By Juan Haines
Kevin Carr says he can now see the light at the end of the tunnel since California voters passed initiatives in 2012 and 2014 that reduced the state’s tough on crime laws.
Nineteen years ago, Carr was a different person.
“I was struck out for a commercial burglary for stealing about $160 worth of children’s clothes,” Carr said. “After I got caught, I got into a scuffle with a security guard.”
Carr said the incident was not his first encounter with the law, and for that he was given a life sentence under the state’s Three Strikes Law.
His incarceration experience is typical for a California inmate. He began his life sentence at a maximum-security prison. However, by staying clean, he worked his way to a medium-security prison — San Quentin.
“I came here with an understanding that I could do what I wanted to do,” Carr said. “But, I didn’t know that God was preparing me for something bigger.”
Carr said he got a spiritual awakening and a desire to seek insight into the factors that led him to prison through a Christian fellowship group, Dug Out Ministries.
“I was introduced to different programs, like Project REACH,” which is a literacy program geared toward at-risk youth, Carr said. “Then, within a year, I got my high school diploma. But, even though I was putting forth an effort to better my life, I was still dealing with the fact that I had a life sentence.”
Carr said he ultimately gained the ability to grasp how his criminal acts affected his victims, the community, his family and himself through the help of Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG). VOEG puts crime victims and offenders together to seek healing through dialogue centered on the rippling effects of crime.
Carr’s list of self-help groups includes programs that examine male role models and masculinity, drug and alcohol abuse, financial literacy, criminal thinking and how to safely re-enter the community.
“My upbringing as a man comes from taking these groups,” Carr said. “But most impactful was the leadership of Pastor Curry (former San Quentin Protestant chaplain). He gave me the chance to teach my first Bible study. That sparked an eight-year period of teaching Christianity to the men in blue. Teaching also helped me become a better person. My aim and goal is to help people with their spiritual growth.”
Carr said he’s also been encouraged through sports.
“Playing sports kept me balanced with being a man of God,” he said. “A lot of men saw that even though I had downfalls and uprisings, I kept a positive and spiritual attitude.”
Carr said being involved with Christian Ministries has also bettered his relationships.
“I learned how to be sacrificial and selfless,” he said. “I learned I could be more outgoing and how to communicate with others.”
He says he needed the San Quentin experience in order to mature and become the person he is today.
“The failure of Proposition 66 was bitter/sweet,” Carr said referring to a 2006 attempt at three strikes reform. “I say this because, looking back, I was not ready to be paroled. I still needed to do a lot of work on myself.”
In 2012, three strikes reform passed through Proposition 36, and Carr was interviewed by a local television station, along with several other prisoners.
“It was kind of depressing,” Carr said, “Everyone in that interview has been paroled. I’m the last one to go. But, I stayed strong and continued the work.”
Carr applied for relief, three years later, after the passage of Proposition 47.
“I don’t want to complain,” Carr said. “I needed the time as a spiritual man,” adding “When I got a letter from the courts, I knew I had a chance at freedom.”
Carr said his Los Angeles County Jail experience was an emotional roller coaster.
“Three days after I got to county jail a riot broke out between Black and Hispanics,” Carr said. “But I took a stance not to get involved. About a week later, I got a deadly disease that was not treated until five days after I got it.”
“While I was in the county jail, I talked to a lot of youngsters,” Carr said. “They were asking me if I knew their fathers who were in prison. They didn’t know their dads, and they lacked a male role model. Eight out of 10 didn’t know their dads while mothers were struggling.”
Carr said that he was able to meet his son for the first time in 19 years. His son, Kevin Jr., was in the same jail.
“We spent two hours together in the holding tank, crying, embracing each other,” Carr said. “A week later, I saw my 21-year-old daughter. She drove up from Phoenix. I saw a lot of family during my time in the county jail. The judge was impressed by the 17 family members who were coming to all the hearings. He said since being on the bench, he’s never seen so much support.”
During his re-sentencing, the judge considered Carr’s accomplishments in prison, letters of support from correctional officers and that he didn’t have any serious rules violations.
With that in mind, the judge took away Carr’s life sentence and left him with 21 years and three months to serve. Carr has less than three years to apply for parole.
“Meeting with my children was so impactful. Since then, my daughter has changed her life and is working for a bank,” Carr said. “My son has gotten out of jail, stopped gang-banging, got a job, has sole custody of his 7-year-old son, and became a youth minister.”
“I’ve learned the importance of rehabilitation, family ties, unity and an enduring spiritual foundation” Carr said.