Kemba Smith
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Kemba Smith

Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
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The best kept secret in music


No text available. Video only - Court TV

Will Packer, producer of the box office hits 'Stomp The Yard' and 'This Christmas,' has acquired the rights to produce the dramatic real life story of Kemba Smith. Through his production company, Rainforest Films, the young film maverick plans to produce the yet untitled project in 2009.

Kemba Smith, the only child of professional parents, led a protective middle class upbringing in Richmond, Virginia. She had no criminal record prior to going off to Hampton University where she would fall in love with Peter Hall, who unbeknownst to her, was the leader of a $4 million crack cocaine ring and one of the FBI's 15 Most Wanted.

At the age of 23, she was taken away from her newborn baby to unjustly serve 24 years in jail under harsh drug mandatory sentencing laws, which were harsher than that of rape or manslaughter.

Kemba, however, was a victim of physical and mental abuse. Being minimally involved with the crimes, Kemba was still sentenced to the full extent of the law.

The story made headlines in 2000 after Bill Clinton granted her clemency from a 24.5 year drug conspiracy charge.

Will Packer is currently in pre-production on three films; 'Obsessed,' starring Beyonce Knowles and Idris Elba; 'Phenom' starring Chris Brown and Henry Simmons; and 'Bone Deep' starring Elba and Matt Dillon.

If you were going by physical appearance, Jurnee Smollett of 'The Great Debaters' comes to mind.

If not her, there's Lauren London, Kandyse McClure of SciFi Channel's 'Battlestar Galactica,' blast from the past Reagan Gomez-Preston, who was last seen in 'Beauty Shop' with Queen Latifah, or maybe Keshia Knight-Pulliam.

I like where Packer is going as a producer.

This is one guy who's looking to put out some quality work on the big screen.

There are a few actresses strong enough to play the part, but who do you think should play Kemba?

As far as playing Peter Hall, there are plenty of guys that can play that role, but it's Kemba's part that will be an attractive role to land. - AOL Black Voices

Life for 37-year-old Kemba Smith is a lot calmer than it used to be in the 1990s. During that time she was a student at Hampton University who hung out with the wrong crowd – more specifically, the wrong guy. The guy, Peter Hall would eventually become Smith’s abusive boyfriend who was also a major kingpin in a $4 million crack cocaine ring. Some of the things Hall coerced Smith to do would result in an end that no one foresaw. Unbeknownst to her at the time, Smith – a pretty young woman with a petite frame - was about to make a large impact on the country. Following is her story of adversity and redemption.

How it all began

On the outside looking in, Smith was a girl who seemingly had it all. The former Richmond, Va. debutante was the only child of Gus, an accountant and Odessa, a teacher. While her upper- middle-class lifestyle may have seemed admirable to her peers, few realized the insecurities that plagued Smith. She grew up in a predominately white environment with white friends so she never felt as if she fit in. In addition she struggled with her physical appearance.

“I felt my nose was too big, my legs were too skinny – I was just overly critical of self,” remembered Smith. “Those things can play a (negative) role in your mind.”

When Smith began summer classes at Hampton, a historically Black college, she thrived. However when the fall semester started, it was a completely different story. All her previous insecurities returned as she suffered from low self-esteem and struggled to fit in…until that is, she met Peter Hall. Hall was “the man” on campus even though he wasn’t enrolled at the university. Everyone admired and respected him, and once he and Smith started hanging out – she too felt the praise of her peers. “Back at the dorm there were girls who wanted to know what he was like, what we talked about. That made me feel as if I was noticed and it brought up my self-esteem because people were actually paying attention to me. I was with ‘the man.’”

While Smith enjoyed the recognition she received from being with Hall, it wasn’t long before their relationship became volatile. Hall repeatedly abused her.

“I listened to the ‘I’m sorrys’ and I stayed with him,” said Smith.

That decision would prove to be the worst mistake of her life.

The fight of her life

Hall’s drug-dealing became a commonality within their relationship and Smith was lured to participate in a variety of ways. One report states that she sometimes carried a gun in her purse, while another details her flying to New York with money strapped to her body.

