Kemba Smith Speaks Out in New Memoir

BAW | 9/1/2011, 12:39 a.m.
It has been a decade since Smith walked out of a Connecticut prison, freed after...
Kemba Smith has gone on to graduate college, marry since her release from prison./Courtesy Photo - Kemba Smith turned 40 last month.

It has been a decade since Smith walked out of a Connecticut prison, freed after serving six and half years, and before President Bill Clinton signed an executive clemency releasing her. The son she gave birth to while in prison, before her case became a cause celebre, is 16 and a high school senior.

And finally, after returning to college to get her undergraduate degree, marrying, giving birth to a daughter and settling into her life, Smith has written her memoir, aptly called Poster Child: The Kemba Smith Story. The description on the cover of the book sums up her difficult story of growing up: "It was easy falling in love with a drug dealer. The hard part was paying for his crimes."

Smith had been a Hampton University student when she started dating the head of a $4 million crack cocaine ring. Eventually, she was charged with the crimes of her lover, who was killed before police could apprehend him.

She was sentenced to 24.5 years and would still be in prison today if media coverage and her faithful parents hadn't attracted to her case a groundswell of national and international support. Smith was labeled the "poster child" for calling attention to the trend of giving harsh sentences to first time, non-violent offenders, especially "girlfriends" of drug dealers.

Now she is hoping readers of her book, "especially young men and women," she says, are reminded of the importance of making the best of your opportunities and making healthy choices as it relates to relationships.

"The overall message is a message of hope and inspiration," Smith said. "You can go through the storm and valleys and come out on top."

Smith opens Poster Child with the painful details of giving birth while being held in jail, awaiting her trial. The baby's father, the drug dealer who called himself Khalif, had just been murdered, and Smith knows her pre-sentence report says she could spend years in prison. In labor and in handcuffs, she rides to the hospital in a sheriff's squad car, endures child birth with police officers in the room and shortly thereafter, a marshal orders her feet and hands shackled. Then she has to release her son to the care of her parents.

Smith writes, "The mere thought of watching him leave my hospital room was too much. So, I just quietly hugged and kissed my baby. I knew I'd see him and hug him again someday. Maybe it wouldn't be soon, but I was definitely going to hold him again."

In her book, Smith chronicles the journey that led her, a child raised in a strict upbringing, to a relationship with a drug dealer. It is the story of a young woman with low self esteem who is gradually seduced by an older, streetwise man who is articulate and has the money to impress her with gifts. Quickly, the relationship turns abusive. Smith writes of beatings exacted whenever she doesn't do as Khalif believes she should.

"He grabbed me by my collar and swung me onto the floor. He punched me, threw me across the bed and beat me until I couldn't move," she wrote. At times, she thought he was going to kill her. Yet she did not leave.