By Reginald Stuart
A new, self-published book by college kid-gone-wild turned drug sentencing reform advocate, Kemba Smith, is providing an instructive, eye-opening look at how poor life choices can squander the future of an otherwise promising young middle class woman.
“Poster Child,” published late this summer, retraces in vivid detail how Smith, then a freshman at Hampton University, met and eventually became romantically involved with a violent drug dealer who used and abused her. It was a relationship that eventually lead to her being sentenced to 24 ½ years in federal prison with no chance for parole as a result of her involvement with the man. He died while on the run from federal authorities, not before sending her home to her parents pregnant with their child.
Today, Smith, now married and living in Indiana with her husband and two children, is traveling the country urging parents, high school and early college year students, to read her book and learn all the `wrong turn’ warning signs she ignored in her quest to be accepted and popular among her college peers in the early 1980’s and the personal costs of making those choices. The story is as relevant today as it was when she was in college Smith said. “My story is about how, when things look bleak and dim, how, with faith, you can make it through,” said Smith, in a recent interview during a book tour in suburban Washington, D.C. She credits her faith for pulling her through ordeal after ordeal, only to fall prey to her weaknesses again. “It also serves as a learning tool to help young people keep from going down the same path,” she did as a student, Smith said, after speaking to a crowd of several hundred people at the Carolina Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Maryland.
Written as a first person non-fiction story, Smith bravely offers details of how she deliberately derailed her middles class upbringing in suburban Richmond, Va., and her promising college career in order to protect her newfound life style. Over the course of two years, she recalls a life of expensive flashy clothes, cars, meals and apartments, lying to her parents, other relatives, friends and law enforcement authorities, beatings at the hands of her `lover’ and other highs and lows.
Smith is quick to stress, as federal authorities have said, she never used, sold or profited directly from the sale of the illegal drugs handled by her `lover’ and the multi-million dollar Harlem-to-Hampton Roads drug ring in which he was involved. Smith effectively puts readers in her head and takes them on a graphically detailed, oft-times scary, roller coaster ride of her young college life, illuminating much of her dramatic story first told in the now defunct Emerge Magazine. She acknowledges repeatedly concerns voiced by her classmates, parents and others that she seemed to be losing her way. She recalls how she had convinced herself, time and time again, that she could help her `lover’ turn over a new leaf if she stayed with him, despite how she was being treated.
Smith goes to great lengths to praise her parents for never giving up on her, despite her misdeeds and deception. She offers high praise to those who sought to help her gain her freedom from prison, after learning that despite being a first-time, non-violent offender, and not directly engaged in drug trafficking, she had been given a prison term longer than that given many convicted of murder, robbery, rape and theft. Eventually, former President Bill Clinton commuted Smith’s sentence to time served (six and a half years). Ms. Smith’s book, several years in the making, ends with a passionate salute to her son, Armani. He was born while she was in custody and raised until her release by her parents. “It is such a blessing to have such an intelligent, confident, caring, and supportive son,” Smith wrote in the opening of the book’s final chapter in which she issues a public apology to him “for any mistakes I have made so far as a mother…”
At various points in her narrative, Smith steps outside the storyline to confess that, in retrospect, at age 40, a decision at a particular time and place was simply unexplainable. Still, she says, she hopes her at times step-by-step account gives all readers plenty of warning signs of when to make wiser choices than she, lest they face the same risks and consequences. “Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story,” sells for 19.95. Copies can be ordered on the Internet via: www.kembasmith.com
About The Kemba Smith Foundation
The Kemba Smith Foundation is an American charitable organization which aims to raise awareness of certain social issues, including drug abuse, violence, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, and abuse. It was founded by Kemba Smith, who was convicted of a federal crime related to crack cocaine possession and had her sentence commuted by President Bill Clinton. Some of the objectives of the Kemba Smith Foundation include:
- to work toward the elimination of prejudice and discrimination in neighborhoods, and combat juvenile delinquency.
- to implement real life stories into forums that are examples to young people about the detrimental effects of bad decisions and inappropriate conduct.
- To create forums and discussions through speakers and other means. Also to educate the public about the criminal justice system and current drug policy.
- To develop goal setting programs and problem solving techniques which would cultivate the self-esteem of people and the re-entry and rehabilitation of ex-offenders.
- To match mentors with people with special needs.
- To assist families and or people with members who are subject to the criminal justice system in providing them with resources and counseling.
For more information about The Kemba Smith Foundation or to contact Ms. Smith for speaking engagements please visit the website www.kembasmith.com