It was at this time that the federal government intensified their search of Hall and listed him as one of the FBI’s 15 Most Wanted fugitives. Suspicious that his best friend Derrick Taylor was cooperating with authorities, Hall killed Taylor.

“From that point, things got more complicated for me,” said Smith. “It was more about doing whatever it was he told me to do and not causing conflict. It was also about protecting my family as well because he had been to my parents’ home.”

Smith stayed with Hall on the west coast for nearly 10 months. Within that time she became pregnant with their son.

Eventually Hall purchased a train ticket for Smith and she returned home. The search for Hall continued. However, shortly thereafter Hall was found dead – shot in the head by an unknown person. At seven months pregnant Smith turned herself in to authorities.

“At the time, the prosecutor said if I turned myself in, he’d allow me to come home, bond and have my son,” said Smith.

Believing this, she pled guilty to a conspiracy drug charge, money laundering and false statements.

“(The prosecutor) reneged on his promise,” recalls Smith.

Rather than receiving 24 months in jail, the young, pregnant Smith received 24 years under the mandatory sentencing law.

A mandatory sentence is a predetermined number of years in prison given to certain crimes that has been mandated by law. Minimum sentences are believed to reduce crime and ensure that sentencing for crimes is uniform. However, opponents argue that jailing nonviolent and minor offenders, most of whom are imprisoned for drug possession or drug-related crimes, is a waste of resources.

“When they said the 294 months, I was in shock,” said Smith. “I couldn’t calculate how much 294 months actually equated to.”

Her mother wept.

Smith kept the faith.

“I knew from that point forward, the only way I was going to make it from day-to-day - however long that would be – was for me not to lose faith that God was gonna change my situation.”

Doing time

One of the first things Smith did once incarcerated was give birth to her child.

“It was definitely the most difficult situation that I’ve ever had to endure. Just being pregnant, having my first child, (hoping) there weren’t going to be any complications, worried if it was going to be excruciating pain. I did a lot of praying.”

Five minu - The Indianapolis Recorder

As most Americans, I believed in the motto, liberty and justice for all, until at the age of 23 in April 1995, I stood in a court room with Lady Justice watching as Federal District Court Judge Richard B. Kellam sentenced me to a mandatory minimum sentence of 24.5 years in the Federal Women’s Prison in Danbury, Conn., as a first-time non-violent drug offender with no possibility of parole.

For centuries in this United States of America, Lady Justice has decorated our courtrooms with her presence. In one hand she carries the balanced scales which symbolize the equal distribution of justice that will be served, and in her other hand she holds a sword indicating that she has the power to inflict punishment. For me, what always stood out was the fact that she wore a blindfold. In grade school, I was taught that when it came to this goddess icon and the law, our judicial branch would ensure that justice would be distributed objectively without any bias due to an individual’s race, appearance or class.

While incarcerated, it was hard for me to fathom how keeping me imprisoned until Jan. 5, 2016, at a cost of over $25,000 a year, would make America safer. The longer I was there,the more I realized this wasn’t about keeping America safer. It was about harsh, draconian punishment. One of the hardest things I ever had to endure in my life was giving birth to my son and watching him grow up from behind a prison wall. I often wondered If I would ever be a real mother to him versus just mothering him during our prison visits.

In December 2000, after 6.5 years of efforts by my parents and legal counsel from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)-calling powerful people, writing letters, signing petitions, and organizing my community-a miracle happened. I was released from prison. President Bill Clinton decided that an injustice had occurred and he granted me executive clemency, balancing the scales for Lady Justice, at least in my case.

When looking back, I realize that in comparison to others I have known, I realize how fortunate I was to have been released after 6 years. I realized how the gift of freedom not only changed my life, but also my family’s lives. I know that my son couldn’t imagine being in the ninth grade with his mother still incarcerated. My freedom has allowed me to experience true love and an understanding of what a healthy relationship is. My freedom will allow my mother to watch me walk down the church aisle and then afford me the opportunity to dance with my father at my wedding reception in July.

