myself truly. Only then can I love others in an authentic way. I was making great progress, learning that I could not truly be happy with this man who has children. It was hard to let him go, but it was the right thing to do for me. I was ready to be alone and not rely on someone to physically soothe my emotional voids; voids that could only be filled by me loving me.

And then COVID hit. It gave me a lot of time for my own self and my inner reflections and growth. But prison is a scary place during this pandemic, and I was very worried about Vu. His unit was a COVID epicenter, and all prisons went on lock down. No calls, no visits. Only letters. But even that took a long time because the US Postal Service is being screwed with. I’m not here to get political. I’m just stating the facts. Mail is very delayed.

In our brief moments of contact, we felt confident we could make it through this treacherous time. We adjusted, like everyone around us, as the whole world and as our country traverses through this unprecedented event in history. We had hope and knew in our hearts what we needed to do. He needed to survive. I needed to thrive. I wrote about my worry for him in an essay titled, “Prison Life in the Time of Coronavirus.” It was requested for publication, affirming that when I pour my heart into writing, others value the story. That is how I thrive, by living with my heart and taking care of myself. What this COVID quarantine has done is help me realize that I can be alone. I don’t need to be in search of love because love is always there. It has always been there. It is within me. I just never looked there. I have thoroughly gained a deep perspective of love from this time alone. And having Vu in my life is not something I need. It’s something I want.

Finally, I want someone. Looking back, I was with men for what I thought I needed. A good husband to provide me stability, a family, and a place in the norms of society for acceptance. Vu doesn’t fit any of those. He’s an inmate in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. But he is my family because he makes me feel like home. I don’t need acceptance from anyone because I accept myself, and I accept him just as he is. I lost him once to our break-up. I lost him a second time to incarceration. I don’t want to lose him again. Third time is the charm, they say. 

COVID helped clarify the vision of my life. I can just be me. Help others in need. Share love and joy and happiness. Stand up and speak out for the rights and dignity of others. Teach others not what to think but how to think. I can see myself living this way until my last breath on Earth. Vu will be out someday, and he’ll be by my side.

And just as the shining light of love had paved our way towards freedom, potential, and possibilities, the door of our future slammed shut. It is so dark, my friends. So very dark. And I am drowning in an abyss of tears and heartache.

On July 21, a prison hospital doctor called and gave me the worst news of my life and surely, of his. Vu has stage IV pancreatic cancer. When the call ended, I slumped to the ground and cried with the feeling of a gaping hole in my heart, like someone was taking away the very essence of me, ripping at my spirit and tearing me down, turning me into a little girl lying on the floor with a crushed soul. I was back in those dismal places where I had lost him before and ached, but this anguish is different. We are not young and foolish anymore. We have grown into loving, caring, understanding, and wholesome people. When you see someone young die, you think it’s sad because they had so much potential. We are not young, but we have so much potential.

For days, I stayed in this sorrowful place, paralyzed by disbelief, numbed by the shock, and drained of tears. To make matters worse, he is not able to make phone calls. And because of COVID, his family cannot visit. He is in a prison hospital with no way to connect to any of us as he faces the reality of less than a year to live. When his mother learned of the news, she collapsed, and when she came to, she choked on her tears. His mother, once again, crying for her son, but this time, not able to hold him. 

I have never asked why. I don’t care why. I just know what is. I grappled with this while stuck in the quicksand of anguish. But in my love for him, I felt like I could not stay here. I am not the one with a terminal illness. This man who I love so much and cherish as a best friend is alone. I have to turn my pain into action on behalf of this man for whatever is left of his time on Earth.

Having spent days in paralysis, I finally decided to move. I am prepared to move mountains for Vu. I spent the last two weeks researching medical information on the illness and legal options that might be available to him. Things don’t look good, but there’s always a way to find a glimmer of hope. That’s who I am, an eternal optimist looking for ways to find love and support and encouragement in the bleakest of times.

This is why I need your help. His family and I found an option for a medical furlough through a process called writ of habeas corpus based on his medical condition. It’s rarely used because it’s rarely granted. But we have a team of attorneys who specialize in this, and they think we have a chance. I go by my gut but also by the facts. Based on both, I believe there’s a chance, too. I’m hoping the judge will have compassion for a man who is dying from an aggressive cancer and undergoing chemotherapy in prison also makes him very at risk if he contracts COVID-19. His unit is a documented epicenter of the virus. It is our argument for a medical furlough.

