Juvenile lifer Kempis Songster, 45, a runaway to Philadelphia who has been in prison since age 15 for the 1987 killing of another teenage runaway to a Southwest Philadelphia drug gang, has been granted parole, his attorney said Thursday.
Songster should be released from the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Graterford in the near future, after parole officials visit his fiancee’s home, attorney Douglas Fox said. Fox has represented Songster pro bono through 12 years of appeals and challenges to his sentence of life without parole, which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately found unconstitutional for juveniles, 300 of whom are in Philadelphia.
Songster, who developed a following in prison as he advocated against what he and other lifers call “death by incarceration,” said in an interview last month at Graterford that he hoped to continue his advocacy work outside prison, as a way to repay the community. He said he had spoken with incoming District Attorney Larry Krasner during a visit to Graterford. “I have to have a public life,” Songster said. “It’s not me going off to live in a cottage somewhere. I have to give back.”
Songster and co-defendant Dameon Brome, who is in prison in Dallas, Pa., were resentenced to 30 years to life last summer, making them eligible for parole. They had turned down plea deals as teens that would have freed them a decade or more ago.
At Songster’s resentencing, the father and sister of the victim, Anjo Pryce, 17, spoke of the lingering trauma the murder of the artistic teenager lured to Philadelphia had caused the family. But they said they were reconciled to the new sentences.
In prison, Songster has nearly completed a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University, become a vegan fitness and yoga expert, and worked on juvenile lifer issues. He said he has a job offer to be a trainer at a Spring Garden gym. Many in his core group of juvenile lifers at Graterford have already been released.
He said he was spending his last days in prison “downsizing” his possessions in his cell, and said the nature of his crime, and his remorse, made him reluctant to celebrate upon release. “I don’t want to come out with a ticker tape, fireworks,” he said. “So many dreams of me leaving prison have ended where I woke up back in the cell.”