Since my release, I have often felt like a sole survivor, continuing to be the voice for those still in the struggle-for the thousands of other women and men, many of them parents like me, caught in this web of excessive, inappropriate sentences that ruin lives without reducing crime. I have spoken on panels for many criminal justice organizations and congressional forums still discussing the same old issue of the War on Drugs. Most panels consist of researchers, scholars, attorneys, and judges, with me representing “the ex-offender” affected by these laws. I do this with focused determination and ambition although at times I feel like the Lone Rider in the room because no one can truly understand the urgency for change except me and those still walking through their valleys.

For two decades, harsh mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws have fueled the federal prison population. On the state level, New York’s “Rockefeller Drug Laws,” enacted in 1973, have long been regarded as among the nations harshest and have been compared to federal drug sentencing. Elaine Bartlett, who served a 16-year sentence, and Anthony Papa, who served a 12-year sentence, are survivors like myself of senseless drug laws and have been advocating for reform since their release.

For far too long, minorities have been overly penalized for the same or similar crimes committed by their white counterparts. Numerous studies conclude that draconian drug laws disproportionately affect minorities and generally entangle first-time offenders who have no history of violence. Although drug usage, sales and trafficking are serious issues in our society, the vast majority of cases burdening our courts consist of defendants charged with simple possession and other lower-level offenses.

After more than 35 years, on March 4, the New York State General Assembly approved legislation that would repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for first time non-violent drug offenders. As a result, this would allow judges discretion in many lower level felony drug possession crimes encouraging treatment over incarceration. Hopefully, the New York State Senate will approve this legislation to include retroactive sentencing. Re-establishing the moral force that should underlie the criminal justice system is what Lady Justice represents, continuing the progressive shift to a sensible drug - Defenders Online

By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2000

It's hard to explain things when you don't entirely understand them yourself, but that's what mothers do. And so, when the boy visits Danbury every couple of months, Kemba Smith experiences the toughest part about being a mother--explaining.

When he was 3, Kemba told her son she was on "timeout." "I hung around with the wrong crowd in school," she said. "I made mistakes."

But right around his fifth birthday last December, he began to get mixed up. All this talk about guns and drugs. He came up with the theory that Mommy shot someone.

At which point she cried, and then lifted him onto her lap--because you can do that in a minimum security federal prison--and explained that she never hurt anyone, but her boyfriend did, and that's the reason why she's here.

Tougher to answer the adults. In letters they ask her why she didn't leave the man who beat her. They ask her why she committed crimes. Tougher to answer, except to say the reasons seem intertwined.

The worst letter was the one that said, "I deserved what I got."

Twenty-four and a half years. That's what Kemba Smith got. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a cocaine ring, although she never sold or used the drugs. She pleaded guilty after covering and lying and breaking the law for her boyfriend, who was leading the drug ring, who was also pummeling her off and on for three years.

She pleaded guilty in a nation where the drug war is so intense that a low-level participant in a drug operation stands to lose as much as its kingpin. The severity of her sentence, called into question even by a judge who has turned down her appeals, is largely the result of a potent combination of mandatory minimums and federal sentencing guidelines.

And now, Kemba Smith, 28, sits in federal prison in Connecticut with 19 years to go on a sentence of 24 1/2 years. Twenty-four and a half. That's about four years more than the average state sentence for murder or voluntary manslaughter. That's at least 15 more years than the average state sentences for sexual assault, aggravated assault and robbery. That's hard time.

Kemba's story is the sinking trajectory of a young woman born to advantage and remarkable vulnerability in the suburbs of Richmond, who made a few flightless hops toward adolescent rebellion during college, and then found herself a man. He was, as it turned out, very much the wrong man. The way Kemba tells it, it was just a short slide from love to fear, and from fear to helping, running.

Here is an old photograph. Kemba sits beside her boyfriend, Peter Hall, on her parents' couch on Christmas Day, 1991. Kemba seems relaxed, her head cocked to the side. Peter--who looks far younger than his 28 years--is not quite smiling. When this picture was taken, Kemba's parents didn't yet know the rap on this young man, who had once choked their daughter till the blood vessels bloomed in her cheeks.

Now, nine years later, the family left behind--Kemba's mother and father, Kemba's 5-year-old son--sit in that same spot in the living room, looking over old photos.

