Meet Kenneth Foster (Alive!)

Speaking on Sports

I sit here stunned: a goofy smile on my face, a tear on my cheek. This must be what victory feels like. Forgive me if I’m not familiar with its near-narcotic euphoria.

For folks who haven’t heard, Kenneth Foster’s death sentence was struck down yesterday by Texas Gov. Rick Perry after a 6-1 recommendation by the Perry appointed Board of Parolees. This is just a tremendous victory for those of us around the world who fought to make sure yesterday wasn’t the day Kenneth was put to death. We must take the time to remember Michael LaHood who lost his life 10 years ago at the hands of Mauricio Brown who was driving in Kenneth’s car. But we also remember the words of Sean Paul Kelly, Michael’s closest friend who opposed Kenneth’s execution. Kelly told the press:

…the execution of a young man who didn’t even kill Mike? That’s not justice. It’s senseless vengeance, a barbarism cloaked in the black robes of justice.

When victories like this occur, every link in the chain matters. Without question, the strongest links in this chain was Kenneth and his family. Kenneth said from the outset, “It’s my belief that if this does not become a political issue then I have no chance.”

That was the plan of action laid out for the DRIVE movement on death row, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and other organizations that worked on his case. We made it political, asking the question over and over why Kenneth should be put to death for driving a car?

It was also the inspiration for a group of athletes and even a couple of sports writers, to stand together and demand that this man not be put to death. I want to take a moment and thank Etan Thomas, Dr. John Carlos, Lee Evans, Toni Smith, Dave Meggyesy, Jeff “Snowman” Monson, Dennis Brutus, William Gerena–Rochet, Neil DeMause, Doug Harris, Lester Rodney, Rus Bradburd and the INIMITABLE Scoop Jackson.

Below is a letter I received from Kenneth a couple weeks back with some of his thoughts on sports and society. I thought when I would eventually publish it, it would be a kind of eulogy. Instead it is a celebration of the struggle so desperately needed to see any kind of progress. It’s also a testament to his spirit. So good people, meet Mr. Kenneth Foster.

In struggle and sports,
Dave Zirin


Dear Dave,

Let me say that I grew up like most youths playing sports. I started off playing pee-wee football and went all the way up to high school giving it 6 years. I went to high school and hung out with guys that are now NFL football players (Priest Holmes, ND Kalu and have a cousin that was in the NFL as well- Tony Brackens). I indulged in basketball and track and field as well. But for me sports never took hold of me the way it did other youths. I had a pretty active mind, so from year to year I wanted to be/do something new. My last year in sports was my Freshman year in high school (around 1992). By then the streets encompassed my mind.

So, coming into prison I entered with a little bit of love for sports. But, I had a different personal legend to unfold, so I slowly began to drift from that interest. As I began to become politically and culturally conscious the more recidivistic aspects of prison began to heavily reflect off of me. A strong contrast comes to light when a man steps outside of the prison molds.

Facing an injustice the only thing that I began to get obsessive about was how to get heard and be free, and as the saying goes- you cant serve 2 gods. Sports, as you know, becomes a way of life. You monitor it, you almost come to breathe it. It’s not just about watching a game, but knowing the stats, knowing the colleges they came from, knowing their proneness to injuries, etc.. All of this becomes relevant due to the fact that 9 times out of 10 there’s money on these games.

Sports becomes a way of life in prison, because it becomes a way of survival. For men that don’t have family or friends to help them financially this becomes an income, and at the same time it becomes a way to occupy your time. That’s another sad story in itself, but it’s the root to many men’s obsession with sports.

I also began to observe the way sports is used as a crutch for a sense of pseudo-pride. In prison, due to being stripped of your humanity, man cling to anything they can to give them a sense of identity. The spectrum varied intensely- it could be keeping a pet snake in your cell, it could be wearing an earring you’re not supposed to, keeping your hair trimmed a certain way when you’re not supposed to, and then there’s the more intense levels of rolling with the gangs or becoming interested in religion, politics, etc.. More times than not sports becomes a crutch.

Seeing this, sports became something that I avoided. It was just another weapon in the arsenal of ignorance and mental oppression. It was another part of the term we call- penitentiary ‘poli-tricks’. These are tricky games, rules and concepts whose function only dilute and separate prisoner
power. Therefore, I began a self-induced process to undergo sports amnesia. I didn’t watch it, I didn’t even listen to it, I didn’t gamble on it and didn’t entertain conversation about it. I even extended that to the city I was from. Not wanting to be belligerent in conversation if a person asked me where I was from I would tell them. I didn’t mind the casual conversation. But, I made sure to keep the lines drawn.

