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Kenny Johnson, Prison Advocate, Behind Bars and Beyond

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 12/19/10

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My guest today is prisoner advocate, Kenny Johnson. Welcome to OpEdNews, Kenny. You've been doing this work for a number of years. But before that, you experienced the penal system from the inside. Can you tell our readers a little about your background?



My vision is focused on mental disease in jail and how we can change the trend of sickness. My years in prison and then living out here and then going back in has been very educational. It all boils down to men and women being provided holistic healing, every step of the way. All modalities implemented will be focused on the person waking up from this sleep.

I was raised in Arkansas and at a early age moved to Kansas City, MO. That is where my upbringing began. My first few years were somewhat normal for a young black kid. There were seven of us kids by the time life really took off for me in a wild and crazy way. I started going to juvenile hall at the tender age of 14 and once I got out I wanted to do the right thing. So it was my mom and a inner city contractor Conrad who came up the idea that I could live with him and his family and at the same time learn a trade. I was so excited to be able to get out of the tiny house with all the crowdedness and also become a man.

I had no idea what it meant to be a man, but I did know that it involved having money. I did not want to be poor and with no means of making money.

So, how did learning a trade and living under Conrad's roof go for you?

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For the entire summer, all went well. I learned how to paint, do roofs basements. There was visions of me being able to buy all the Things a young teenager desires. Then there came the day to get paid, late August. Kenny said, "Later on today I will pay you. Be in the office around 4pm." Joan, this was my Christmas.

Don't leave us hanging, Kenny. Did he show up and pay you?

That evening we sat down and he quoted thousands of dollars that I had earned. He took his calculator out, and started deducting for this and that. I was 16 and had not gotten too many checks in my life. This was a big deal for me.

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After he did his deductions he wrote out a check and handed me with a big smile on his face. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. I took the check and jumped up shook his hand and walked out of his office happy. On my way home which was a block away. I couldn't wait to show my mom my check. For one moment I stopped to see what Conrad had paid me. I looked and saw $32.00. This figure was shattering. I could not believe this. Momma will explain this and get things straight.

How awful! Did your mother straighten everything out when you got home?

Once I showed my mother my check, it was my hopes that she would go down to the office and demand a explanation and the remainder of my money. This guy never said he would take anything out or charge me for living with him and his wife and kids. Plus, he had me baby sitting and did not pay me for that. Momma looked what Conrad paid me. I was upset and confused and looking for support from my mom. I never knew my Pops. He disowned me once he learned my mom was with child. My mom was the person I looked to for guidance and help. Mom looked at the check and said, "Kenny Dale we will make do with this. Conrad would not cheat you. But Momma he never told me about all this other stuff. I could see that momma was not going to back my play. I talked to Conrad the next day and he did some song and dance about taxes, living expenses. I quit the job an called a hustling buddy. At this stage of life peas ready to learn something else. working a job was not for me anymore.

What did that something else look like, Kenny?

I had met Pete while in juvenile hall and he was at the same time dating my younger sister. I knew he was in the game as a hustler. He was a sneak thief. Someone who would sneak into backrooms and steal money from safes. I got his number told Jim the Conrad story and he told not too worry he would teach me how to be a thief. The pumped was primed and I was ready to learn all that Pete would teach me. We got together the next day and started walking up Prospect, the main drag in KC. As we got near the local hardware store Pete told me to go in and take the clerk to a spot that was far away from the cash register.

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I was nervous, because I had not done anything like this before. I walked into the store up to the clerk and asked the older lady to show me the hammers. As we were talking, Pete slowly eased in. Even though I did see him come I sensed he was in the store and as we were discussing the pros and cons of different hammers, out of the corner of my eye I saw Pete leaving the store and the alert clerk followed my eyes and she spotted Pete and knew something was wrong. Hey you stop! Pete ran for the door, she ran for door and I ran after both of them for the door.

You're an artful storyteller, Kenny. Please don't stop. What happened next?

Off we go down the street. She was yelling stop and I had to catch up with Pete so you can imagine he scene. I passing her and trying catch up with Pete, so that she could now yell for both of us to stop. Pete and I crossed the street against traffic, horns blaring and put pursuer screaming. Pete took off for some bushes that led us into brushcreek. It was a steep downhill, that was full of stickers and vines. We went headlong unit them, but alas, our pursuer stopped. We did not stop until we were at my moms home. There we sat down and counted our loot.

And with that inauspicious beginning, you were initiated into the world of crime. What kinds of things did you get yourself into and how long did it take for the authorities to come down hard on you?

I got so deep into crime until it was a way of life. I spent over twenty years in various jails. It was in 1982, when the system had had enough of my stuff. They sentenced me to forty years for bad checks. It was here that I grew toward the spiritual side of life.

Forty years! That's some serious time. I see where you are now and where you were then. Can you begin to walk us through how you got from there to here, Kenny?

That was some serious time and what I had to come to terms with was that I would be forty two years of age when I hit the bricks again. This was devastating to me so I wanted out and like all those who think they can cheat, I considered suicide as a viable option. This was October of 1982 and I was in a Correctional Facility. Each day, I would save my pills. I told the shrink on duty that I was having sleeping problems and could he help me? Of course he could. In no time, I was found out by a prison guard. He knocked on my door and asked if he could have a talk with me. Warily I said yes. "That light inside of you cannot be put out so easily." I knew what he was saying, and I knew he knew what I was doing. But yet I played like I knew nothing of what he was talking about. Still, he persisted. We are children of God and that light will not be smothered so easily. He went on.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)
 

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