Kim Kardashian West: Sex Symbol. Reality TV Star. Business Mogul. Prison Reform Advocate. Attorney?
Most of us first noticed Kim Kardashian — now Kim Kardashian West — when she was hanging around Paris Hilton. Who was this beautiful girl with, as she described it, a “big, fat ass”? She certainly got our attention, and if you were a prisoner, like myself, you likely had a picture of her “big, fat ass” on your wall for, well, “inspiration.”
Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
From there she “broke the Internet,” before the term “break the Internet” was even a thing, when a sex tape of her and R&B singer Ray J was “leaked.” This video increased Kim’s popularity to “Superstar” status. And though haters began to bash Kim, saying, like Paris, she’s only “famous for being famous,” and she’s “talentless,” she proved to be a savvy businesswoman, using her platform to “put on” her entire family with one of the most popular TV shows of all time, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This new, TV platform further boosted Kim’s status, as well as those of her sisters’, all of whom are drop-dead gorgeous, into moguls; her youngest sister, Kylie Jenner, has even become a billionaire. All of the sisters now run their own, independent empires, and the Kardashian-Jenner dynasty is one of the most famous and powerful in the world.
“My kids know that I’m in school just like they are. It’s 20 hours a week, so it is a lot of my time.”
But despite Kim’s seduction of the world and large real estate ownership in the hearts and minds of millions, it’s the latest efforts that the “talentless” Kim has embarked upon that’s not only impressed some of her haters (though there are still plenty of those), but has earned her a new-found respect: her work in prison reform; her defense of defenseless prisoners; and her relentless efforts to make a difference — including taking on the enormous amount of work necessary to become a lawyer. “There’s obviously time where I’m overwhelmed and stressed and feel like I have a lot on my plate,” she admits. “My kids know that I’m in school just like they are. It’s 20 hours a week, so it is a lot of my time.”
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. See, Kim has had an interest in criminal law since she was a little girl. Don’t forget who her father is: Robert Kardashian; an attorney who was part of the Johnny Cochran-led “Dream Team” who won OJ Simpson an acquittal for the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.
By the time OJ’s case was over and he’d been acquitted
But Kim’s father wasn’t her only inspiration. During the OJ trial, when Kim was around 14, she became extremely close with Cochran protégé (who was also part of the Dream Team), attorney Shawn Holley. By the time OJ’s case was over and he’d been acquitted, Kim saw Holley as a cross between a role model and a relative. “Oh my gosh,” Kim remembers thinking, “I just want to be like her.” And it was only two years later, when Kim was 16, that she reached out to Holley for the first time for legal assistance. Kim and Holley were out to dinner in Santa Monica when Kim, who’d learned that a friend had been arrested at Urban Outfitters for shoplifting, asked Holley if she could help in any way. To make a long story short, Kim’s friend was out in just a matter of hours.
Ever since, Kim has entrusted Holley with some of her most sensitive legal matters –like contracts, protective orders, nondisclosure agreements, and the like. Over the years, Kim and Holley have maintained their close relationship; Holley is one Kim often calls for advice, or even just to vent, and she — Holley — is a regular at Kardashian family gatherings.
“This is so unfair,” Kim texted
According to Holley, Kim has tracked criminal justice issues for decades, so it wasn’t surprising when, in October of 2017, Kim sent her a link of a video that had gone viral about a 62-year-old prisoner named Alice Marie Johnson, who was 24 years in on a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. “This is so unfair,” Kim texted. “Is there anything we can do about it?” Though Holley wanted to help, she wasn’t sure what could be done.
After thinking about it, she came to the opinion that their only shot would be to get a Presidential pardon, but Trump was in the White House, and “he didn’t seem like the person who would be for this.”
After all, Jennifer Turner, human rights researcher at the American Civil Liberties Union appealed for clemency for Johnson when Obama was in office, and despite granting 1,927 petitions, he denied hers. “I was shocked,” Turner says. “Her case was a slam dunk.” So when President Trump was elected on his “law and order” platform, Turner “feared that might be the end of hope for her.”
The odds did not look good to Holley, who doesn’t do a lot of federal criminal work because “it seems so incredibly unfair, so stacked against the defense,” that she finds it “too depressing.” However, Kim asked for her help and she promised Kim she’d try to figure something out. And, one strength of Holley’s, in addition to tenacity, is when knowing when to ask for help, so she knew she needed clemency experts on the team, ASAP. “I said to Kim, ‘We have to retain some of these people.’ And she said, ‘How much?’” Kim wired the funds to Holley immediately, without hesitation.
Holley connected with Turner; Amy Povah, founder of the CAN-DO Foundation; and Brittany K. Barnett, cofounder of the Buried Alive Project, which, among other things, focuses on dismantling Life Without Parole (LWOP) handed down by federal drug law (Barnett has known Johnson for years). According to Turner, “If it were any other President, Kim Kardashian’s advocacy might not make much of a difference”; meaning, since Trump loves celebrities, they might just have a chance.