There’s a comfort zone that rises and while interacting with each other and joking ones, while playing the dozens on each other, will way things like- ‘Aww, that fool must be from Dallas talking like that. You know how them fools from Dallas is’, or ‘that sounds like a Knick’s fan over there, you know them dudes is throwed off anyway’. The cities and teams become protracting devices often-times for subliminal feelings and thoughts. This really becomes so when someone has lost a gambling bet and what often comes out as- ‘Man, them damn Spurs ain’t shit. To hell with them Spurs’- usually translates to ‘Man, fuck you’. And this has been the cause of numerous
prison riots across the kountry.

This is why when I’m approached with the city pride thing I let an individual know straight from the outset- I don’t represent cities, I represent ideologies. I don’t care about any city or State in this kountry, because the only thing they’ve done is railroad me and ain’t none of these teams donating to my Defense Fund, so they don’t exist in my world- That’s a truth that cant be rebuttled. But for many, who are hopeless and still lost in their lower-selves, sports is a mighty ruler in their lives.

In 2000 Texas death row was moved to a new unit due to a death row prison escape in 1998. As a result Texas officials stripped us of everything we had- work program, group rec, arts and crafts and TVs. That has lasted up until today and those continued conditions were the spark for the creation
of DRIVE ( which was a protest coalition I helped create. But, having no TVs doesn’t stop the sports lovers. They go into their radios and find ways to wire it up and catch TV stations by radio, so the love of the game continues.

For a prisoner who has become politicalized I have a very hardline mentality- so things like sports, gambling, drinking, fooling with guards (in friendly manners) don’t exist for me. Because this goes against the grain of the norm, I become a target not only for guards, but for inmates as well. From years of repression and humiliation (just like slavery) there
is an enjoyed monotony.

I wanted to say that my favorite part of the book was the interview with Mumia. Mumia just has this way of taking the most complex of issues and making it seem so simple and understandable. I was even drawing my own parallels throughout your book- for example I saw the censoring of the 2 Live Crew in what David Stern is doing to his NBA Players. And if we wanted to stretch it, what Stern is doing is on the edges of old Apartheid/Jim Crow laws where you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t go here or there. Everyday in this kountry we see things that we thought was Rights being rolled back.

Even my case is an example of where they’re trying to execute me, because they say I should anticipate something and now they’ve passed laws to make repeat sex offenders eligible for the death penalty. Pretty soon we’ll be back to the old Emmitt Till days where you get murdered for looking at the wrong person (system wise).

And so, all of this ties into a deeper issue. For those of us in these movements we have strong allies in the athletic field. You did a great job highlighting Roberto Clemente and Etan Thomas. I have even tried to reach out to Etan. I think for those of us in the movement we have to start making demands from athletes (and rappers too). Athletes have the money and platforms. I’m sure that many fear going through what Carlos Delgado went through, but in this day and age stances must be made. It’s never easy to make them, but we, as a people, must stop feeling uncomfortable to stand on what we know is right. We must not feel uncomfortable to ask for things back from persons that benefit from us so much. We have to find more Etans and create coalitions. They must become serious and passionate like CEDP members. And when one try to silence them, like they did Delgado, we will let their bias and racist be reflected on their own.

Athletes, Artist and Activist: from solidarity to power is the next book you should work on. We have to connect the Glovers, Etans, dead prezs and Fred Hampton Jrs; also the Delgados, Welfare Poets, and other Latin movements. And then we have to take that internationally building with ones like Chavez and other countries open for progressive change. We have to put challenges up like Dennis Brutus did with SANROC.

Speaking of such, though I don’t know where it was initiated from, I have a great feeling that you probably had your hands in it, and that was the Jocks for Justice petition done on my behalf. That touched me greatly and whomever is responsible I’d like to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

I’ve read Dennis Brutus work and I was always enchanted by the photo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. It’s time to bring this new generation out.

You wield power, because you have vision and like Baldwin said- ‘Where there is no vision the people perish’. I only wanted to share a piece of my journey with you and want to continue to be a pebble in the pond. Though I wanted to save your book as a collectors item since you signed it, I’m going to try to circulate it around here and see what I can spark in these dry prairies.

Brother, I wish you much success in all that you do and will pray that your work opens more eyes and empowers even more minds. It’s been a great blessing for me to have met you, even in this limited fashion.

Revolutionary Love to you!

In Spirit/Strength/&Struggle

Haramia Ki Nassar
(Kenneth Foster Jr.)

