Kemba Smith was just another college student until she found herself involved in a relationship with a drug dealer, which eventually pushed her to a path that led to federal prison.
She was sentenced to over 24 years in prison for participation in her boyfriend’s drug activities after pleading guilty.
Smith now uses her story—how making poor decisions can have long-term consequences—as a motivational speaker and advocate for drug sentencing reform.
She shared her story and discussed her autobiography “Poster Child” at Troy University on Thursday, Feb. 4.
“Hopefully, this book will change lives,” she said.
Smith, who is transparent about her experiences and journey, recalled how she went from being a college student to a drug dealer’s girlfriend, to a domestic violence victim, to a federal prisoner.
“Growing up, my parents were very strict,” she said. “At times, I wished that I had parents who would let me do anything I wanted to do, but I didn’t realize that my parents only wanted the best for me.”
As a high school graduate, Smith remembered touring college campuses and being interested only in the men there.
“I didn’t care what I was going to major in,” she said. “I was only going there because there were so many fine guys there. I never realized what I was getting myself into because I was so sheltered in high school.”
Smith met her ex-boyfriend, Peter Hall—a cocaine kingpin—at Hampton University.
“He seemed extremely popular,” she said. “We met, and I had a warm, fuzzy feeling because I thought he noticed me.”
Smith said that as a high school student, she was confident and secure in who she was.
“When I got to Hampton University, I became more concerned about wanting to fit in,” she said.
“I dealt with issues of thinking that I wasn’t pretty enough, that my nose was too big, that my legs were too skinny.”
Smith strongly encourages young women and men to love themselves and have confidence in who they are.
“Peter and I dated for three and a half years,” she said. “He wasn’t abusive at first; we had intimate conversations, where he told me he didn’t like selling drugs and how he had dreams to become a businessman.”
Smith believed she could potentially influence her ex-boyfriend to live a legal lifestyle if she chose to stay with him.
“The first time Peter put his hands on me, I thought he was going to kill me,” she said. “I planned to leave him, but he kept convincing me that he was apologetic and would never hit me again.
“The love that I thought I had for Peter turned more into fear because I allowed myself to stay in an unhealthy, abusive relationship.”
When Hall was discovered murdered, the government held Smith accountable for the total amount of the drugs in his drug conspiracy charges.
After serving more than six years in prison, Smith was granted clemency in December 2000 by then-President Bill Clinton.
Smith has been out of federal prison for 15 years now, and serves as a positive role model for incarcerated women, teenagers and young adults.
She is also the president of the Kemba Smith foundation, a non-profit organization that raises awareness of social issues such as drug abuse, domestic violence and abuse and teenage pregnancy.
Smith encouraged individuals to become involved in programs intended to aid prisoners in transitioning to come home.