Chan Venh (John) Lam

Job title: 
Class of 2024
2024 John Gardner Fellowship
2023 Democracy Camp in DC Student Director
2022 Democracy Camp in DC

Chan Venh (John) Lam, a first-generation Chinese-America from Sacramento, California, has embarked on a remarkable journey of resilience and advocacy. After spending 16 years incarcerated, Chan's path took a transformative turn when his sentence was commuted by Governor Brown in 2018, igniting a passion for social justice that continues to drive his advocacy efforts today.

Throughout his time behind bars, he played a pivotal role in shaping legislative change, collaborating with Human Rights Watch and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition to advocate for juvenile justice reform. He led discussions at San Quentin State Prison with Senator Loni Hancock, mobilized inmates' families to call lawmakers and helped get out the vote by dispersing information within the prison. His efforts helped secure the passage of groundbreaking state legislation that granted juvenile offenders greater opportunities for parole and rehabilitation. 

While in prison, Chan completed six Associate Degrees: American Studies, Arts and Humanities, Business, Social and Behavioral Science, Sociology, and Science and Mathematics. After getting out of prison, Chan completed the Justice Through Code Certificate Program at University of Columbia, where he received instruction in Python, HTML, CSS, and Javascript and participated in intensive job training sessions.

In Fall 2022, Chan enrolled at UC Berkeley and worked on applying what he was learning in his political science and public policy classes to the issue of juvenile justice. At the Goldman School of Public Policy’s Possibility Lab, Chan served as an Undergraduate Research Fellow, supporting initiatives to empower incarcerated individuals to vote. He also consulted with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office's Safety and Justice Initiative and the San Francisco District Attorney’s office on how to improve the use of alternative sentencing options, increase housing for individuals returning home from prison, and move toward decarceration in general.

During his time at UC Berkeley, Chan has also distinguished himself as a Washington D.C. Democracy Camp Student Director, Underground Scholars Policy Fellow, and COP 27 UC Berkeley Delegate to Egypt. As a Democracy Camp Student Director, Chan worked with the leaders of the Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service to guide a group of undergraduates on a week-long public service field trip to Washington D.C. As an Underground Scholars Policy Fellow, Chan was part of a team helping to secure $4,000,000 of funding to support the work of formerly incarcerated students throughout California, in addition to helping pass Senate Bill 990, a law that allows parolees to transfer their parole to a place where they have a better job or education opportunities.

For his commitment to public service, Chan has been awarded the Cal Alumni Association Leadership Award, Peter E. Haas Public Service Leaders Award, the Achievement Award, the Marco Antonio Firebaugh Scholarship. The UC Berkeley Division of Equity and Inclusion selected John to serve on the Asian American and Pacific Islander Standing Committee. For his scholarly pursuits, Chan was named a Miller Scholar and was selected to be a prestigious Haas Scholar, where he received funding to support his research on the leadership barriers encountered by formerly incarcerated individuals. He also received the Mt. Tamalpais 10,000 degree Scholarship in 2022-2023 and 2023-2024.

Outside of UC Berkeley, Chan works as a Special Projects Assistant at the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, where he leads a reentry program that provides community based projects for prisoners to work on while learning professional skills and networking with community based organizations. Additionally, his tenure as an Addiction Counselor at Options Recovery Services showcases his dedication to supporting individuals battling addiction through personalized treatment plans and therapy sessions. Chan also remains deeply rooted in his community, engaging in initiatives that uplift underprivileged high school students through the Asian Pacific Islander Mobilize Leadership Program.

As a John Gardner Public Service Fellow, Chan hopes to find a placement with an organization that focuses on providing housing to formerly incarcerated students in higher education and to work with a mentor who can help him expand his network and develop his policy skills.  

Research interests: 

Major(s): Political Science