SAN JOSE – Roughly two years after the planned 28-year prison sentence, Kennard Isaiah Love had no hope anymore.
His feelings of helplessness drove him to the verge of suicide. He remembers turning to prayer when his life slipped away.
I prayed, ‘Please don’t let me pretend all this time. Help me find out why I am here. “Love, now 35, recalled in an interview.
Love survived. He also committed the remainder of his incarceration to a transformation that he hoped would give him a second look at the state by showing that he had been rehabilitated enough to warrant early release.
“I have decided that I will make so much positive influence in prison that they will throw me out,” said Love.
With the help of a two year old law, he did just that.
Love became one of 12 people sentenced in Santa Clara County to be re-sentenced and released. It did so under the 2019 Criminal Justice Reform Act, which empowered California prosecutors, not just judges and prison officials, to recommend re-conviction for state prisoners who they believe have been rehabilitated.
That’s most of a county in California. In Contra Costa County, Derric Lewis became the first to benefit from the law last month after being released to 27 years and 27 years imprisonment for his commitment to his own education and that of other inmates.
“People who have done things in their pasts, that’s part of their history, that’s a chapter in their lives,” said former San Francisco prosecutor Hillary Blout, who led the change in the law. “We have to look at the other chapters, and we have to look ahead and see the chapters that have yet to be written.”
SAN JOSE – MAY 6: Isaiah Love ties his shoes off before a run on the track at Piedmont Hills High School in San Jose, Calif. On Thursday, May 6, 2021. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)
A dramatic change
After graduating from Piedmont Hills High School, Love pursued a basketball career. One passion he said kept him focused in an upbringing where relatives who went to jail were “like something normal.” But after lackluster stints at junior colleges in Monterey and San Jose, he made a tough turn towards a different kind of life.
By the mid-2000s, Love had teamed up with another man to perpetrate armed robbery in the San Jose area, and in some cases, lured victims with false Craigslist posts promoting do-it-yourself deals – real deals like discounted car deals the investigators said. A robbery arrest in 2007, coupled with previous violations of the law, resulted in a 2009 conviction and a 28-year prison term.
Over the next decade, he spent time in several prisons across the state – including Arizona when California ran out of room – before being permanently transferred to San Quentin State Prison in 2018.
He stayed out of anger and immersed himself in the coursework. He earned an associate’s degree in economics, behavioral and social sciences, and math. In San Quentin, he participated in The Last Mile program, which teaches prisoners computer coding to prepare them for future careers in software development.
The love changed. He hoped it would be enough.
“All I can say is,” Look at my actions, “he said,” look at my work. “
“A perfect ambassador”
For years, the von Love family has been in touch with Silicon Valley De-Bug, a South Bay nonprofit that has long been supporting detainees and advocating criminal justice reform. For the People, the nonprofit that Blout founded in part to campaign for AB 2942, worked with De-Bug to promote his re-conviction with prosecutors. De-Bug co-founder Raj Jayadev called Love the “perfect ambassador for the spirit of this law”.
Before the San Francisco MP Phil Ting bill was passed through state law, a person’s first hearing on parole was usually not retried, which for many serious crimes may take more than took place over a decade.
Santa Clara district attorney Jeff Rosen said Love’s likely release means moving forward with the application of the resentencing law on this issue, as most of the people freed would have committed crimes with minimal or no violence.
“This was a track but I felt confident and optimistic,” said Rosen. “He was held accountable, he was a young man (when he was convicted) and he made tremendous changes.”
SAN JOSE – MAY 6: Isaiah Love smiles after a morning run on the track at Piedmont Hills High School in San Jose, Calif. On Thursday, May 6, 2021. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)
For the People estimates that California law has resulted in at least 50 early releases – a modest number that Rosen says strikes a necessary balance between maintaining public safety and recognizing real rehabilitation.
“People can change. Not everyone does, but some do, and Mr. Love is an example of someone who has changed and is worthy, ”he said. “As a society, we want to hold individuals accountable for committing crimes, helping victims heal, and providing incentives for the accused to change.”
For Jayadev, AB 2942 should be used on a larger scale as a counterbalance to a national history of racially discriminatory overjudgments.
“There are communities that are decimated by these sentences, the greatest freedom of choice. People should publicly urge prosecutors to make this tool available to them and do the people’s will with it, ”Jayadev said. “There are people who just fall through the cracks. If 2942 is applied correctly, it may be the device that fills in the gaps. It’s what the moment demands of them. “
“I feel confirmed”
On December 23, 11 years after his sentencing with 17 remaining, Love returned to San Jose. His family, friends, and supporters who had been in his corner were waiting.
Since then, he has relied on his family for support and done some coding work while preparing for a full-time job interview. When he sat down for an interview late last month, he also wanted to get into the selective Hack Reactor Coding Boot Camp in San Francisco.
When asked about the experience of returning home, he said it wasn’t as disturbing as it could have been because he had visualized it for so long.
SAN JOSE – APRIL 28: A portrait of Isaiah Love at his home in San Jose, Calif. On Wednesday April 28, 2021. Love and at least three other Bay Area men have been released from prison on AB 2942. (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)
“It feels like I never left,” said Love. “I feel confirmed.”
He also knows that the way he lives his life is being closely watched and used as a barometer for expanding the scope of the law, which gave him another chance.
The successes of the Resentencing Act have also uncovered problems with conviction, particularly in the face of scientific research showing that a person’s brain development continued well into their late 20s. Reformers highlighted these results to argue that initial sentences should not be the last word in keeping someone incarcerated for most, if not all, of adult life.
“We don’t think this person might only take five years out of those 20. We have no idea how long this person needs to be rehabilitated,” said Blout. “Does this decision make us safer and what are the effects of someone being moved away from their entire family? If we send someone away, where do we send them to jail? “
Love points to itself as evidence of the greater need to re-examine these questions before and after deciding on judgment.
“People are still growing and finding out who they are,” he said. “People make bad decisions in their early teens and twenties, but they also grow. We all have the ability to change, mature, and pivot. “
SAN JOSE – APRIL 28: Isaiah Love smiles as he puts on his shirt at his home in San Jose, California on Wednesday April 28, 2021. Love and at least three other Bay Area men were released from prison on AB 2942 (Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)