EPISODE SIXTEEN: SURRENDERED
ARCHIVAL BARACK OBAMA: [Cheering] Hello Chicago! If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, tonight is your answer.
JOHN WHITE: When Barack Obama got elected president, where were you?
KWAME KILPATRICK: I was a cell. I was in a Wayne County jail cell.
JOHN: On November 4th, 2008, Kwame Kilpatrick watched as Barack Obama declared victory in the presidential election.
KWAME: Barack always wanted to be a politician. He loved it. You know, a skinny kid with a funny name. We came through the ranks together in this whole political world. He did fundraisers for me.
ARCHIVAL OBAMA: I want to first of all acknowledge your great mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick...
KWAME: I was happy for him the night he went into this meteoric type of fame, the night we both spoke at the 2004 Democratic Party.
ARCHIVAL OBAMA: The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states...
KWAME: You know I spoke that same night before him.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: ...for the next president and vice president of these United States, John Kerry and John Edwards. God bless you. Thank you. [Cheers]
ARCHIVAL NEWS: It’s now 11 o’clock on the East Coast and Keith, we can report history. Barack Obama is projected to be the next president of the United States of America.
KWAME: They was at the Chicago park. And that's you know when Oprah and Jesse and everybody was in the crowd. And he came out and made that speech.
ARCHIVAL OBAMA: It’s been a long time coming but tonight because of what we did on this day, change has come to America.
KWAME: And then of course the nurses there in Wayne County, different folks came and they were hollering and cheering, and they actually allowed me that night to watch the TV. And I was overwhelmed with emotion and crying and happy and all of it.
OPERATOR: This call is from a federal prison.
KWAME: And it was powerful. It was, it was powerful. So I remember that night very well.
ARCHIVAL OBAMA:...and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can!
ARCHIVAL CROWD: Yes we can, yes we can…
JOHN: Kwame’s old political ally had just become the country’s first black president… while Kwame was sitting in a jail cell.
KWAME: I was in a room so small that I could sit on the edge of the bed and I could touch all four walls in that room. And I don't believe that anybody could understand what it's like to have the full responsibility of your demise on your shoulders and simultaneously sitting in a solitary confinement cell. I actually despised life itself. I got to the point where I really didn't care if I lived or died.
JOHN: Today on the show: after serving time behind bars, Kwame gets a taste of freedom. But how long will it last? I’m John White. Welcome to Crimetown.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick could be an hour away from freedom. We’re told by jail officials that shortly after the clock strikes 12, Kilpatrick will leave his 15x10 foot jail cell and walk out the front door just like any other inmate would do...
JOHN: After serving 99 days in county jail for perjury and obstruction of justice, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick walked free.
ARCHIVAL CROWD: Kwame! Kwame!
JOHN: A cheering crowd of supporters was waiting for him.
ARCHIVAL CROWD: Woo!
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: It is reported the former mayor will be heading directly to Texas. His wife and three sons are already there. And one of his lawyers says he has a job interview waiting for him on Wednesday.
JOHN: After Kwame went to jail, his wife and children had moved to Texas, to try and start over. Kwame joined them and got a job as a software salesman.
KWAME: I’m in Texas. You know I pulled in front of this house that was a nice house. I should be happy. I'm not in jail. I'm making money. I’m doing well. Me and my wife are starting to have conversations again. And I was absolutely miserable. I sat in the car in front of my own house and didn't want to go in. I just knew that -- I don't know what it was. Something in my soul just didn't want to be there. I didn't want to be a part of what was going on there. ‘Cause all I ever wanted to be is a Detroiter. All I ever -- the only place I ever wanted to live in life was Detroit, Michigan. And so to make that transition and go to Dallas, Texas, was hard for me, but I'm thinking Detroit is in the rearview mirror.
JOHN: But the Detroit media wasn’t quite ready to leave Kwame alone.
ARCHIVAL: Kwame Kilpatrick is apparently making himself at home at a new house in Texas. According to the Detroit News, it’s valued at about $373,000. But it’s unclear right now how much Kilpatrick is paying in the home.
JOHN: As part of his plea agreement, Kwame was supposed to pay the City of Detroit a million dollars in restitution. And his new lifestyle in Texas didn’t sit well with the Detroit media.
