“You’re going home today,” the judge told Sura Sohna, culminating a lengthy crusade by the prisoner’s childhood buddy.
The courtroom erupted in joy, thanks to the work of Brandon Harris, a 22-year-old college student. Sohna and Harris embraced in a tearful hug.
“Being in that moment was completely surreal,” said Harris.
Harris started the independent study project that freed his childhood friend Feb. 8 from a lengthy prison sentence, reported the Washington Post.
The project is called “Telling Stories of the Ignored and Forgotten.” Harris was granted permission by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to interview Sohna from prison via a live Zoom conversation that was publicly broadcast.
Because of the attention the project brought to Sohna’s case, Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge William Mulford II decided to release Sohna from prison 12 years early.
Sohna and Harris’ friendship began in the fourth grade. They played together after school and hung out on school field trips and during recess.
In their teenage years, Harris received an academic scholarship to a private high school while Sohna lived in affordable housing in an unstable home environment with his mother and brother. Growing up, Sohna witnessed crimes and acts of violence in his Robinwood neighborhood in Annapolis.
“We had bad circumstances,” Sohna said. His father was absent from his upbringing. “I felt like I had to be the one to support us, and I went into criminal activity because of that.”
The friends eventually drifted apart and went on different paths. By age 17, Sohna was incarcerated and facing 25 counts as an adult for “burglary, theft and multiple gun-related offenses,” said the Feb. 25 article.
On Jan. 14, 2020, Sohna was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“The judge gave him a really hefty sentence,” said Keith Showstack, Sohna’s attorney, who thinks the lengthy sentence was because of “a track record of Sura committing a lot of burglaries, and the judge thought enough was enough.”
Harris, who was attending school at Davidson College in North Carolina, wrote his childhood friend in prison after seeing his mug shot on television. This reignited their friendship.
“I feel so blessed that Brandon didn’t give up on me,” said Sohna over the phone at the hearing. “He always cared about me, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Showstack filed a request with the judge to modify Sohna’s lengthy sentence. His request was granted by the judge.
Many supporters showed up in Judge Mulford’s court room. When the judge asked those in the gallery to raise their hand if they were there in support of Sohna, everyone raised their hand.
Harris said that working on his project “proved to me what results you can get when you don’t give up.”