Dave Zirin is the author of Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love (Scribner). He can be reached at: Read other articles by David, or visit David's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. some consolation said on August 31st, 2007 at 6:02am #

    It’s too bad that you honkies were played as patsies by yet another black punk. What a chickenshit Foster is, no pride, just whining and bogus excuses. It’s an insult to all the poor black people who manage to live their lives without becoming sociopaths

    the only consolation is the thought that this little chickenshit will be stuck in a cage for the next 50 years — a much harsher punishment than death — and that his family and child will have to live the rest of their lives knowing that he is caged.

  2. todd, a chickenshit (you coward) said on August 31st, 2007 at 8:42am #

    How transparent and spiteful the alleged concern for “poor black people” the previous individual’s (white, pseudo-christian, elitist and cowardly male?) utterances appear, as though by the inclusion of the term “honkies” the reader will not mistake this ignorant hateful rabble as that of a white republican errand boy. Chickenshit, you say? Is that a public computer you are using, Mr. Bold and Brave? Have you been waiting around the libraries, or are you comfortably nested in your home? Is the leather in your lexus beginning to wear? It must have really angered you that your masters staved off the lynching of Kenneth Foster, who in the spirit of George Jackson, Assata Shakur, Geronimo Pratt, and the millions of other prisoners who resist the brutal tactics that woulk attempt to break them down as something less than human. What a coward you are, you anonymous hateful loaf. Respect to all who worked on Kenneth’s behalf. Respect to all who share the vision of freed political prisoners. Respect to those who demand a balanced justice system. And to the shameful few, such as the writer of this previous entry, whom in their trite and unsatisfying life finds consolation by reveling in anothers anguish; the lines are being drawn, and our time is coming.

  3. Hans Bennett said on August 31st, 2007 at 11:26am #

    What a pleasant comment! For those of us who are not bitter, psychotic jerks like “some consolation” this is an amazing day. Most folks involved were not very optimistic. So, once again it is a testament to the power of organizing against injustice. Below here is an essay written by Walidah Imarisha (who I was coresponding with directly from the prison) last night.

    KiNassor/Foster Gets Commutation – And the Struggle Continues

    By Walidah Imarisha

    It is 6:05 p.m. on Aug. 30. Right now Haramia KiNassor/Kenneth Foster Jr., death row organizer and poet, was supposed to be strapped down to a gurney waiting for a shot of poison injected into his veins. Thanks to world wide outrage, attention and action, he no longer has the threat of death of hanging over his head.

    Today at noon, Texas Governor Rick Perry commuted KiNassor’s death sentence to life in prison, after a 6-1 recommendation for clemency by the Perry-appointed Board of Pardons and Paroles The Board has only voted to stop an execution once before since the reinstitution of the death penalty in Texas in 1982.

    Supporters attribute this almost unprecedented decision to the national and international support he has gotten. Last minute media this morning including The New York Times, The LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and several news stations only join with Court TV, BET News, NBC, ABC and hundreds of others, not only here but in Venezuela, Dubai, Italy, France, England and elsewhere.

    “After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster’s sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment,” Perry said in his written statement about the decision.
    But Perry’s statement extended beyond KiNassor’s case: “I am concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously and it is an issue I think the Legislature should examine.”
    KiNassor agreed that this issue extends beyond his case, and has insisted that from the beginning. Today, before the decision came down, he said in an interview, “Regardless of what happens today, you all have to keep up the struggle. I know this is bigger than one day. The Law of Parties is still on the books and this is going to continue to ruin lives until we stop it.”
    KiNassor’s attorney Keith Hampton estimates there are at least a dozen prisoners on Texas’ death row who was convicted under the Law of Parties. KiNassor feels that’s a good place to begin work, but not to end.

    KiNassor encouraged his supporters to work to free Rudy Medrano who is on death row for the Law of Parties. KiNassor says that Medrano was sentenced to die for loaning someone a gun that was used in a murder without his knowledge when he was at a different location.
    He also encourages organizing against the death penalty. Five more lethal injections are scheduled for next month, the first one next week. This is just a break in a chain, and we must ensure that this chain stays broken.

    In addition, supporters plan to continue supporting The DRIVE Movement, the death row organization KiNassor helped to found that is working to end the inhumanity of the death penalty.

    And of course there is still the fight to get KiNassor free. “Life is better than a death sentence, but it still isn’t good enough and we will ride to the end,” says Adam Axel, a support coordinator.

    KiNassor agreed, saying, “The struggle continues and I know we will win, with the people we have involved.”

