While in college at Tennessee State University, Franklin native Keeda Haynes started dating a man who would change the course of her life. “He asked if I would accept packages of cell phones and pagers for his company,” she says. “It turned out that none of the packages contained cell phones or pagers.”
Keeda, along with 28 others, was indicted on various marijuana and conspiracy drug charges. “Everyone pled guilty except for me,” she says. “I chose to go to trial and exercise my constitutional right.”
What was the outcome?
I was acquitted of six charges, but was found guilty of aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute 100 to 400 kilograms of marijuana, which carried a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison. Although I had no prior criminal history, instead of receiving the minimum, I was sentenced to seven years. Upon appeal, I was re-sentenced to five and released from prison in December of 2006. I was determined to change the system.
What were your next steps?
I went to law school and became a practicing attorney in 2012. I worked at the public defender’s office for six-and-a-half years and came to realize there was an intersectionality of the criminal legal system with so many other issues, like lack of housing and lack of meaningful employment. I didn't feel as if there was anyone in Congress addressing these issues, so I decided to run for Congress and received 40% of the vote. Today, I work on a national level with The Sentencing Project, and with Free Hearts, a local grassroots nonprofit. I’m also a member of Delta Sigma Theta and am one of the co-chairs on its social action committee.
Why did you write BENDING THE ARC: My Journey from Prison to Politics?
I want to encourage people to have conversations about what’s happening in our world. I want them to think about how they can change things.
Personalized, signed copies of her book can be ordered from The Bookshop in Nashville, and unsigned copies are available on Amazon. KeedaHaynes.com