This medical request through legal compassion will cost $40,000 to prepare and file the writ. There are additional costs of investigators, transcripts, scientific tests, travel for the attorneys, and an expert witness who specializes in pancreatic cancer to review his file and affirm the state of his condition. I do not want him to die, but the truth is this cancer is a killer. There is no way out of this prognosis. I accept that. But we have to try this legal writ because I do not want him to die alone in prison. Until there is no way left, I cannot accept it just yet.

This will probably be my last act of Love for him. We are going up against a system that has torn his life apart, torn his family’s hearts apart, and torn us down to the seam, but I am hanging on to even the last single thread because it is what I have to do for someone I love.

Will you help me in this journey? Will you be part of this act of Love for a man who has shown me what Love truly is? A man who has taught me how to love and accept myself. A man who has been beaten by the system but has never let his beautiful spirit succumb to its horror. A man who has overcome his own inner darkness to provide light for others.

With the support and blessing of the family, I have signed the legal services agreement with the attorneys. The process will take 90-120 days, hopefully. If we can bring him home, even for a few months, so he can live out his days with his loved ones instead of dying in prison, that would be a priceless gift. And if it doesn’t get approved, if the judge denies the request, then I will accept that outcome. If that is the eventual outcome, at least this attempt provides a him a sense of dignity and humanity. An inmate facing an aggressive terminal illness should not have to feel alone and unsupported. I hope you’ll be able to support him. You can support in these ways:

His full name is Hoang Vu Tran. Keep him in your thoughts, prayers, and meditations. Positive and healing energies are a powerful collective force when we truly express them.

If you would like to write him messages of compassion, of love, of care, of goodwill, please leave it in the comments and we’ll pass them on to him.

Support us financially for his legal and medical journey. You can donate through:

Venmo @Love4HVT

Zelle (if you get an unregistered message, try my cell 760-580-5904, thank you 🙏)

GoFundMe here

If you would like to keep up with our journey, please subscribe to the blog. Click the “Follow+” at the bottom right corner of this page. I’ll be sharing updates here as we go alongside Vu in his legal and medical journey.

Any funds left after he is gone will be donated to

On behalf of his family, I thank you for reading. I thank you for caring. I thank you for any support you can provide. Most of all, I thank you for loving. Love is all there is and all we can hope for when we close our eyes and say good-bye. My wish for him is to feel in his heart that he is loved. Because that is what he has done for me. In his essay, he writes about leaving prison someday, “To be honest, anywhere is better than to live without hope and the feel of sunshine on my face.” And to that, I’ll end with a quote because Vu loves famous quotes, “To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides” – D. Viscott.

33 thoughts on “Love Is All There Is”

  1. Oh my gosh Thao, I am bawling like a baby here!!! I felt every single word you wrote and traveled the emotional Rollercoaster with you as I remembered my first love and so many similarities!! I have followed you on the journey and read every word you have wrote along the way and Vu’s essay as well as, his friends! I have a friend in a similar situation and this just absolutely breaks my heart! I want you to know you’re one of the greatest people I have ever met and I have no doubt that Vu is just as wonderful. I will keep you all in my thoughts, prayers and meditations! I love you Thao!! Thank you for all that you are and showing us what unwavering loyalty, love, compassion, belief and hope look like! Let’s bring Vu home with a compassionate release!!!


  2. Dear Vu,
    Days turn into years, I’m always thinking about you. Just know you are always in my heart. I hope God allows me to see you again, even if it means for just a moment. Stay strong and keep fighting. I love you Vu.
    -Mary Thao Tran-Chobuathong


  3. Dear Vu,
    Please know that your story has touched so many of us and that we are praying for you. I admire you for sharing your walk in life with others, you are a true artist. Although we have never met, know that I and others are sending you strength and support from afar.

    Wendy Stewart


  4. Dear Hoang Vu Tran,
    I read the deeply powerful story by Thao and I send you greetings from Los Angeles. I met Thao at a film festival in Boston and in that short time sensed a fierceness in her that is special. No doubt this is what you already know and been fortunate to experience. I confess, I don’t know her very well but the universe has made this stranger (me) respond to her call. I am not sure why but maybe it is because it comes from the heart, maybe it comes from love and maybe it comes from truth. These things move me. So here I am. I send you wishes for freedom from prison. I send you peace and comfort from the cancer. I send you much love. I wish for this miracle to happen. Vu and Thao woven together by destiny.


