Kilroy Watkins’ contact with the police began early. He was 15 years old when the Chicago police first drove him from his home on the south side of town and dropped him off in Bridgeport, a neighborhood in Chicago infamous for being the place where three young white men turned 13 -year-old black boy almost struck death in 1997.
Watkins was 21 when he was selected from a police line-up and charged with two armed robberies and the murder of a rival gang member. Police said Watkins ordered his beatings and when the rival tried to flee, one of Watkins’ other gang members shot him dead. However, at the 1992 pre-trial hearing, Watkins alleged that he was a victim of torture by police and did not commit the crime.
He said homicide detectors kept him awake in the interrogation room for 36 hours and forced his confession. But despite a teenage state witness retracting her testimony in court, the judge sided with the prosecutor and denied Watkins’ motion to suppress his testimony. He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Watkins became a court clerk. He fought his own prison case and filed motions to “discover” new evidence such as FOIA inquiries regarding detectives’ wrongdoing. And he worked with other detainees who claimed detectives tortured them too. Ultimately, evidence linked the detectives in Watkins’ case to the notorious “Midnight Crew,” an infamous group of officers implicated in the torture and forced confessions of more than 200 black men. The city of Chicago paid million dollar settlements to police torture victims. In light of this evidence, Watkins’ case was referred to the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission (TIRC). He had been in prison for 25 years when he was admitted to the compulsory supervised release.
On January 25, 2019, Watkins left the Laurence Correctional Institution almost a free man. He received a ticket, $ 10, and a transfer to the Ministries of St. Leonard, a re-entry program for residential prisoners on the west side of Chicago. Watkins will remain under state oversight through 2022, checking in with his probation officers, maintaining a curfew, peeing in a cup and staying away from “known offenders”.
Watkins excelled at St. Leonard’s and was eventually referred to a sister organization St. Andrews Court, a housing program that would use a grant from the Illinois Department of Corrections to cover his rent for up to a year. He found a job as a worker in a chocolate factory. One of his employees died of Covid-19. Since he is 50 years old and already suffers from an illness, Covid-19 could be a death sentence for him, which is why he had to leave his job.
The one year deadline from St. Andrews was approaching. Despite TIRC’s review of his case, Watkins’ murder conviction continued to haunt him while looking for a new place to live in the middle of a pandemic. There were so few places to turn. At the best of times, there aren’t enough housing associations to meet the needs of the 17,000 people who return to Chicago from prison each year, and most organizations that help tend not to provide services to those who are “ serious crimes ”were convicted. like murder. Despite these struggles, Watkins continued to work on reform campaigns and marched during the anti-police violence protests that summer.
Over the years, the vast majority of the people I have followed who have just been released from an American jail or jail have told me that they felt compelled to give back to their community. I wondered why so many former incarcerated people worked so hard to change the criminal justice system, and especially why police torture survivors like Watkins advocated changes that would benefit others during their own lives and livelihoods would be at risk. I asked Alice Kim, a longtime Chicago activist and director of the Human Rights Practice Lab at the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights at the University of Chicago. She said, “A lot of people who come out want a way to be connected [and] influencing younger generations. You see yourself in the young people. “Equally important, however, is that this type of activism offers a sense of community or, in their words, a“ political home ”. These are people we closed doors to, people we “didn’t believe”. These are the same people who are actively working to achieve their vision of positive social change.
Watkins is now continuing his work on the case to clear his name and on the long campaign to end the torture by the police, but he does the work from the guest room of his ex-girlfriend’s house – the only place where he could live in the city he lived in calls home.
Ten months after Watkins was released, TIRC announced its results. While they noted “major reservations” about the credibility of Watkins ‘statements, they wrote that there was “sufficient credible evidence” that Watkins’ confession was obtained through torture. They found the “numerous complaints” against the detectives “persuasive,” just as Watkins said, particularly the complaints about confessions they had received from people who were “proven to be false”, such as a man who was at the time of the alleged crime Prison was what he confessed. The “preponderance of evidence”, according to the commission, deserved referral for judicial review.
Meanwhile, Watkins still has a crime. He still can’t find a job and he still can’t rent an apartment. He still cannot cross state lines or contact “known offenders”, and he still has to pee in a cup every week to find a probation officer or risk re-incarceration.
What happens to Jhody Polk, Joshua Hoe and Kilroy Watkins? and tens of thousands of people like her are the misunderstood legacy of the 13th and 14th Amendments, which abolished slavery and are widely heralded to give all US citizens full constitutional rights. However, the due process clause in each amendment does just the opposite: it overrides citizenship rights for those found guilty of a crime and, in some cases, for those just charged.
Whether for narcotics, sex or murder, people who were previously imprisoned are excluded from political and economic life. Regardless of how long it has been since the crime took place, how much time they spent repaying the damage they caused, or questions about their guilt. In other words, people who commit crimes can never regain full citizenship. This is not an accident, it is the direct result of the directives we have put in place that allow us to treat former detainees as if they were not citizens at all.