Former gang member opens up about turning his life around after surviving a Texas prison

AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

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Today, Huynh “Chino’’ Ly is a successful tattoo artist working in Melbourne, Australia.

However, from what he described in a recent interview, he went through some pretty dark times before arriving to his current sunny life.

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Ly moved to Texas from Australia as a child with his mother, where he went down a bad and violent road, eventually slicing another person across the chest with a sword in an argument over a girl in 2007, according to the Herald Sun.

“We just wanted to scare him,’’ Ly said in an interview. “But it spiraled out of control very quickly. I felt the sword cut right through him.’’

Ly nearly killed his opponent, and records show he received a jail sentence for the crime.

He would spend the next six years in the Texas prison system – an experience he said which forged him into a profoundly different person.

Rather than shedding his gang affiliation in prison, the opposite happened; aligning himself with a prison gang became a matter of survival, and Ly said he joined a particularly notorious one known as Tango Blast after fending off an attack from two other gang members.

“They sold me this dream that we were there to take care of each other…” Ly said of the gang. “But then you started to see more of the darker side and you realized people were just trying to use you.’’

Ly said he also first discovered tattooing in prison, using a handmade tattoo gun to practice on himself, and eventually inking up other inmates.

Tattooing isn’t allowed inside prison, a violation Ly said he is all too familiar with, spending time in solitary for his work.

“It almost sent me crazy,’’ he said. “I felt like I was going downhill fast and ended up on meds and had depression.’’

Gradually, Ly said he started to take care of himself and focusing on self improvement. He ate better, exercised regularly and said he took a hard look at how he ended up in jail in the first place.

After five years, records show he received parole.

Upon release, Ly flew back to Australia, where he said his father helped him reacclimatize to the world beyond bars and land a job as a tattoo artist at Melbourne’s Full Moon Tattoo studio.

In addition to his work, he said he is focused on helping people avoid gang life:

“I’ve made some bad decisions. Now I’m ready to make some better ones.’’

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