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR 1: A whole lot of people are wondering about his lavish lifestyle in Texas and more importantly who’s paying for it.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: The family moved into this 5,000 sq. ft.house paying 2,600 bucks a month in rent. At the time, Kilpatrick was paying nearly twice as much for cable and internet as he was paying in restitution to Detroit.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: Are you really making enough money to afford all this?
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Oh my goodness. You know, we make enough money to pay the bills, Scott. Just like every family in America, we work hard, we work hard to make sure we can do what we need to do for our children and ourselves.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: But does he really need this much house? Could the Kilpatricks live in the same area with a little less extravagance?
ARCHIVAL ANCHOR 2: He broke the law, now he’s accused of violating his probation, next for the mayor turned convict Kwame Kilpatrick, headed back to the D...
JOHN: Despite having a full time job that paid six figures, Kwame claimed he could only afford $6 a month in restitution. A year after his release, he missed a $79,000 payment...and was hauled back to court in Detroit.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: In the hour long hearing, Kilpatrick made a last attempt to sway judge David Groner. He struggled with his composure at first but then spoke almost 20 minutes.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: I cheated on my wife, your honor. I spent a whole year feeling an enormous amount of guilt for what I did to my wife, my children, and this city. When I walked out of that jail cell, February 4th of 2009, the only thing on my mind was to reconcile with my family. In my stupidity, and now I know that it is stupidity, I tried to buy my way back in, overabundance of presents and trying to make everything perfect. And I respectfully, humbly ask, with everything that’s in me, to be free. I want to go home, your honor. Where I belong.
ARCHIVAL JUDGE: You balked, feigned poverty, and misrepresented your financial status. Living in a million dollar home, driving brand new Escalades, shopping at high end designer stores, and purchasing elective surgery for your wife. You lied to this court. Continued to lie, after pleading guilty to lying in court. Obviously there has been no rehabilitation. Therefore, you will serve a maximum of 5 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections. Put your hands behind your back sir.
ARCHIVAL REPORTER: The judge sentenced Kilpatrick to prison, deputies stepped in quickly to handcuff him, and he was gone.
CARLITA KILPATRICK: It's kind of hard to articulate what I was feeling because there were so many emotions.
JOHN: This is Carlita, Kwame’s wife, being interviewed for a film called KMK: A Documentary of Kwame Kilpatrick.
CARLITA: Disbelief and anger and hostility and fear and resolve. After he was sent to prison, they mailed me his suit that he had worn to court. It was so much going on, you know, just trying to I guess not go crazy, and I think the suit kind of embodied all of that. And you know I was sad, he was gone, and that suit kind of still had his cologne in it.
KWAME: They chained me up in a way I had never been chained up before: ankles, waist, blackbox, arms like Hannibal Lecter. Walked me out of that center onto a bus.
JOHN: During his first sentence, Kwame had spent a little more than three months in a small county jail. This time, he would spend at least a year and a half in a state prison.
KWAME: And we pulled into that big, huge parking lot. I can only describe that as that, like a huge mall parking lot, but empty and no stores. And it was buses everywhere. And then it was like it was like it was almost synchronized, all of the buses, one CO stepped outside of the bus and he start to call names. And I'm just watching this whole thing out of the window. It was it was an incredible scene. Scores and scores of mostly African-American men being hauled off these buses, in a straight line and then being yelled at. "Get over there! Bus number 2, go do this! Come here man, what is wrong with you! Get your ass over --" And I'm listening to this and watching and all I thought of was 1619. I thought of the first indentured servants, they were called, coming over to Jamestown, Virginia, from Africa, getting off the slave ship. You know chained up and walking and being yelled at to move. It was almost like I was outside of myself. I was watching this movie scene.
JOHN: Were you scared?
KWAME: I wasn't scared. Um, but there was a tremendous amount of feelings of demoralized, of sad. All of a sudden, I was in it, and they called me, "Kilpatrick!" You know, and I got up, got off the bus, "Get over there, bus 6, over there!" "Get used to it asshole!", "You an inmate now Kilpatrick! Deal with it!" "Get over there! Move!" And at that moment I said you know damn, this is uh, I'm here. You know, you not in you're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.
