Over the past decade, I have been incarcerated for 7-years (99 days in County Jail, 15-Months in State Prison, and 5.5 Years in Federal Prison).
As you could imagine, it has been the most painful, gut-wrenching, and transformational time, not only my life, but also in the lives of everyone that I hold dear; my parents, Carlita, my sons, sisters, nephews, niece, extended family, friends, and many others whom I’ve never met, but know through the shared experiences of being a Detroiter, or a FAMUAN.
When I arrived in Federal Prison, I tenaciously pursued freedom. I was in the law library daily. I was doggedly determined to prove my innocence, to overturn my case, to get “revenge” on the justice system. I wanted to be free…I wanted people to know that I did not do what they said I did. But the more I pressed, the more enslaved I became.
I was angry, bitter, and broken. The pain and anguish I heard in the voices of my family, along with the emotional turbulence in my household, and the anxiety, fear, and hopelessness growing in the souls of my three sons, quickly became far too much to bear.
One day while reading in the law library, I saw a Federal Bureau of Prisons Manual. I opened the book and read a paragraph about “the goals of incarceration.” They outlined them in succinct fashion; 1) Punishment, 2) Correction/Rehabilitation, and 3) Readiness for Reentry.
I closed the book, walked back over to the table and collected my papers, pens, and coat, then casually walked out of the library. I was not angry, nor was I even finished studying. I was simply tired of fighting. In that moment, I know now that I came to the end of myself. I was running on fumes…and I finally broke down. I seriously did not care if I lived or died, and I definitely didn’t care about meeting those goals.
The next morning I walked over to the Prison Chapel and signed up for a class; THRESHOLD. It was a 9-month Faith-Based Character Development Course. The class was starting that same day, so I stayed. I had no idea why I was there, nor why I was signing up for that class, but I had nothing else to do. The instructor was a 63-year old man from Yukon, Oklahoma; Bruce Smith. He was a Vietnam Combat Vet, and had been volunteering at the prison for more than 20-years. He is a tough guy. I didn’t know it then, but he was the perfect person, perfectly placed for my edification and transformation.
Bruce opened the class with the traditional orientation type of remarks, then asked everyone their Religion. All declared that they were “Christian.” He then asked a perplexing question; “How many of you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Everyone’s hands shot up in the air…except for mine. Bruce looked at me and said “Kwambee (never got my name right in 4 years of knowing him) you don’t have a personal relationship with Christ?” I said “I have been hearing that my whole life, and I have no idea what that means. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that these people who raised their hands know either.” Bruce smiled at me then said “Finally some honesty around here!”
After that first class, he spoke to me privately in the back of an old prison Chapel in El Reno, Oklahoma. He talked to me about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While he spoke to me, all my being mad at “White Jesus”, espousing the Black Folks vs. White Folks Detroit Debates, and even, the anger, bitterness, and vengeful feelings started to dissipate. Something was happening to me. You couldn’t really cry around my father, Bernard Kilpatrick, he would most definitely call you out…but as the tears rolled down my face I began to feel oddly free. I felt sweetly broken. I accepted Christ as my Lord, my Savior, and my Redeemer that day; June 9, 2014. And everything in my life changed! Not just in my life, but also in the lives of my parents, my siblings and my sons.
Yes, I have been punished severely. I have been chained like a wild animal, shacked around my ankles, waist and wrist, with a black box to keep my hands at my side many times. I have spent more than 5-Months in Solitary Confinement at different periods in this journey because they wanted to do that to me. I have experienced ridicule, scorn, and disrespect from prison staff that you couldn’t imagine.
I have missed important moments in my sons lives; puberty, graduations, college entrance, basketball and football games, awards, and even the most important moments when they need their father’s counsel, presence and love. I destroyed my marriage, and the irreparable harm has cause great pain to Carlita and our sons as well.
I loss the greatest man I’ve ever known; my grandfather Marvell Cheeks, and was unable to be with him, care for him, or even say goodbye to him, at the end of his life. This road has been one fraught with difficulty, pain, sadness, and separation. BUT through it all, God has been faithful. He has kept me, protected me, edified me…changed me.
Through the harsh pressing of the physical and emotional conditions of incarceration, I have rediscovered my passion for service. I began to help men write appeals, Habeas Motions, and Clemency Paperwork. I have helped many men obtain their freedom from prison. But not only their freedom from physical incarceration, but also emancipation from the great bondage that toils in their souls, their hearts, their minds.
I counsel, mentor, tutor, and help men in many different areas; family, manhood, education, following Christ, and even taking responsibility for our sin, facing our wrongs…then repent, and bear fruit from that repentance. I’ve also taken every single program that I was allowed to take; from receiving my certification in Culinary Arts (9-month Course), to every Manhood Development, Parenting, and Character Development Program offered in the institution.
I was blessed to be given a teaching position in the Education Department for instruction in Public Speaking and Employability Skills. I also teach bible studies, and am Worship Leader for our church services. I was born to be a servant…and that I will do wherever I am.
I am ready (mentally, emotionally, spiritually) to go home!
My parents, my siblings, my sons, and many others…Love Me! And I love them. I have a family, a community of people who love me, and very much want me to be a present part of their lives. And I want the same.
Also, I have been given so much by so many…I am excited to continue to give back.
Yes, I have made some very bad decisions in my life. Yes, I betrayed my wife and family because of my own lust and sin. Yes, I failed to deliver on the promises and opportunities that was given to me by the people of Detroit, Michigan. And yes, I have been severely punished for it.
My family has forgiven me. I have asked the people of the city of Detroit for forgiveness many times. And most Detroiters have forgiven me as well.
Our country has always been the land of 2nd Chances! I am hoping, confidently expecting, that I will have the opportunity to boldly move into the next season of my life; outside of these prison walls. Also, that I will have the opportunity to help someone else get off the floor of despair, failure, brokenness and calamity…then walk courageously, confidently, and powerfully into their own new season, their own destiny.
By God’s grace, I have received a pardon from Him, through Christ Jesus. I pray that I will receive the opportunity for Pardon/Clemency from the President of the United States as well.
Kwame M. Kilpatrick