Holley contacted Johnson and told her the good news — “that a very famous woman” wanted to help her. “Of course, I told her I was interested,” Johnson says. Afterwards, Johnson had her children Google Holley to see who her clients are, and Johnson’s daughter is the one who figured out it was probably Kim Kardashian.
While the attorneys went to work, Kim reached out to Ivanka Trump, with whom she is loosely acquainted. Ivanka then put Kim in touch with her husband, Jared Kushner, who has an interest in criminal justice reform, as his father served time for tax evasion and other crimes.
The women began making hopeful progress, but by January 2018, things seemed to fizzle out a bit. The women weren’t sure what to do. They didn’t want to “annoy” the White House, but they needed to do something. They decided they should “whisper” in the ear of the administration, careful not to offend those who could make their cause a success.
However, in 2018, something much louder than a whisper transpired, getting the attention they needed: Kim’s husband, Kanye West, got on Twitter and declared his support for Trump, which caused a social media firestorm, but also gained the attention, and favor, of the President. Within weeks the White House set a date for Kim’s visit.
With Holley along, the May meeting started off with small talk about Kim’s sister Khloe, who’d appeared on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. It then went to Trump asking how Kim and Holley met. Holley wasn’t excited to announce the connection being OJ Simpson, but luckily, it turned out Trump had also known OJ way back when, so no judgment was passed. Then it was time for business. Kim began explaining her case, and when it was time, like a dynamic duo tag team or sorts, Holley took over. Moments later, Trump delivered his verdict: “I think we should let her out.” It was Johnson’s sixty-third birthday.
Perhaps hardly unable to believe what she’d heard, Holley pushed Trump to make an announcement that day to solidify the verdict. After all, it would be a great PR move for Trump. However, the ladies wouldn’t be that lucky. Kushner, though, assured them everything had went well. He even invited Kim and Holley over for dinner so they could begin to plot a path forward. “They are lovely people,” says Holley. “Engaged, engaging, interested in us, interested in the world.”
A week later, while Holley was in court on another matter, she received a text from Kim: “Call me. I just heard from the White House.” Trump had signed the paperwork: Johnson would be free in hours.
Kim participated in routine calls…
Holley got Kim, Turner and Barnett on the phone and the team contacted Johnson. “You don’t know?” Kim said. “Know what?” Johnson asked. “You’re going home,” Kim told her. When word began to spread about what Kim had done, as usual, the haters began to criticize her, questioning her qualification and motives. But what they don’t know is, Kim’s not just putting her face on the work and taking all the credit, she’s intimately involved. Kim participated in routine calls between Holley and Johnson, and would even clear her very busy schedule to do so if she had to. And when momentum would seem to fizzle, she’d send delicate e-mails to Kushner. She even spent the week between Christmas and New Years of 2017 in near-constant communication with Turner and Barnett because the White House needed court documents.
“Kim is not a criminal justice reform expert,” Barnett explains. “She doesn’t claim to be. But you don’t need to be an expert to know that it’s wrong to sentence people like Alice to spend the rest of their lives in prison.”
The success of the experience with Johnson really inspired and motivated Kim. She had an epiphany of sorts: she wanted to get further involved in prison reform, and not only that, she wanted to become a lawyer. When asked if she felt criminal justice reform was her “calling,” she said, “I do, I really do,” adding: “I don’t see how I could just say no to someone that really needs help if I know that I can help them.”
Kim decided to start a 4-year apprenticeship with a law firm in San Francisco where she’s being mentored by attorneys Jessica Jackson and Erin Haney, who are part of #cut50, a bipartisan criminal reform initiative cofounded by Jackson and CNN commentator Van Jones. Kim plans to take the bar in 2022.
Despite not being an actual attorney just yet, it has not stopped Kim from continuing to lend her efforts and influence in advocating for prisoners. In July of 2018, right after the success of Johnson, Kim advocated for female prisoners in California to help create a program for them after jail. She also tweeted then-Governor Brown to sign a bill to increase female safety around male guards, which he did the following month.
In the first few months of 2019, Kim quietly helped fund and 90 Days of Freedom Campaign, led by a team of kick-ass women lawyers who have helped free 17 first-time nonviolent offenders. “Kim Kardashian has been instrumental in funding the legal fees for vital attorney representation, transportation for newly freed prisoners so they have a ride home to their families and reentry costs related to our clients’ smooth transition back into society,” says lawyer MiAngel Cody, founder of the Decarceration Collective. “She has supported 17 prisoners’ release from prison and their longing decarceration.”
Also, in March of 2019, Kim met with California Governor Gavin Newsom and tweeted that she supports his efforts to end the death penalty in California. Newsom signed the order, granting reprieve for more than 730 condemned prisoners for as long as he is governor.