    But tonight, his supporters are tasting the sweetness of their victory, as KiNassor must be as well in his cell knowing so much love is with him, without the threat of death over him, knowing that he will finally be able to touch his 11-year-old daughter, that he hasn’t touched since she was three months old, knowing that he can have extended visits with his family without glass separating them or special schedules. And the thing with victory is once you get a taste, it makes you that much more dedicated to have more.


  4. JE said on August 31st, 2007 at 11:57am #

    Wow some racist posing a black guy to make people feel bad for standing against the injustice of capital murder. That’s sad and amusing at the same time.

    Anyway, my reaction was precisely the same as Mr. Zirin’s. Pure Joy. There actually is a smudge of justice in this world.

  5. Michael Rappaport said on August 31st, 2007 at 12:21pm #

    I believe the commutation of Foster’s sentence was wonderful — he should never have been subject to execution — but I have to admit being a little disappointed to see that the way he has been able to survive in prison has been by adopting a Muslim name.

  6. Desiree' Atkins said on August 31st, 2007 at 4:05pm #

    I mean come on now i am a student who is 17 years of age, also an African American and I know people are dying everyday and yet we continue to sit here and play the rascist card.. I mean for people to say “blacks” are pyscho-paths must have a really hard time of waking up in the morning and seeing color and hating it. There is so much goin on here and yet they wanna jump on the next person in line… I am truly happy that a man who was innocent went free of dying in a horrible manner. If only they had did the same thing for Stanley Tookie Williams. Down here in Texas the are many killings and most of the people are white, and no i am not throwin the race card in there…I mean so we (human beings) need to come on and grow up and stop playing childish games and just deal with life as it comes to us..

  7. Deadbeat said on August 31st, 2007 at 5:12pm #

    The struggle continues.

  8. makes_me_wonder said on August 31st, 2007 at 6:27pm #

    I guess through all this, what about the consideration of the victim and his family. In my personal opinion people can cry and moan all they want about how he didnt perform the act but they were there within a few feet. He is just as guilty as the person that was put away a year ago.

  9. bunny bampton said on August 31st, 2007 at 7:40pm #

    noone does ugly venegeance q as well as angry white guys in america, do they? i’m pleased that this guy wasn’t executed but i’m q amazed he’s still in jail. in any other western country he’d be home free since he didn’t actually DO ANYTHING!


  10. Lloyd Rowsey said on September 1st, 2007 at 6:25am #

    A pessimist would say, biology isn’t even science, it’s just an almost infinite collection of unique examples. I busted my teeth on the line between writing and activism in the extremely brutal political discussion groups at the NYT, maybe four years ago. I’m still a recovering writer-activist, and I hope I always will be; but most of the reactions like these — to Dave’s obviously from-the-heart notice to everyone — still shoot me in-the-heart, if you know the crazy, white, honky killer whose brother’s book I so lightly refer to.

    Can ANYONE imagine that the Chipmunk and his Eichmann Gonzales would have spared Kenneth Foster’s life?

    An optimist would say, it’s all chance although we do make choices. Keep writing my friends and being active my friends and doing both my friends. As long as you can. We’re our only hope. Not to mention the world’s.


  11. Chris Purcell said on September 1st, 2007 at 11:05am #

    It’s always been a mystery to me that the same people who are pro death penalty are anti-abortion. There are many right to life issues. I would like to see a permanent ban on the death penalty in this country. I would have a problem living next door to a person who would, as their job, be the one to push the button, flip the switch, or whatever would be necessary to carry out the deliberate execution of anyone. It is a job that I could not and would not do myself for moral reasons, and would therefore not ever expect that anyone else would. Personally, I don’t think that Kenneth Foster even deserves life in prison, though I believe there are some who do. We have to have a sensible way of dealing with crime in this country.

    Chris Purcell

  12. Greekgyal said on September 1st, 2007 at 12:35pm #

    Can you all just Free Kenneth Foster!!!!!Also free all of the innocent prisoners all together.

  13. Margy said on September 15th, 2007 at 2:59am #

    Wasent it was another non white colored man, a social outcast a dude accused convicted and put to death for crimes he didnt commit some 2000 years ago who say the following while defending a prostitute who was about to be stoned to death by her own hypocritical contermoraries for her crimes…..

    He without sin…cast the first stone!!!

    Oh yes…how brave people are to call others “chickenshit” and throw stones at everyone else around them but whom cant face their own reflections in the mirror.

    What utter hypocracy!

  14. Margy said on September 15th, 2007 at 3:08am #

    I actually was under the impression it was his African name…

    At least thats what I was told .