Life after prison: Vietnamese man builds a home years after being cleared of murder

By Bao Ha, Pham Du   May 28, 2017 | 07:00 am GMT+7
Life after prison: Vietnamese man builds a home years after being cleared of murder
Nguyen Thanh Chan sells pickles at a food shop he opens in front of his new house. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du

He spent 10 years in jail while his family struggled with poverty and public contempt.

Four years after being cleared of murder and escaping death row, Nguyen Thanh Chan now accepts a life of sharing meals with his children and helping his wife sell pickles.

Life looks alright, but the family say what they lost is irreplaceable.

The northern man, now 56, was released in late 2013 after serving 10 years in prison on wrongful murder charges. His wife’s investigation reportedly forced the real murderer to turn himself in. The Supreme Court officially cleared his name in January 2014.

He received VND7.1 billion ($360,000) in compensation from the court in 2015. The family had demanded VND10 billion for the damages incurred during the time he spent in jail, including his three children quitting school and his wife developing psychological problems during her fight for justice.

“There are losses that you can never recover. No compensation is enough,” Chan said.

The first thing he and his wife did with the money was to return more than VND100 million to a person who helped them during those difficult years.

They also spent more than VND1 billion clearing debts. His wife Nguyen Thi Chien said she had to borrow a lot of money during those years, including a bank loan and remortgaging their house.

Now they have built a three-story house where they live together with their parents, children and grandchildren. He also gave some of the money to his children for them to start their own business.

They have put the remaining VND2 billion into a savings account to use as a retirement fund. Chan is too weak and old to work now. He suffers from a herniated disc which requires frequent trips to the hospital. He's scared surgery could lead to paralysis so he's receiving acupuncture to treat it.

He and his wife now live off the earnings from their small food shop, where they sell pickles and other goods.

“If my husband hadn’t gone to jail, we would have been better off,” Chien said.

She said her family was one of the richest families in a rural commune of Bac Giang Province.

He was in his 30s, a young hard-working man who ran a successful transport business. They also offered a rice-milling service, owned a large herd of pigs and sold rice wine. He could make VND300,000 a day, which is double Vietnam’s current average income.

Then everything collapsed when Chan was accused of killing a local woman.

Chien said she and the children were subjected to harsh treatment from their neighbors every day, and were at risk of losing their house to pay for court proceedings.

“People from the court came many times. One time I was so angry I told them that I had broken up with him and wanted nothing to do with him anymore,” said the tearful woman.

Their daughter was unable to hold down a normal relationship and was so tired of public contempt that she signed up for overseas labor.

Chan himself has other memories. He remembers the day he was freed from prison.

“I thought it was a dream. I even naively asked the guards: When will you arrest me again?”

At least he can laugh about it now.