By Malik Ali Journalism Guild Writer
Emerald Kemp-Aikens is a 25-year-old man from Berkeley, Calif. He was on the San Quentin Warriors basketball team and enrolled in the education department in pursuit of his GED when he received some very heartbreaking news.
In May 2019, staff informed him of the passing of his mother, Shirl Kemp. He found out she was brain dead at Summit Health in West Oakland.
Dealing with the passing of a relative is difficult for everyone, yet there is a dynamic when this happens while one is incarcerated. Unless you or your family can afford to pay for the transportation and for an officer escort, you can’t go to the funeral to grieve with other family members or be consoled by those family members.
I caught up to Emerald as he was heading to class and we sat down in an area of the yard in front of the edu- cation building on the lower yard.
MA: How are you doing? Peace and condolences on the passing of your mom. Tell me about her.
KA: I’m still dealing with it, but I had to quickly move on. I just found out that her sister—my aunt— just died as well, so now I’m dealing with that. My mom (he shakes his head for a moment, gathering his thoughts) she was the best person I know. She was too generous, you know? She would give her last to her friends if she loved you, and forgave those who wronged her.
MA: Did the prison offer you any counseling or anything like that?
KA: They offered to get me some mental health. They kind of forced me to talk to a clinician, so I spent an hour talking to that person. It didn’t help. That person didn’t ask me anything relative to what I was going through—but it’s prison, you know?
MA: Yeah, these institutions need to evolve some when dealing with people who suffer a family loss while in here. Is that why you backed away from the SQ Warriors for a while?
KA: Yeah. I had to back away because the team was dysfunctional in my opinion, and I couldn’t deal with both situations at the same time, so I stepped back so I could heal. It still hurts, but I’m dealing with it.
MA: Man, again, my condolences. Let’s get into a little basketball, I know the first few questions were heavy.
KA: Yeah, okay, that’s cool. I appreciate the con- cern though from you and the sports section of the pa- per.
MA: Word on the yard is that Aaron “Showtime” Taylor has nicknamed you ‘The Ghost’ on the court; how you feel about that?
KA: (Laughing) I do pop up out of nowhere at times, so it fits.
MA: When did you first get into sports?
KA: (Thoughtfully) Six. I didn’t start playing basketball until I was 13. I played in leagues when I was young, but I didn’t get serious with basketball till I was 13.
MA: What have been the benefits and drawbacks of playing with The Warriors?
KA: I didn’t get any playing time. I was specifically not going on my visits, and I’m not getting any playing time? I could’ve dealt with everything else, but I felt like nobody on the team was better than me, and I’m only getting 45 seconds of playing time?
The positive thing was that I was able to get in good conditioning. My wind got better, my legs stayed strong, and I could think as I played. Also, the Prison Sports Min- istry aspect is cool, too. I appreciate how they come in and get involved with our lives. That type of outreach within prison? I’m not used to that, so that is something that I’ll be looking forward to next season.
MA: Thank you for taking the time to talk to our read- ers. It’s always good when they get to know the people inside the jersey.
KA: Thank you for coming to talk to me. I like the sports section, so it’s cool to be a part of something that’s reaching out to young people like me.