7:00am PT by Jean Bentley
Kim Kardashian West Promises Her 'Justice Project' Doc Isn't Just for Publicity
In June 2018, the White House granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother who was serving a life sentence for a first-time non-violent offense — a move that came after Kim Kardashian West advocated for Johnson's case as she took up the cause of criminal justice reform. The reality star's turn to activism is documented in a two-hour documentary for Oxygen, Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, premiering April 5.
The film sees Kardashian West and a team of legal experts investigate the cases of Dawn Jackson, Alexis Martin, Momolu Stewart and David Sheppard, and, per the official description, "highlights Kim’s growing understanding of mandatory sentencing, the damaging problems of mass incarceration, as well as the importance of educational programs and rehabilitation efforts for a successful re-entry into society."
The entrepreneur's turn to activism came after hearing about Johnson's case and deciding, she told reporters at a Television Critics Association panel in January, to use the power of her social media accounts for good — especially in the current political climate. Since then, she's begun studying for the bar in California alongside lawyer Jessica Jackson, the co-founder of the bipartisan #Cut50 campaign to decrease crime and incarceration across the U.S. and Kardashian West's sponsor for her law study (which requires 20 hours a week of study and apprenticeship).
Studying law is a shift from reality TV stardom, but it is the family business.
"I think subconsciously having lived in a home with my attorney father [O.J. Simpson lawyer Robert Kardashian Sr.] who made me sign a contract for everything ... by the time I was a teenager and he was working on the O.J. case and I was sneaking in his office looking at all of the evidence and things I shouldn’t have been looking at, to the day that I happen to be on Twitter and see a video pop up of Alice Johnson, maybe just it was in my soul for years that that’s what I would have wanted to do," Kardashian West said on the panel.
Last year I registered with the California State Bar to study law. For the next 4 years, a minimum of 18 hours a week is required, I will take written and multiple choice tests monthly. As my first year is almost coming to an end I am preparing for the baby bar, a mini version of the bar, which is required when studying law this way. I’ve seen some comments from people who are saying it’s my privilege or my money that got me here, but that’s not the case. One person actually said I should “stay in my lane.” I want people to understand that there is nothing that should limit your pursuit of your dreams, and the accomplishment of new goals. You can create your own lanes, just as I am. The state bar doesn’t care who you are. This option is available to anyone who’s state allows it. It’s true I did not finish college. You need 60 college credits (I had 75) to take part in “reading the law”, which is an in office law school being apprenticed by lawyers. For anyone assuming this is the easy way out, it’s not. My weekends are spent away from my kids while I read and study. I work all day, put my kids to bed and spend my nights studying. There are times I feel overwhelmed and when I feel like I can’t do it but I get the pep talks I need from the people around me supporting me. I changed my number last year and disconnected from everyone because I have made this strict commitment to follow a dream of mine - It’s never too late to follow your dreams. I want to thank Van Jones for believing in me and introducing me to Jessica Jackson. Jessica along with Erin Haney have taken on the role of my mentors and I am forever grateful to them both putting in so much time with me, believing in me and supporting me through this journey. This week I have a big torts essay due on negligence. Wish me luck
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And ever since becoming a mother, she's been more aware of doing what she can do to address injustice in the world.
"I’m raising four black children that could face a situation like any of the people that I help. And so, just to know that I could make a difference in my children’s lives and their friends’ lives and their children’s lives by helping to fix such a broken system, that is just so motivating for me."
Kardashian West and her legal mentor Jackson spoke with The Hollywood Reporter in January about her public image, what work she's actually doing, and criticism that she's doing it all for publicity.
You've been very vocal about the mass incarceration problem in this country, and the trailer for the documentary implies that it's not just some flight of fancy for you.
Kardashian West: Yeah, I definitely think it's really serious. I think people have been seeing over the last two years what's been going on and what I've been really doing. I didn't want to stop at just Alice, and to me, it was really important, as I spent so much time learning about the justice system, I learned that so much is messed up and so much has to be changed, and so I just couldn't stop at trying to make a difference if I felt like I could.
You've said that you're not just doing this for publicity. But even if you were, would it really matter? You are getting results.
