Journey of young Vietnamese man from inmate to entrepreneur

Tran Tuan Hai left his past life as a prison inmate behind to establish himself as a successful businessman by the age of 29

Tran Tuan Hai (left) receives a present from a top Youth Union officer in Quang Binh, north-central Vietnam, in August 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre

An ex-con who spent several years in prison has reinvented himself as an entrepreneur in Vietnam, “paying it forward” by creating jobs in his hometown.

Tran Tuan Hai bounced back from a five-year prison stint to take charge of a now well-established eatery, growing the business into a local staple which serves an average of 250 tourists each month and provides a serious boost to the local economy.

Born into a financially-disadvantaged family in Quang Binh, a north-central province in Vietnam, Tran Tuan Hai had no choice but to drop out of school to help support his family.

An attempted mugging eventually landed the young man a five-year prison sentence, the time he spent reading his way through the Dong Son Penitentiary library’s business selection.

“During my time in jail, I sincerely regretted my wrongdoings. But I was still young and had time to turn my life around,” Hai recalled.

Hai was released six months early for good behavior. His next step was figuring out how to move forward.  

Imprisonment does not always end when an inmate is released. 

For Hai, the joy of freedom was short-lived after the realities of being an ex-convict set in. 

Rumors about his past began spreading around town and Hai quickly found himself isolated and looked down on. 

Leaving prison was easy, rebuilding his life would be much more difficult.

“If I hadn’t overcome the hatred and scorn, I might have repeated my mistakes,” Hai shared.

Hai knew that his history would make getting a job difficult, but he refused to give up. 

In an attempt to take destiny into his own hands, Hai decided to start his own business right in Quang Binh.

Quang Binh is famous for the Phong Nha National Park, a tourist area which attracts hundreds of international and domestic visitors each year.

Taking advantage of the area’s thriving eco-tourism industry, Hai teamed up with two friends to open O O Lake Silence Eatery – a 25-table eatery situated near a small lake at the foot of O O Mountain.   

The restaurant attracts an average of 250 tourists each month, provides jobs for nine local youngsters, and brings in enough cash for Hai to feel financially secure.

Hai openly admits, “some people wonder why I don’t hide my past, but I don’t find shame in admitting my background.

“That was part of my life and I’ve left it behind. Now I’m moving forward and it’s time to talk about my future."

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