#FreeBlackWomxn: Kimberly's Story - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

#FreeBlackWomxn: Kimberly’s Story

For Mother's Day 2021, Michigan Liberation and the Advancement Project National Office launched #FreeBlackWomxn campaign, a photo and storytelling project that elevates the voices of Black Michigan mothers who have experienced incarceration. Read Kimberly's story below.

Kimberly // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

Two weeks after my 18th birthday, I was sentenced for a mandatory life sentence. I was a juvenile because I caught the case at the age of 17. However, because they screwed me around and waited until after I was 18 to actually have the trial, I was technically an adult. 

Everybody kept saying throughout my trial, ‘Do you really understand the severity of everything that's going on?’ Well, no, they knew I didn't understand. I was a baby. If I wasn't old enough to vote you into the seat or the position that you were prosecuting me from, how do you expect me to understand? Or take the bar exam to be the attorney that was supposed to be representing me but was really misrepresenting me. How do you expect a kid to clearly understand that this trial right here determines that you're gonna spend the rest of your natural life in prison?

I had just found out I was pregnant the day before I got arrested. We didn't believe that I was pregnant, it actually got confirmed in county. When I was incarcerated, I really was so naive on pregnancy. They were not giving me any literature or trying to educate me on the matter. They didn't care, I was just an inmate. I was just a number. I really didn't get a lot of pre-natal care while I was incarcerated. I think I got one ultrasound compared to the gazillion that I got with my second pregnancy (after I returned home). It's ridiculous. I got an ultrasound picture every visit (after I returned home), up to one every week in my last month. I got none of that in prison. Pre-natal care and being pregnant in prison sucks. It was a joy for me then because it was my first pregnancy and the joy of having a baby kept me preoccupied about not having a natural life sentence that I just got. So, I focused on that versus focus on the fact that they just told me I will die in prison.

Kimberly // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

Well, actually, to be truthful, I never heard the judge say life. I wondered all the way up until I got to prison why when they brought me back from sentencing, instead of taking me to the pod that I was on before I went to sentencing. They took me to this padded cell and took my clothes and stuff off, butt naked. They made me put on this big white gown that was so heavy, I kept telling them it was hurting my stomach.  

They talked about how I was on observation. I was like, ‘Observation for what?’ ‘You might be suicidal.’ I had no idea so I didn't even equate that 'cause the brain and the heart have a way of giving you what you can deal with when you can deal with it. My focus was my unborn child, no matter what else was going on. I can honestly tell you that my whole trial was a blur. Sometimes I would hold my baby daddy hand under the table. But basically, I would just sit there and just rub my stomach and comfort my baby.

Kimberly // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

It was L-I-F-E, in all bold cap letters. L-I-F-E. I'm like, ‘What does this mean? So, I asked the lady and she said, ‘That mean you never leaving.’ I was like, ‘Huh?’ She said, ‘You have a mandatory, natural life sentence, ma'am. You don't have an out date.’ And so I'm sitting in the bullpen, about seven months pregnant, holding my baby in my stomach realizing that, this baby, that I may never go home to. And you know what? I prayed like I never prayed before. 

And yet I made a promise to myself and to my unborn child that no matter what it took, I was gonna make it home to that baby one day. And I kept my word. I did it the right way. I held my faith, I believed in God. It took almost 30 years, but I made it and I did everything legit. And I did it in God's time, on God's terms. I'm so abundantly blessed that I don't feel like there's nothing I can't do, especially when I do it with God.

I could have taken my lessons that I've learned in prison for 29 years and could have just gone on in my life. I choose not to do that. I choose to try to share and learn and grow with a community, so that they can see that just because they threw me away, I didn't throw them away. I didn't give up on them when they gave up on me. I still have faith in them although they gave up all faith for me. They said I was never gonna be redeemed. That's why [my non-profit] Redeeming Kimberly exists, because it's in the redeeming and everybody is Kimberly. But redeeming is a process, and it's gonna be a process that we continue to have for the rest of our lives.

Kimberly // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

The best advice I can give other people is to find something positive to pour yourself into. It is my tragedy, it is my story, and I have no other choice but to take my own advice and pour myself into something positive and do something better. I'm opening the scope of Redeeming Kimberly. I'm no longer just focusing on returning citizens. And although don't get me wrong, that will always be my first love and my first passion. But bringing together perpetrators and survivors and victims is way more important now than ever, because what happens if I can start the conversation before it becomes a problem? How do we have that conversation before we are sentencing somebody or crying over somebody's casket? I feel like we can do better and we know better, so why not?

I know a lot of people say I spread myself thin from our Connecting Families phone campaigns to restoring Michigan’s “Good Time” prison credits to the Michigan Black Mama’s Bail Out. No mom should be in prison. No mom should be in jail. I want every Black mom, every mom period to be bailed out, especially on Mother's Day. I'm all for that.  

So, I don't feel like I'm spreading myself thin. I feel like all of these are small labors of love that I get a reward from. I get to see someone that I'm feeding smile and be grateful. I know that that food was probably what is keeping them from one week to the next. Or I get to say, ‘I'm working hard towards getting those that's wrongfully convicted out of prison or getting juvenile lifers resentenced.’ I can see the fruits of my labors in those coming home. I can see them slowly joining and becoming organizers themselves, and really trying to use their voice and their experience that was negative for good, for the greater of the community, and not just for ourselves.

Kimberly // Photo Credit: Cyndi Elledge

The women's prison, for real, close it. You can't find another solution for 2,500 women? All you need is ONE alternative besides prison. You can't find it? There's a lot of prosecutors that refuse to let juvenile lifers go. Why? 'Cause of how their case was? Which is ridiculous because if I was immature, I was immature. You don't get to say, ‘No, I think, you were mature enough because this crime was more heinous.’ I had not even reached adolescent maturity. People really need help and they really need a second chance. 'Cause these kids went in as little minds and absorbed everything like sponges. 'Cause I watched my daughter absorb like a sponge. I just be careful and mindful what I put into her sponge. Everybody else in society don't do that. We don't think about that harmless, what is that... Fortnite. I watched that game every time I go over to my sibling’s house and my nephew be killing up people. They get points killing people. I don't want my child watching that game, feeling like it's okay to kill somebody. 

I don't want to be a part of the group that took someone’s life. I wanna be the part of the group that made a horrible mistake and learned from their mistake. And after learning from their mistake, try to do it good. 'Causeeverything I do, I do to honor to the woman who lost her life.