  5. Dear Vu & Thao,
    First of all, I want to send you my deep thank you and appreciation for sharing this truly magnificent story. I have never commented on a stories before as I have read many articles in my lifetime. But Thao, your storytelling skills are phenomenal, as others it moved me into commenting . But it is the depth and soul that are poured into the story is one of the best epic love story I have ever read especially for our Vietnamese culture as we do not share our emotions well. Vu and Thao, I will pray for you all continuing preserving during this unimaginable time. I pray to you Vu that you may not be in agony, I pray that you will smile when you read these comments that you have a lot of unknown people rooting for Thao and you. I pray for your mom and the rest of your family to be able to be with you. I admired you all grit in seeing this until the end. I thoroughly enjoy your well written story, the depth and soul in your honesty really shines in the story. I pray to the universe that you, Vu, will be united at last with Thao physically in this lifetime. May both of your souls find each other in the next lifetime and forever more too! God bless you, Vu & Thao


  6. Dear Vu,
    It’s confronting to see, despite us sharing the same last name, how our lives have been led along different paths. I cannot begin to imagine the ordeal and hardship you have faced, but I immensely admire your perseverance through it all. Undoubtedly you have seen dark days, but as the saying goes there is inevitably light at the end of every tunnel and I am sure, not matter what, you will find it. You matter. You matter greatly. The fact that your story has reached the other side of the planet (coming to you from Sydney) is a testament to how much you mean to your friends and family. I lost my mother to lung cancer in 2019 and I have many regrets as we all do. But as time goes on I am learning to cherish and appreciate the years of happiness and memories I was lucky to have whilst appreciating and anticipating what I may become in the future. I sincerely hope you will share the same joy with your friends and family. Your story has touched and inspired me to effect change in my own community as I plan to begin volunteering with the Justice Action organisation in Sydney whose purpose is to provide inmates with legal support and representation. I hope this message gets to you so you can see your amazing impact on the world in the hopes to


  7. Dear Vu and Thao,

    My heart is flooded with emotion after reading Thao’s impassioned plea and Vu’s poignant essay, but I am finding words are failing me as I make this feeble attempt to express them here.

    It is my deep and sincere hope that the judge’s heart will be filled with compassion and rule mercifully in your case, and that you and your family can reunite and spend some precious time making up for lost years together, and be there by your side with you, sending you off with all their love, as you draw your last breath.

    If fate should see fit to have the cards fall differently, you can at very least be certain that you are indeed surrounded and embraced by those who love you with heart-achingly beautiful love, and that on its own is a beautiful gift in this crazy, difficult world.

    And surrounding you and these beautiful people is a much (much!!) larger circle of those whose heart you have touched (deeply), who are sending all their love and support and prayers and good vibes to you from near and far.

    All my best wishes, and fervent prayers, from a longtime friend of your sister J


  8. My prayers go out to Vu and his family. I too, know the insurmountable struggles of seeking mercy and relief from the powers that be. I served 20 years 2 months and 7 days for crimes I committed as a young person. There was absolutely nothing I could ever do to rectify the damages I did, despite my endless prayers to God to erase my mistakes. The power of love helped my loved ones and I endure and overcome all of prison’s hardships. I eternally hope that love would heal all the people I wronged. Hope is all we have in this life that illuminates a better tomorrow, and love is the force that enables us to do the impossible. Keep praying and doing everything one can do to try to make things better, and the rest is all up to God and his destiny for each of us. God bless all those involved in this testimony.


  9. Dear Vu,

    I am a good friend of Thao’s. I have known her since the fifth grade. I’ve read all her stories. The most touching to my heart is the one that touches hers the most, you. I do regret not getting an opportunity to meet you, in person, back then.

    I have only words of encouragements to offer. Be brave, be strong, dont ever give up on hope. A strong mental health directly affects physical health. People do get through pancreatic cancer and so can you. More importantly, i pray for your leave from prison.

    Just remember, having live to have real love from your family and Thao….is something to hold on to. Know you are loved. Please take care. Prayers coming your way.


  10. Prayers to you, Vu, Thao and your family. May God heal you and restore your life to fulfill his purpose. Peace to you during this time.


  11. Dear Vu,

    Thao’s writing about you was powerful, evocative, and moving. Your writing was beautiful, emotional, and heartbreaking. Life is just not f-ing fair. One small change, one small break and I believe you would have been a published author–helping to motivate and encourage future generations. Yes, you made a mistake. And I appreciate that you take full responsibility for that. But I think the grossly unfair sentence was because of your race and your family’s socioeconomic status. I know this injustice is rampant in our “justice” system, and I despise that about our country.
    The good news: You have a powerful, intelligent, driven, motivated, loving friend who will do anything to get you the freedom you deserve. She has made us love you also.
    Along with my donation, I am sending you healing thoughts and visions of freedom. Do not give up on either.