"Why did you bring him in the house if he was a drug dealer?" Armani asks, of the man in the picture, who is also his father.

And that, of course, is the question that haunts them.

"We didn't know he was a drug dealer," Armani's grandfather says. "We didn't know."

Ever since her case was featured in a 1996 issue of Emerge magazine, Kemba Smith has been a cause celebre whose supporters--perhaps simplistically--proclaim her a blameless victim. Her parents crisscross the country, telling her story to anyone who might listen. On the Web site devoted to Kemba's cause, and in the speeches that her father gives, young women are warned that Kemba's misfortune could befall them, too, if they make the mistake of falling in love with the wrong guy.

But the truth of why Kemba Niambi Smith fell in love with Peter Michael Hall--and stayed, while he pulled her down with him--is more complicated than bad luck in love.

In high school, say Kemba's parents, Gus and Odessa Smith, their only child seemed well adjusted and obedient. She grew up in a protective middle-class home in Glen Allen, Va., the child of an accountant and a teacher. She was an unspectacular student, but loved playing flute in the band and singing in the church choir. She attended vacation Bible school, obeyed her parents' 8 p.m. curfew.

"My parents kind of like told me what to do and I always like did it," Kemba says. "I would be upset about it. . . . [But] I wanted to be, you know, the perfect daughter that my mom wanted me to be."

Having grown up in a mainly white environment with white friends, Kemba felt uncool and uneasy around her black peers. She wanted to get over it, so she decided to attend an all-black college.

But when she started in 1989 at Hampton University, a historically black college in Hampton, Va., Kemba says she wa - Washington Post


Still working on that hot first release.



Growing up as the only child in Richmond, Virginia suburb, Kemba Smith led an advantaged and sheltered childhood. After graduating from high school in 1989, Kemba left the security of her family to continue her education at prestigious Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. What happened to Kemba in her new campus environment was a nightmare. Away from the protective watch of her mother and father and in an attempt to “fit in”, Kemba fell in with the wrong crowd and became involved with a drug dealer. He was a major figure in a crack cocaine ring, and drew Kemba right in the middle of his life with physical, mental and emotional abuse disguised as “love”.

Eventually, after enduring this turbulent four-year relationship in 1994, Ms. Smith was sentenced to 24.5 years and served 6.5 years in federal prison. Fortunately, Ms. Smith regained her freedom after President Clinton granted her clemency in December 2000. Her case drew support from across the nation and the world in a crusade to reverse a disturbing trend in the rise of lengthy sentences for first time non-violent offenders. Her story has been featured on CNN, Nightline, Court TV, The Early Morning Show, Donahue, Judge Hatchett and a host of other television programs, along with several publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Glamour, People, Emerge and Essence Magazines.

As wife, mother, advocate, public speaker, and soon to be author, Ms. Smith has received numerous awards and recognitions for her courage and determination to educate the public about the devastating social, economic and political consequences of current drug policies. She has been corporately sponsored to speak at a variety of high schools and college venues by Proctor & Gamble’s Pantene “Totally You Tour”, Bank One Academy, Shell Corporation, Traveler’s Foundation, Verizon, and BET’s “Rap It Up Tour”. Ms. Smith’s traumatic real life experience, forces today’s students to listen in hopes that they will recognize that there are consequences to their life choices.

In May 2002, Ms. Smith graduated from Virginia Union University with a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and was later awarded a two year Soros Justice Postgraduate Fellowship for advocates in 2003. Ms. Smith has completed her first year of law school at Howard University and is continuing to develop her 501 (c) (3) foundation, the Kemba Smith Foundation. Also, Rainforest Films, which produced the critically acclaimed films Stomp the Yard and This Christmas, has acquired the rights to produce Ms. Smith’s life story into a film. Ultimately, it is Kemba Smith’s hope to uplift youth and inspire them to become educated about certain injustices within the criminal justice system while continuing the legacy of women leaders in the struggle for the betterment of our communities. Whether it is through grassroots organizing or lobbying on Capitol Hill to promote action, this, she believes, is her mission.