Charged with conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, money laundering, making false statements, Kemba Smith served 6 years in prison before President Bill Clinton issued her presidential clemency in December, 2000
Featured in Glamour Magazine, June 1999.
“Does This Woman Deserve to Be Locked Up for 24 Years?”
The only child of professional parents in a suburb of Richmond, VA, Kemba Smith lived a sheltered life. Her parents made strict curfews and rules. She was not allowed to date until she was a high school senior. At Hampton University, Kemba met Peter Hall, who was well-known on campus but not a student. With his self-confidence, Jamaican accent, nice clothes and fancy cars, Kemba felt she had found her ‘knight in shining armor.’
Eventually, Kemba learned that Hall was involved in a drug ring. As time passed, he exerted more and more control over her, and became both physically and verbally abusive. When he went ‘on the run,’ Kemba dropped out of college to join him. She was naive and “always worried about him and never considered the trouble that I could get in.” When she was five months pregnant with his child, Hall convinced her to go home.
Upon her return, Kemba learned that she was considered a ‘fugitive,’ and decided to turn herself in. By the time she was convinced that her only hope of release was to reveal the whereabouts of Hall, it was too late. He had been murdered in Seattle. Although the prosecutor admitted that she never actually handled or sold drugs, Kemba was sentenced for the entire amount of cocaine distributed by the operation, even though she had not known Hall when the conspiracy began.
Her son, William, was born in prison. She hopes to win her appeal, get ‘a second chance’, and help other young women avoid the mistakes she made. Kemba’s cause has been taken up by students and journalists around the country as a prime example of excessive penalties for a low-level offender.