  12. Dear Vu,

    I read your essay in AAWW when it was published, & am so grateful to have heard your story told by Thao. Your words hold so much earnest power—as powerless as incarceration & illness may have rendered you, know that you and your words still hold so much power. Am sending all my love your way. Like Ruth Wilson Gilmore says, where life is precious, life is precious. Wishing you all the best.


  13. Dear Vu,

    Our thoughts and prayers to you, Thao and your family. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words to friends and strangers. Even in the bleakest hours, hope, courage, strength and love exist: in your own words and life; in Thao’s own words and life; and in your moments together and apart. Stay faithful and strong.

    All our best,
    Ngoc and Roy


  14. Hi Vu, it’s Danny (Dung), I used to live with my Aunt on Gibraltar Circle street and her house was just a couple houses next to your parents house.

    We ve lost touch and I’ve never make any effort to go visit you. I am sorry bro.

    I got the link from my cuz. U know him.

    Anyway, I’d like to see you if possible. Let me know.



  15. As a 1st generation Vietnamese American born and raised in Houston, I felt your story deeply.
    When I see Vu, I see myself….and realize that one decision or unlucky event, and that could have been me.
    Keep your head up, and I hope you both can reunite soon.
    Along with my donation, Im sending prayers and love. 🙏

    P.S. please consider sharing this story in the “Asian Hustle Network” Facebook group. They have a network of 50,000 people, some who would undoubtedly donate to this cause.


  16. Dear Vu,
    The writing by you and Thao are both so powerful, sincere, and moving. The love, friendship, and bonding that you have with each other is so precious. Please stay strong! I’m sending healing thoughts and prayers your way along with the donation.
    ““You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

    All the best,


  17. Dear Mr. Vu, you as well as Ms. Thao’s writings have brought new emotions and feelings into my life. This might sound dramatic, but my chest feels lighter, as does my body. Your writings have made a huge impact on my life as well as others who have read, seen, and felt your stories and writings. Thank you for being the person that Ms. Thao says that you are. Thank you for being a light in her life, as well as other inmates, and everyone’s lives who have read your words. You are an amazing human being. You are loved and cherished by family as well as strangers nationally and maybe even globally. I hope and pray that you get out of prison and get to live a life that would make you happy and content. You’ve held on and thrived even under the circumstances you’ve been put under for so long. Please hold on for just a little longer so we can see that you are out of the system and in a relaxing place somewhere far away from there with your family and loved ones. I wish you a happy and content life, full of love and warmth.

    With love,


  18. Dear Thao & Vu,

    Your story has touched me on a personal level. I resonated with this story as I’ve never forgotten my first love. We found each other the second time but it did not last for him. Although I did not get the happy ending for myself, I can only wish for you two to be reunited again in person and for Vu to receive the treatment he needs. I want to put my faith and the sorrows we’ve experienced into manifesting a happiness for the two of you. I am hoping from the bottom of my heart that Vu receives furlough and can put a rest of this painful torment of being apart from his family and Thao and one day see justice and live cancer-free.

    Best wishes,


  19. It is the midnight and I am staying all night to read your story, Vu and Thao! Your first love is beautiful and pure! I wish you can go home and see people you love and love you, Vu! Thank you for your story! I am just crying like a baby because of your story. Please God give you strength and peace!


  20. My heart hurts so bad reading your story. I’m praying for both of you. “There is a light at the end of every tunnel. Some tunnel just happen to be longer than others”
    Stay strong.


  21. Vu and Thao,

    Based off of the overwhelming emotional responses you have received thus far, it is easy to see how your story reflects with so many other people, and couples. Like you, some who consider others as soulmates. Your story was shared to me by someone who despite the current circumstances and status quo, means more to me than I can ever try to explain. Your experiences and testimony have provided me with strength where none could be found. Life, when death was knocking on my door. Hope, when all there existed was despair. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience what you have with each other in their lifetime. Some pass away without ever experiencing it, while others walk away from it and live their lives at times questioning as you did, what if?

