Let's Let Kobe Begin His Life

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By a stroke of fate, I met Kobe from an online correspondence program with people who are currently incarcerated. I was really curious how people in prison were feeling during this time in our world. I am currently a junior studying social work, and I was really interested in learning more about criminal justice and the prison system in our country. I sent out a letter introducing myself, and hoped he would write me back. He wrote back immediately, sharing all about his past with an open heart and honest words. We started writing to each other every week, and soon for me it became less about the prison system and more about the cycle of vulnerability people of color experience in our society. There was no father figure in his childhood, and there was a large amount of stress put on the single parent household. He had bounced around the foster system, but eventually his uncle offered to have him come stay. He was taught how to sell drugs and make money quickly. He was thirteen. My little brother is fifteen, and I could never imagine him transferring from one temporary family to the next, and then getting a lesson from the main male figure in his life how to make a living, illegally. 

I believe that Kobe’s bunk bed in prison had his name on it since the day he was born. I believe that the systems we have in place in our society failed him by a large margin. His situation made it clear to me just how privileged I am as a white person in our country. Kobe and I talk every day for an hour. It costs me about $12-$20 per day, but talking to him is like feeling a ray of sunshine after months of clouds. Seeing his face on the tiny grainy video screen is like getting a glimpse into the bright and shiny soul that is within him. Today on our video visit, he closed his eyes and took some deep breaths. He said he was trying hard to have faith, trying to keep his strength, but he wasn’t sure why “they needed to put me in here for so long.” If prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation, I need to know why this man’s life was taken away from ages 21 to 36. It doesn’t make sense to me how somebody with so much love, care, and incredible ideas is stuck behind a fence where they have to pay outrageous prices for phone calls, work full time to be making less than $1 an hour, isn’t eligible for any financial aid, and sleeps in a room with 100 other men. 

Kobe dreams of owning a food truck. He wants it to be southern food and he already has the whole thing drawn out and the menu decided. He wants to get his business degree so he can have an advantage when he’s out, as well as expand his knowledge of how to be a successful business owner. Kobe is an amazing artist. He draws this amazing detailed art on the outside of the envelopes he sends me, and recently I had the idea to turn these drawings into stickers to pay for his degree. It blew up and within 3 weeks he made enough to pay for his degree, which was full priced, because prisoners aren’t eligible for any sort of financial assistance.

His smile could make anyone smile.

His smile deserves to be seen.

His smile and his light and his laughter and his joy deserves to be where people can hear him and see him.

The color of his skin gave him an unfair disadvantage in this lifetime, and the least I can do is get his story heard.

I have people from all different countries wanting to sign a petition to set Kobe free and get his life started. I don’t want him to have to wait 12 more years to start a food truck. I don’t want him to have to wait 12 more years to see his mom. I don’t want him to have to give away his books because he doesn’t have room under his bunk bed. He gave me his all-inclusive book wishlist the other day. It included titles like, “The New Jim Crow,” “History of African Americans,” “Awaken Your Third Eye,” "The Science of Everyday Life," “How to Start and Run a Food Truck,” “Rumi’s Little Book of Love,” and countless other books that just prove how committed Kobe is to changing his life. He is committed to finding the way and the resources to becoming the best person he can be. He realized that he has options that he didn’t realize he had before. He was taught the only way to make money was by doing so the wrong way. He didn’t realize people would buy his art. He was never told that he was worthy or valid. He was never told that he could do anything he wanted. Nobody ever made that clear, in fact society did just the opposite. His closest circle taught him that he was unworthy: unworthy of success, unworthy of love, unworthy of happiness. He had that drummed into him since he was born, and then was expected to rise up despite the entire world relentlessly pushing him down. 12 more years trapped in prison is not the way for him to get started in his life. He is 23 years old. He is just getting his life started. He now knows what he is capable of. 

How can I show our state he will contribute more to society than the majority of the American population? He plans on becoming a motivational speaker. He plans on opening a nonprofit resource center for single mothers. He has so many things he wants to do, he draws up plans for them all day long.

Are we going to make him wait another 12 years to get started? Or will we believe in him now? I am respectfully requesting we make this man’s dreams come alive by granting him clemency. He knows now that there are limitless other paths for him, and he is beyond excited to start living his life and break the relentless cycle of vulnerability.