Kardashian West: Yeah, I'm absolutely not. To take time away from my kids and my life is a lot for me. I've turned down actual major business projects that would be really lucrative because I just don't have the time because this takes up a lot of my time. And I choose to do that. I really can't live with myself knowing that when I read all these letters — like, I have a stack of letters that pile up and my assistants and people will be like, "do you want me to read them and vet them?" And I'm like, "No, no, I need to read them myself. I need to feel and understand what each person is taking their precious time out of their day to say to me," and that's really important to me. If I know that I could make a difference, I just wouldn't turn my nose and not try. I have an amazing group of attorneys that I work with that help make all of this possible. There are different groups of people that I work with depending on the state and what we can really do who really help out a lot. I love the new relationships with people that I've met. It's a completely different world for me, but I love doing what I do.
Jessica, Kim is your apprentice. What is she like as a student?
Jackson: Kim is is one of the hardest workers I know. [My partner] and I go check in with her after each assignment and I'm constantly blown away by how thorough she is, and how thoughtful she is, and really how fast she's able to get these things. I think some of it, as Kim has said, comes from the fact that this is applicable to our everyday life. I remember we were learning about torts, we were learning about common areas and the liability of a landlord. And she's like, "Oh, wait, this just happened to somebody in my family, talk me through this." She was able to apply what we were learning to that. But I think her passion for criminal justice really shines through [and is] a cool part of this apprenticeship. Something I wish I'd had in law school is the fact that she gets to work on actual cases, and a lot of the time there's real work to be done. Erin Haney has been working on the Rodney Reed case with the lawyers down in Texas and right away plugged Kim in to write a memo on it where she's literally going through a case that's an active death row case. So she's not just using her celebrity to tweet about a case, she's actually engaged in doing that legal work and passionate about it.
Kardashian West: Yeah, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and so many cases that people don't even know that I'm working on. It's not all for publicity. I don't have to publicize everything. Sometimes the publicity in a case would work against us, so we always are really mindful and have a strategy and try to never speak out publicly unless it's a necessity, and we'll work toward the benefit of the case. Sometimes there's a case I'm working on, a life sentence, and I know it wouldn't be beneficial if I spoke out. I've been completely taking the lead on this case and funding a new trial, like, everything that this person I know really deserves, and deserves this second chance, but I know that publicity-wise it wouldn't be beneficial. So there's a lot that was done behind the scenes that I don't think people even realize.
As someone who has been in the public eye for many years and also very accessible via social media, how has your image of yourself evolved?
Kardashian West: Oh, my god, I look back at some of my old tweets and I cringe, the things that I say. Twitter [and] social media is extremely powerful, but it can also be used maybe not to our benefit in these situations. I don't like putting people or governors on blast sometimes, I like to be encouraging and I like to bring awareness to something without, you know, there are so many private conversations that happen before these decisions are even made, or private outreach to so many people in higher power before tweets are even made.
As you're taking on more of this work, have you thought about your public image? Do you dress differently?
Kardashian West: I think I go back and forth. I've always felt like I've dressed appropriately where I've gone so that's not really an issue. I do get asked a lot, like, will you stop posting bikini photos or specific things like that and I'm never going to not be me. So I think that you can do it all and you can be yourself and what you do. I think that there's obviously a time and a place for everything. And I have been more mindful for sure, but I don't know if it's just because I have four kids and I'm growing up and, you know, circumstances — or I just maybe haven't been on vacation as much to take those pictures.
Jackson: It's very liberating though — when I was in law school, I remember I did a moot court and one of the comments the judge made was like, "you should put your hair up. You can't wear your hair down in court and you should have longer sleeves on. Don't show so much arm," which is very constricting and it puts you in this box to look as much like a man as you can. So it's kind of liberating to have Kim come along and and not necessarily fit those norms and be an inspiration to us to have it all.
As someone who does have the president's ear and who is able to pick and choose in terms of what you can get done, how much time do you spend strategizing about what you actually can accomplish? Obviously this documentary is one step. Giving interviews about it and making more people aware of it is another.
Kardashian West: We're definitely extremely thought-out and strategic when it comes to people's lives that are on the line based on choices and decisions that we're going to make, whether it's at a governor's office or at the White House. Or even talking about someone on social media — everything is extremely well-planned-out and thought-out because I would never risk someone's life. And if I can make the right decision for them or help to push forward a decision, then I want to make sure that I do it in the most appropriate way. Obviously, there are other issues that might have nothing to do with justice reform and that I would love to speak to whoever in power I can. But there's a time and a place and and a lot of those conversations are private conversations. I love to stay focused on an issue. If I realize that a lot of other things that I might not see would hurt my chances of really changing people's lives and saving people's lives, then I know that there's a time and a place for that. I like to stay focused.
Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project premieres Sunday, April 5 at 7 p.m. on Oxygen.