‘I sat where they sat’: Kwame Kilpatrick shares prison experience, supports Good Time Ballot Initiative

‘I was in a system that offered that hope,’ Kilpatrick says

DETROITKwame Kilpatrick spoke in Detroit on Wednesday to advocate for the 2022 Good Time Ballot Initiative, share his personal prison experiences and argue that the state should offer opportunities for early release.

The former Detroit mayor spoke at 9 a.m. Wednesday (March 23) from the Michigan United Detroit office.

You can watch his full speech above.

“At the foundation of what’s the different between state prison and federal prison is hope,” Kilpatrick said. “People in federal prison believe that they can get out.”

He said hope is what inspires inmates to take programs that can reduce their time, and as a result, those inmates are rehabilitated and have more opportunities when they get out.

“They have strategies going in to take horticulture, auto mechanics or the drug program, or different things where they can get credit to actually get back out,” Kilpatrick said. “You know what happens to them while they’re taking those things? They’re getting certified in those programs, and when they walk out, they have opportunities in the street.”

Kilpatrick said some of those programs can help people make upwards of $50,000 upon release. But in Michigan, he said inmates are unmotivated by the lack of opportunity to get out.

“My first cellmate was 25 and he had a life sentence and had already been there seven years when I got there,” Kilpatrick said. “I had an 18-month sentence and they put me in a maximum security prison. I think they wanted me to learn some stuff, and I did.

“If you don’t offer hope to people in prison, then you’re creating a society of people that you all hear about every day on the news stations. ... Three of my cellmates in the federal system were lifers. They’re all out of prison. Two of my cellmates in the state were lifers -- they’re still there because there was so-called truth in sentencing. But with that truth didn’t come any mercy.”

Kilpatrick believes young men and women who enter the state prison system should have a chance to work and build themselves. He’s advocating for them to have an opportunity to create a life after incarceration.

“What is the incentive for a 22-, 19-year-old boy who comes in there and has a 20-year sentence and you tell him there’s absolutely no way he can work that down?” Kilpatrick asked. “He’s already thinking about how long he has to be there.”

That can open the door to negative influences, Kilpatrick said. Inmates who know they have no chance to get out early often join gangs who tell them they might as well get involved since their sentence won’t change, he said.

“We’re asking this community (to say) enough is enough,” Kilpatrick said. “If you want to have truth politically, then let’s have souls and have grace.”

He said people aren’t claiming their innocence, but begging for another chance, and their families are begging for the same.

“Most of these people, when they get behind bars and are trapped in that system, they have children,” Kilpatrick said. “They have families. A great deal of them have families that care about them.”

Why should people listen to Kilpatrick about this issue? He said even those who have problems with him should realize this is a topic he knows well.

“This is probably the only issue that those people who have a problem with everything -- this is what I know about,” Kilpatrick said. “If they are upset with taking a message, then tell them to turn the TV off. But if they want to hear some truth, if they really care about people, then it shouldn’t be about Kwame Kilpatrick.

“The message is not really about Kwame, as much as it is that Kwame was on his knees on Jan. 19, and he was praying that the heart of the king would be turned by the Lord, and it happened. I know in all of these MDOC prisons, there are men and women on their knees praying that God will send somebody to help them, and I just want them to know their prayers are being answered.”

Kilpatrick was asked if he had a message for the people of Detroit. Here was his full response:

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.