In May 2019, Kim helped negotiate the release of Jeffrey Stringer, a low-level drug offender who’d already served 20 years. She posted, “We did it again! Had the best call w/this lovely family & my attorney @msbkb who just won the release for their loved one Jeffrey in Miami!” Two months later, in July, Kim helped with the release of Monolu Stewart at District of Culumbia Correctional Treatment Facility, who’d served 22 years for a murder he committed when he was 17. Kim wrote the judge a letter and the judge reduced Stewart’s sentence to time served with 5 years parole.
“There is a mass-incarceration problem in the United States,”
In January of 2020 Kim tweeted the trailer of her project Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project. The tweet says, “The official trailer for my new documentary is here! Criminal justice reform is something that’s so important to me, and I can wait to share these stories with all of you.” In the trailer, Kim says, “There is a mass-incarceration problem in the United States,” as she looked somberly into the camera. “I went into this knowing nothing, and then my heart completely opened up.”
“I hope that this is a step to opening up people’s hearts and minds…
The Justice Project focuses on four prisoners — Monolu Stewart, Dawn Jackson, Alexis Martin, and David Sheppard — whose cases Kim and her legal team have taken on. The documentary shows Kim being visibly moved by the prisoners recounting their stories of landing behind bars. Kim talks to their families and friends, lobbies public officials, and consults with their attorneys as well as her own. “Once you hear the circumstances that led them to make those decisions, your heart would completely open up,” Kim says. “I hope that this is a step to opening up people’s hearts and minds. And then hopefully they can help with changing some actual laws that really do have to be changed.”
When asked why she’s doing all of this, Kim says, “I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society.” She continues: “I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more.”
How does she decide who to help?
How does she decide who to help? “Every case that I choose is really personal to me and a lot of times it’s from a letter that I receive from someone that’s inside that just really touches my heart and something that moves me,” she explains. And as far as the haters, she’s not worried about them: “It can be exhausting, frustrating, but I know that we can make a difference, and so all the criticism in the world will not deter me from what I want to do.” She adds: “I’m very used to criticism and nothing really fazes me. I’m one of those not-human souls that can really deal with it. However, I really genuinely just stay focused on cases and people and am extremely compassionate.”
Recently, Kim took the “Baby Bar,” so called because it’s a one-day exam in reference to her first year in law school. “I aced a test recently,” she said. “There’s so much behind the scenes that has never been publicized…I literally do this every single day and spend time away from my work, everything else, my family, because once you get so deep into the system…you just can’t give up.”
Kim explains one of the most rewarding things about all of this: “I love seeing the choices that they [the released prisoners] make in the exciting projects that they’re working on outside.”
A Final Word
As a man who’s been incarcerated since February 23, 1999, sentenced to LWOP for a 1998
murder, when I was 19, I can tell you that what Kim is doing, the work she’s doing, is nothing new. There are countless “faceless” advocates and organization that work tirelessly for, oftentimes pennies, but are unable to get the attention necessary to make as much progress as needed. This is where, among other things, Kim has been such a huge blessing. She has brought a new and much-needed light to these issues.
It’s going to be cool.
And, though I absolutely believe she is investing an enormous amount of work and money personally, rather than just being the “face” and taking credit for publicity, as some of her haters would suggest, I can assure you, we wouldn’t care anyway. All we care about is the progress, the end results, and she’s getting them; just ask Alice Marie Johnson, or one of the other many former prisoners whose lives she’s changed. In addition, Kim has made being a prison reform advocate cool. She’s going to make being an attorney cool. Obviously, we all know being an attorney is a great job to have, a great profession to be in, one where you can be very successful, but now it’s going to be more than that. It’s going to be cool. Nobody can bring the cool factor to something like Kim can.
Kim has given a much-needed jolt of energy
Girls will now not only aspire to be an IG model, reality TV star, singer or actor like most the famous people they idolize; they will now aspire to be an attorney, like Kim. Kim has given a much-needed jolt of energy to an issue that, in turn, has given a much-needed jolt of hope to many hopeless men and women, especially those who have been improperly sentenced, either due to unfair laws, or because we were sentenced based on a crime committed while lacking development, before we were able to make proper decisions, due to our youth. For this, and I think I’m qualified to speak on behalf of all of us longtime prisoners, we are grateful.
Mike Enemigo is America’s #1 incarcerated author
Mike Enemigo is America’s #1 incarcerated author, with over 25 books published and many more on the way. He specializes in writing about prison, street culture, and how-to books for prisoners. Among his many books are Conspiracy Theory, a book about the murder for which he is in prison, and OJ’s Life Behind Bars, a book with incarcerated author Vernon Nelson about Vernon’s time with OJ Simpson in Lovelock prison, where Vernon documents things OJ has said about Kim Kardashian West and other famous people.
You can learn more about Mike’s books at thecellblock.net, where you can subscribe to his blog. Be sure to also follow him on IG @mikeenemigo and FB @thecellblockofficial and visit the website @ “https://thecellblock.net/blog/“