Convocation speaker Ricky Kidd, who spent 23 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit before he was exonerated in August 2019, shared his compelling story of resilience through anguish and perseverance against staggering odds on Saturday, January 18, kicking off Loomis Chaffee’s week of programming honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy.
Mr. Kidd spoke to the school community about his enduring choice to act with intention, to “hold the pen” in composing his life story, rather than succumbing to despair or accepting the narrative that other people might think his life should follow.
“I am Ricky Kidd and I am ‘Free at Last,’” he said pointing at the phrase printed on the T-shirt he wore for the event.
At the beginning of his talk, Mr. Kidd noted that wrongfully imprisoned individuals represent 2–5 percent of the current prison population — or around 150,000 people — and less than one percent of those will be exonerated.
“That needs to change,” he said and expressed hope that he can help inspire the group of more than 750 members of the school community who gathered for his presentation to lead the change.
Before March of 1997, the thought of being sentenced to life in prison for murder was simply unfathomable, according to Mr. Kidd, but it became his reality when he was convicted, sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, and processed into one of Missouri's roughest maximum-security prisons.
He read several poems from his book Vivid Expressions: A Journey Inside The Mind of The Innocent, published while he was imprisoned, that shed light on some of Mr. Kidd’s traumatic emotional experience.
To overcome the endless frustration with incarceration and the justice system, the loneliness, the feelings of abandonment, and the de-humanizing treatment he endured for more than two decades, Mr. Kidd said he leaned on his faith, his writing, his personal conviction, his commitment to helping others, and his devotion to his daughter, born five months into his captivity.
Told repeatedly by fellow inmates, correctional officers, lawyers, and others that he would spend the rest of his life in prison, Mr. Kidd refused to accept a guilty fate, and never gave up on proving his innocence. He rejected taking part in gang activity or drug dealing, choosing instead to find positive outlets for channeling his energy: reading books, writing, and especially finding ways to help others such as being a spiritual leader, leading mentoring programs and teaching financial literacy to other inmates, training guide-dogs, and writing and putting on theater productions in the correctional facility.
“I was forced to become the light, illuminating everything in sight. I was forced to become the oxygen if ever I was to breathe again,” Mr. Kidd said, quoting a passage from one of his poems.
After many years of self-advocation, of reaching out to investigators, lawyers, and lawmakers, he was able to get an investigator to listen to him and help get his case in front of a judge — the bureaucratic process of which also took several years — until his release last August.
Mr. Kidd said he hopes his story will inspire the students to work together to enact change, and never let anything hold them back from their dreams.
“Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream. We can help carry on his, and … we get to live out his dream and create our very own. What’s your dream?” he asked, and then encouraged everyone to “Be intentional, believe in yourself, and be free at last,” he said.
After the convocation, students in small groups with their faculty advisors engaged in discussions around Mr. Kidd’s presentation, using personal photographs from his life as conversation starters, and joined in a question and answer session with Mr. Kidd to conclude the special Pelican Day Saturday program.