KHARY TURNER: He first was sent to level 4 maximum security prison, that was the first place they sent him.
JOHN: This is Khary Turner, Kwame’s cousin by marriage.
TURNER: I distinctly remember being in the visitation room sitting with him. There's another inmate sitting next to me. Guy looked just like Bam Bam Bigelow. Huge guy, white man, bald head, tatted everywhere. He and Kwame made pleasantries. I could tell they had had a conversation, he knew him. And then when this guy's visit ended, Kwame said, "You see that guy just walked away?" And I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Serving natural life for murder." He said, "Why did they send me here?" And that struck me. So I'm like, "Yeah, why are you here? Why are you here, man?" And I just remember the gravity in that moment. I do.
ARCHIVAL: Kwame Malik Kilpatrick has been in prison about a year now. Kilpatrick asked the parole board to be released early and was interviewed by the board about a month ago. During his interview with the parole board Kilpatrick said he’d learned from his experience and admitted that he had broken the law.
ARCHIVAL: In a matter of hours, Jackson Prison will release its most recognizable inmate. The process of releasing inmate Kilpatrick begins at 6:30 tomorrow morning...
JOHN: On August 2nd, 2011, Kwame Kilpatrick walked out of prison for the second time. The audio you’re hearing is from footage captured by the makers of the documentary KMK, who Kwame allowed to follow him.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Alright. That’s about it. Got on out of there.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Yeah (Laughter) Yup yup yeah. Hey, we were supposed to take a picture of that door, my wife is going to be mad at me but I know we’ve gotta get out of here. A real wallet (laughter).
JOHN: In the footage, Kwame has lost weight and grown a beard. He’s wearing a loose-fitting peach button up, and he’s grinning from ear to ear.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Calling my wife, first phone call. [laughter] First phone call. Hey baby.
ARCHIVAL CARLITA: Heyyyy.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: What’s going on? Whatchu doing wide awake at 5:15 in the morning? Who is that?
ARCHIVAL DANIEL FERGUSON: Your boys.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: What’s up big fella? You couldn’t sleep either huh? What’s up little fella? Ah me neither man. So I’ll see you in a few hours okay? Love you Lan man Lil.
ARCHIVAL NEWS: Dozens of excited family members and friends were anxiously waiting to welcome Kwame Kilpatrick home from prison.
ARCHIVAL CAROLYN: To your big brother, the slim guy here, go ahead. Part two. Because you see, today is the first day of the rest of your life!
JOHN: After stopping at his mother’s house, Kwame boarded a plane for Dallas, Texas, where his wife and sons were waiting for him.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Dang, what’s up all cutsie patootsie, look at you all dressed up.
ARCHIVAL CARLITA: Right.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: What’s up? Look how tall y'all are. What’s all this in your hair, boy?
ARCHIVAL JONAS: You’re skinny.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Those sweet initials right there.
ARCHIVAL JONAS: Daddy’s skinny.
ARCHIVAL CARLITA: You’re skinny.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: You look good.
ARCHIVAL CARLITA: Why thank you, sweetie.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: What up Dajone? Look at it. Ooo boy I’mma knock you out. God dang. This guy is big! Y’all look like y’all got stilts on.
ARCHIVAL SON: Still ain’t got me.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Still ain’t got me. What’s up fellas? Y’all all right?...
KWAME: This is the first time that I’d been with my boys since I was rushed into prison in May of 2010. And so I spent most of that first four or five months at home just being dad. I picked them up from school. I took them to school. And I talked to them. They asked questions. See my big boys at this time you know that they're 11, 12 years old so they’re asking about you know what happened in Detroit, why do we get all this stuff about all these rumors and innuendos that these we see you. We know that this is not true. I told them first of all are some people who are mad and evil and they try to break you. They're trying to hurt you. You know I told them the truth.
TURNER: I started to feel that there was a an element of groupthink setting into the community.
JOHN: Khary Turner, Kwame’s cousin by marriage, is also a journalist.
TURNER: Through all this my training still tells me that there are two sides to every story. But I'm only feeling like I'm hearing one. And I approached him and I said, "You know have you thought about telling your story?" And he just kind of looked at me and cocked his head and said, "I have thought about it."
