If you know me, you may not believe that I would ever write these words, but I have become a fan of Kim Kardashian. Believe me: It’s a shock to me, too. I have never had any interest in Keeping Up with the Kardashians, although pop culture news is often so salted with references to the Kardashian Fam that I can’t help but be aware of their relevance to the American zeitgeist. As a non-watcher of reality TV, I am not at all Kool. Thanks to a recent social undertaking of Ms. Kardashian, however, I am thinking differently. You could say I’ve become a Konvert.
This is not because I love her sexy outfits, or her smoky eye, or her prodigious rear end, but because I heard her interviewed on the Innocence Project’s podcast, “Wrongful Conviction.” It seems that Kim Kardashian has been bitten by the same bug that sank its fangs into me many years ago, which was a strange and unbidden calling to work with prisoners and advocate for the cause of criminal justice reform.
Kardashian’s involvement with the issue was prompted, appropriately enough for this social media maven, by a Twitter mention of the case of Alice Marie Johnson. Johnson was serving a life sentence in a federal prison for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. Kardashian was so moved by the details of Johnson’s story that she agitated her way into the White House, where her significant influence brought about the commutation of Johnson’s sentence and release from prison.
Johnson is now the sympathetic face of the movement for criminal justice reform, a cause championed by someone else with the president’s ear, son-in-law Jared Kushner. The fruit of Kushner’s and Kardashian’s involvement so far is the FIRST STEP Act, a snappy acronym that stands for the unwieldy phrase Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by the president in 2018. This new law is indeed a first step on the road to overhauling the current federal criminal justice system into a more just, fair and rehabilitative one.
“I know that I have a voice and I’m happy to use it,” Kardashian told Jason Flom, the hero and host of “Wrongful Conviction.” She has proven that the impact of her voice on her many platforms is so major that it can direct the attention of her millions of followers to just about any issue she chooses. Right now, her issue of choice is mass incarceration and the unjust and self-defeating policies that are rampant within the criminal justice system. And so I say: You go, Kim Kardashian. You are Krushing it.
I am of the generation whose exposure to the Kardashian brand began and ended with the O.J. Simpson trial of the last century. Robert Kardashian, Kim’s late father, was the lawyer and confidant of the accused running-back-turned-murderous-ex-husband: Mr. Kardashian was not in the public eye for a happy reason. He died in 2003, perhaps blessedly before the 2007 debut of his children’s and ex-wife’s weekly reality-TV show, wherein they bare all the glorious and inglorious details of the Krazy Khaos of being Kardashians and reap vast profits from the Kardashian name. "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" is one of the longest-running reality-TV shows, this year marking its sixteenth season. The nation is obsessed with all things Kardashian.
I don’t care about any of that. I care that Kim Kardashian is studying to take the California bar exam, albeit as an apprentice to a law firm rather than as a traditional law school student, taking a path that California law allows. Kardashian, the daughter of a lawyer, wants to be more effective in righting specific instances of unjust sentencing — she gets piles of letters from inmates requesting her help — in tandem with the broader cause of reforming the criminal justice system as a whole.
Kardashian has visited several prisons and seen the conditions, challenges and quandaries of the incarcerated population. That kind of firsthand interaction stays with you. It forces you to confront your own prejudices and preconceptions. When you learn about injustice and meet the human faces of unjust practices, it changes you. You become a fierce advocate for criminal justice reform. You speak up on behalf of your brothers and sisters in prison. You support organizations doing the hard work of making the system budge. And when you are a Kardashian whose millions of fans are Keeping Up with you, you can bring about real and lasting transformation.
I don’t plan to start watching KUWTK, but I’m grateful for Kim Kardashian’s public epiphany and applaud (Klap for?) her timely immersion in a previously unpopular cause. As a Konvert to Kim, I’ll Keep Up on that.