SAN JOSE — About two years into what was slated to be a 28-year prison sentence, Kennard Isaiah Love was all out of hope.
His feelings of helplessness drove him to the brink of suicide. He remembers that as his life was slipping away, he turned to prayer.
“I prayed, ‘Please don’t let me do all this time. Help me figure out the reason I’m here,’ ” Love, now 35, recalled in an interview.
Love survived. He also committed the rest of his incarceration to a transformation he hoped would get him a second look from the state, by demonstrating that he had undergone enough rehabilitation to warrant early release.
“I decided I was going to make so much of a positive influence in prison, they’re going to kick me out of there,” Love said.
With the help of a two-year-old law, he did just that.
Love became one of 12 people convicted in Santa Clara County to be resentenced and released under Assembly Bill 2942, a 2019 criminal justice reform bill that empowered California prosecutors, rather than just judges and prison officials, to recommend re-sentencing for state prisoners they believe have been rehabilitated.
That is the most of any county in California. In Contra Costa County last month, Derric Lewis became the first person there to benefit from the law, after being freed with 11 years remaining on a 27-year sentence due to his commitment to his own education and that of other inmates.
“People who have done concerning things in their past, that’s one part of their story, that’s one chapter in their life,” said former San Francisco prosecutor Hillary Blout, who spearheaded the change in law. “We have to look at the other chapters, and we have to look ahead and see the chapters that still have to be written.”
SAN JOSE – MAY 6: Isaiah Love ties his shoes before a run at 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, a passion he said kept him focused amid an upbringing where relatives going to prison was “like something that was normal.” But after lackluster stints at junior colleges in Monterey and San Jose, he made a hard pivot toward another kind of life.
By the mid-2000s, to bankroll his pursuit of a real-estate career, Love had partnered with another man to commit armed robberies in the San Jose area, in some instances luring victims with phony Craigslist posts advertising too-good-to-be-true deals like discounted car offers, according to investigators. A 2007 robbery arrest, compounded with past scrapes with the law, led a 2009 conviction and a 28-year prison sentence.
He spent time at several prisons across the state over the next decade — as well as a stint in Arizona, when California ran out of room for him — before he was finally transferred to San Quentin State Prison in 2018.
He stayed out of trouble and dove into coursework, earning associate’s degrees in business, behavioral and social science, and math. At San Quentin, he joined The Last Mile program, which teaches computer coding to prisoners with the aim of setting them up for future careers in software engineering.
Love was changing. He hoped it would be enough.
“All I could say is, ‘Look at my actions,’ ” he said. “Look at my body of work.”
‘A perfect ambassador’
For years, Love’s family had been in contact with Silicon Valley De-Bug, a South Bay nonprofit that has long supported incarcerated people and advocated for criminal-justice reform. For the People, the nonprofit that Blout founded in part to lobby for AB 2942, worked with De-Bug to promote his resentencing to prosecutors. De-Bug co-founder Raj Jayadev called Love “a perfect ambassador for the spirit of this law.”
Before the law was shepherded through the state Legislature by San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting, resentencing consideration typically didn’t happen until a person’s first parole hearing, which for many serious crimes might not happen for well over a decade.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Love’s prospective release meant pushing how the resentencing law had been applied to that point, since most of the people freed had committed crimes involving minimal or no violence.
“This was a stretch, but I felt confident and optimistic,” Rosen said. “He was held accountable, he was a young man (when convicted), and he made tremendous change.”
SAN JOSE – MAY 6: Isaiah Love smiles after a morning run at 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 the law has resulted in at least 50 early releases in California — a modest number that Rosen said exhibits a necessary balance between upholding public safety and honoring true 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 when they commit crimes, help victims heal, and provide incentive for defendants to change.”
To Jayadev, AB 2942 should be applied more widely as a counterweight to a national history of racially discriminatory over-sentencing.
“It gives the most agency to communities decimated by these sentences. People should be publicly pushing DA’s to use this tool at their disposal and use it to do the will of the people,” Jayadev said. “There’s people just falling through the cracks. If 2942 is applied correctly, it could be the device that fills the gaps. It’s what the moment is calling for them to do.”
‘I feel validated’
On Dec. 23, 11 years into his sentence with 17 left, Love came home to San Jose. His family, friends and supporters who had been in his corner were waiting.
Since then, leaning on his family for support, he has taken on some coding work while preparing to interview for full-time job opportunities. When he sat down for an interview late last month, he was also looking at getting into the selective Hack Reactor coding boot camp based in San Francisco.
When asked about the experience of returning home, he said it wasn’t as jarring as it could have been because he had been visualizing 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 under AB 2942. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group)
“It feels like I never left,” Love said. “I feel validated.”
He also knows that the way he lives his life will be watched closely and will be used as a barometer for expanding the scope of the law that gave him another chance.
The successes of the resentencing law have also laid bare issues with sentencing, particularly in light of scientific research showing that a person’s brain development continues into their late 20s. Reformers have highlighted those findings to argue that initial sentences should not be the final word for keeping someone incarcerated for most if not all of their adult life.
“We’re not thinking, this person might just need five years of that 20. We have no idea how long that person will need to be rehabilitated,” Blout said. “Are we safer because of this decision, and what are ripple effects of pulling someone away from their whole entire family? When we send someone away, what are we sending them to in prison?”
Love points to himself as a testament to a greater need to revisit those questions before and after sentencing decisions are made.
“People are still growing and finding out who they are,” he said. “People make bad decisions in their early teens and 20s, but they also grow. We all have the capacity to change, mature and pivot.”
SAN JOSE – APRIL 28: Isaiah Love smiles while tucking in his shirt 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 under AB 2942. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group)
Originally Appeared On: https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/05/08/see-the-chapters-that-still-have-to-be-written-san-jose-mans-redemption-held-up-as-testament-to-landmark-prison-reform-law