ARCHIVAL: Kwame Kilpatrick has a blog, he has a Facebook, and a Twitter account and he’s using all three to promote his tell all book. Today the former mayor tweeted out, “Kwame Kilpatrick has surrendered.” It’s not just provocative, it incorporates the name of his new book. Surrendered: The Rise, Fall, and Revelation of Kwame Kilpatrick.”
TURNER: I mean the book is called Surrendered, you know, that's a, that's a layered title.
JOHN: Khary Turner was the coauthor of Kwame’s book.
TURNER: And we we wrestled with titles for months, you know and he finally came to that title. He wanted the book to reflect that he was surrendering himself spiritually. Kind of surrendering himself to his, his own faults. He did feel that he had some faults that he needed to outgrow.
ARCHIVAL: ...and behind me, people are starting to line up here at the church. It holds a 1,000. The pastor will question Kwame Kilpatrick for about an hour, take questions for 40 minutes, and then the former mayor will sign and sell his new book...[DIP]
JOHN: Kwame headed back to Detroit to promote the book.
ARCHIVAL JOHN MASON: The book is out. It can be purchased at?
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Kwamekilpatrickbook.com or amazon.com. You know everybody that’s read the book, it’s starts an intelligent conversation. Whether you support Kwame Kilpatrick or not, whether you like me or not, I believe it’s a good read.
ARCHIVAL MASON: People have said you could have possibly been the president of the United States. What are your thoughts on that?
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Well, that’s a job that I’ve never wanted. You remember how Barack spoke at first and how he walked on the stage with that swagger and they had all this information about his walk? You see how he had to tone even that down. So I wouldn’t want that position because I don’t believe I could be so compromised in myself.
JOHN: Kwame was back in his element. And his charm offensive seemed to be working...
ARCHIVAL MASON: Thank you for coming in, you’re still a friend, you’re still very brave. You’re still the man, Kwame Kilpatrick. I know you’ve had your troubles and you’ve done your thing, but brother you are just rich with the gift.
ARCHIVAL KWAME: Aw man, thank you Mason. Much love to you.
ARCHIVAL MASON: Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
KWAME: I developed a whole new life and I was speaking around the country my testimony and you know just living a life that was so different from the one I had in Detroit before, and finally feeling comfortable and really happy and joyful in that life.
JOHN: But that life wouldn’t last. Through almost all of Kwame’s time in the mayor’s office, through all of his scandals and prison sentences, there was something going on in the background that was much more serious than a perjury charge or a probation violation: a federal investigation.
BOB BEECKMAN: Back in 2004 we were looking at a number of different things that were pointing towards a large organized conspiracy of criminals that were in city government and the person at the top of that structure of criminal activity was Kwame Kilpatrick.
JOHN: That’s next time on Crimetown.
JOHN: Crimetown is Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. This season is made in partnership with Gimlet Media and Spotify.
This episode was produced by Soraya Shockley, Rob Szypko, Samantha Lee, and me, John White.
The senior producer is Drew Nelles.
Editing by Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling.
Fact-checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed, sound-designed, and scored by Sam Bair.
Original music this season composed by Homer Steinweiss.
We recorded some original music at Rustbelt Studios in Detroit in partnership with Detroit Sound Conservancy. Special thanks to Carleton Gholz and Maurice “Pirahnahead” Herd.
Additional music by John Kusiak, Kenny Kusiak, and Jon Ivans. Additional mixing by Bobby Lord.
Our theme song is “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death.
Our credit music this week is “Politicians In My Eyes,” covered by the Dirtbombs.
Archival research by Brennan Rees.
Some of the audio in this episode appears courtesy of Tim and Tobias Smith, and their film KMK: A Documentary of Kwame Kilpatrick.
Additional archival material courtesy of WXYZ.
Show art and design by James Cabrera and Elise Harven.
Thanks to the Detroit Free Press, Peter Bhatia, Jim Schaefer, Mary Schroeder, Melanie Maxwell, Mary Wallace, Elizabeth Clemens, Max White, Randy Lundquist, and everyone who shared their stories with us. Detroit’s an amazing place, and we’re honored to tell a small part of its story.
Alex Blumberg is the podfather. Alex, I know you’ve had your troubles and you’ve done your thing, but brother, you are just rich with the gift.