    I’m sorry to hear of Vu’s current condition. But let me be a beacon of hope for you. Though I lost someone who was a rock in my life due to stage IV cancer, I also know a close friend who beat stage IV cancer and is living her life to the fullest. There is hope! Never give up. Every day is a challenge. But the next day comes and confirms that you beat the odds of yesterday’s struggles.

    My prayers are with you both. You have my support in any way that I can possibly give it. Even though I’ve never met either of you. But I feel you. And that’s enough for me. I hope this legal battle you’re trying to put together is heard by compassionate ears and approved by an open heart. Stay strong. And since Vu enjoys quotes, here’s one for you: some of the greatest battles will be fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration.



  22. Too early to be crying this hard, dearest Thảo!💕 Yes, it’s true,, when you pour your heart and soul into your Writing, your readers can feel your pain and maybe even made them reflect upon their life and their first love too. I did…I started thinking about my first love and all the memories came rushing back. I’ll be sending endless good vibes to the universe to ask for another chance for your Vu, so that he can come home and spend the last bit of his life with his family ..and you!😘🌻 even in the darkest of time, there’s always a glimpse of sunlight and hope…stay positive, let’s fight, fight hard today , and even harder tomorrow and many more days to come! We can do it…you can do it…love shall conquer all!😘😘😘🎉 sending you love, sending you money…hehe…bc even though money is not everything, but everything needs money 😘😘🥰 Let’s do this! Let’s bring Vu Home!💕🌈🌻


  23. I am literally speechless after reading this, and I myself am a writer so it is honestly rare to feel like I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what else I can lend besides my resources and spirit for what seems to be the last stretch of this journey for both of you. I hope with all of my heart that Vu can spend the rest of his time with people he loves before he leaves.


  24. Dear Vu & Thao,
    Thank you for sharing a beautiful love story. It touched my heart deeply . I cried . I will keep you in my prayers . It is my honor to help you and pray for your wish to come true. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻


  25. To Vu and Thao, your story has touched me deeply. It has reminded me of the true injustices occurring everyday in our world and so, this story has reinforced the mantra in which we should appreciate the present more. I wish I could do more to help, however this story has made me more motivated towards achieving my future goal as a doctor to help worthy causes such as yours. I’m in med school right now and your story will serve to be my light when things get dark and tough. Thank you both.


  26. Dear Anh Vu,

    Your story by Chi Thao had made my sister and I self reflect on our lives. Life is just so short and you never know where life takes you. And your love story with Chi Thao made me think of my first love. The good old days when the feeling of love puts my stomach in knots every time I looked at him. I haven’t had that feeling for so long.
    I hope that you will continue to stay strong so that one day you will you will get to see your loved ones again. We are all rooting for you Anh ❤️ I apologize that I can’t do much to help other then to simply donate to help Chi Thao fight for your cause. But I’ve been thinking of your story since I read about it two days ago.

    I wish you happiness, peace, and health. Miracles do happen Anh and I hope you will be blessed with a miracle as you are truly deserving of one. After reading your story I began googling stories of hope of people who have your health condition. I just read a story of a women who is still living 20 years after she was diagnosed with the same condition as you. I believe in miracles and I hope you do too 🙂

    I apologize if my writing is terrible as I am not a good writer, despite being born and raised in Canada.

    Take care.

    Warmest Regards,



  27. God bless your beautiful open heart Thao. What a testament to Vu’s life and your journey together. I am praying for Vu and for you and for your journey from here wherever it takes you both. Sending so much love and many prayers.


  28. Dear Thao & Vu:
    Thanks for sharing your stories, it has touched me and I’m sure many others around the world. May God bless you both. Keeping Vu in my prayers, and may God bless him with healing, freedom and allow him to spend time with his family at home on his last days. Stay strong! ❤️


  29. I thank you for that heart felt letter. Vu’s not only a friend but a brother to me. I’m sadden to hear of his situation. Keeping you guys in my heart and prayers. Remember with God, the impossible is possible.

    Long Nguyen


  30. Dear Vu,

    Beautiful souls connect with each other and forever they stay together. You always had Thao, and you will always have each other. We have never met, yet you are part of my life through the beautiful words that I’ve read from you and from Thao.

    Stay in peace knowing that you are loved,


  31. Wow! Thank you so much Dr Thao. You walked me through many stages of emotions. You are living your life with the fullest, the fullest of love. I love your quote “I had been working a lot on my inner self. Loving myself truly. Only then can I love others in an authentic way.” I will pray for him HVT, will say his name when I mediate. I hope you and your team will win this time.


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