Kevin Ott, 53, is serving a sentence of life without parole for a drug conviction. In April, 2016, Drug War Stories wrote to Kevin and requested a response to a questionnaire. Kevin’s responses were received on May 2, 2016. Selections from his response are contained below. Some responses discussing personal information about family members or friends has been excluded or deleted. Drug War Stories will be following up with Kevin’s family members as well as requesting additional information from Kevin himself.
We asked Kevin about his background, family, education and job history:
My dad died in 1970 I was eight years old. He had only been back from Vietnam about a year. None of my family ever graduated college. Both my sisters went but I wasn’t interested. I started working when I was twelve and worked until I got busted the first time. My mother didn’t graduate high school. She did the best she could for us. I’ve worked paper route, strip mines, dirt construction, underground coal mines, carpenter, oilfield, cook and just whatever I could find to get a paycheck. Catching turkeys for Cargill. Hanging live chickens at a chicken plant.
We next asked Kevin about his criminal history:
His criminal history dated back to when he was sixteen for stealing hubcaps, included DUIs, drug possessions, battery, and finally trafficking 3.5 ounces of meth, which is the conviction that resulted in life in prison without parole.
as Kevin said:
It doesn’t look pretty I know. I have done things I’m not proud of. I asked for rehab the first two times I was busted. I was denied with never the opportunity to get rehab. I believe if I would have been given rehab at first I wouldn’t be here today. So I keep fighting hoping for a change of law that will set me free. Traffickers don’t get good time. Only achievement credits. I have about five years of those.
We also asked Kevin about his clemency efforts:
I went up for a commutation 2-10-16 I was denied. It was a 3-2 vote yes to life. At the last second it was changed to 3-2 No. We filed a second and subsequent post-conviction 11-2-15 due to the change of law. The DA in Cleveland County – Norman Oklahoma is not willing to make a deal. He has of yet to answer the post. We are now trying to get in front of the judge for a ruling. We don’t expect much. We intend to appeal to Oklahoma Court of Appeals. Then however far we need to go.
We asked Kevin about the effects of incarceration on his family. Tragically, his youngest sister, Brandi died in a traffic accident while on her way to visit him in prison:
I was a father figure to my nephew. He grew up without a strong male influence in his life. My youngest sister Brandi died in a car wreck coming to visit me. My mother raised her daughter Morgan. So Morgan was raised without a mother. That was about the time my mother should have been retiring and taking it easy. Instead of enjoying their weekends a lot of the time they are driving to prison to see me. I was always there for all of them. No matter what they needed. A yard mowed, money, advice whatever they needed I was there for them.
We asked Kevin about his life and experiences in prison:
He was concerned about staying in shape physically and had made many efforts to improve. He has spent eight years in the leather shop, which gives some escape, but he hates prison and has been housed with many murderers, a child molester and a rapist:
I have a non-violent crime. When I first came to prison they sent me to maximum-security McAlester state prison. I left there a year or so later and went to medium. I started jogging. We have no weights so I do push-ups, situps, pull ups whatever I can to stay in some kind of shape because when I get out I have to work. I have taken many cognitive programs the faith and character program, Christians against drug abuse (CASA) new life behavior and thinking for a change. My mom has a complete list. For the past eight years or so I have been in the leather shop. I make all kinds of things with leather from key fobs to saddles. I even do artwork and clocks. That was always a good way to get away from it all. Prison is always noisy TVs, radios, people just being loud. I hate it. I have lived with murderers more than anyone. Once a child molester also a rapist. I am nonviolent.
We also asked him to tell us about anything else he wanted to share. As of his response, he was housed in a segregated housing unit (SHU) based on confidential information alleging he was involved in contraband. He described prison as “evil” and “vindictive” but had “pride and honor” and had his “head held high.”:
The 8th of April this year. Officers came to my cell handcuffed me and brought me to the segregated housing unit (SHU) the last write up I had was six years ago for not taking my hat off. On the 15th of April they found me guilty of hiring someone to beat someone else up, the only proof they had was confidential statements I didn’t have anything to do with it. So the result I am still in SHU waiting to be transferred. I haven’t been to SHU in about 10 years … At another prison the Deputy Warden said he was getting letters from inmates saying I was the man to see about tobacco, drugs, and phones. That’s why I was shipped here. It’s all B.S. I want to get out of here and enjoy freedom again. I try my best not to get into trouble. I do not do drugs of any kind and I won’t even touch them. I don’t even smoke cigarettes. I want to go home.
I guess what I’m trying to point out is that prison is an evil, vindictive place. If the right rats says something to staff they believe them. Whether it’s true or not.
I have pride and honor. I can walk any yard with my head held high. I am not a gang member nor do I hang out with any gang members. I mind my own business and don’t worry about the next guy. I enjoy my visits and try to be as comfortable as I can be …
He also told us about the numerous places his story has appeared, including his and his mother’s appearance in the documentary, “The House I Live In.” (see link below). He has strong feelings about his, and others’, incarceration for life in view of budgets crises and when murderers and sex offenders get out in less than twenty years. Still, while he has spent nearly 20 years in prison himself for 3.5 ounces of meth, he has some hope.
My mother and I were in a documentary “The House I live In” directed by Eugene Jarecki. It won first place at the Sundance film Festival 2012? I have been in the Daily Oklahoman, the Huffington Post interviewed me. I’m told I was in Fortune magazine. The Harvard paper. The New York Post. Even NBC Nightly News. I don’t know what else. I’m sure mom knows. Nothing seems to help. The pardon to parole board is made up of judges prosecutors even a highway patrol. They have no mercy. Oklahoma is facing a $1.3 billion budget crisis and they want to keep me and 53 other people locked up until we die. When murderers and sex offenders often get out of prison in less than 20 years. September 12, 1996 was my last day of freedom …
While Kevin admittedly did things he wasn’t proud of and that his criminal history “didn’t look pretty,” the issue is one of proportionality. Kevin himself points out that in light of budget constraints and the fact that murderers and rapists can get out of prison in less time than Kevin has already served, it simply makes absolutely no sense to keep him locked up for life. Did Kevin make some bad choices and do some bad things? Certainly. But let the sentence fit the crime – and let us not keep Kevin and thousands of others like him in prison for decades or life because some politicians trying to stay in office wanted to prove they were “tough on crime.” Enough is enough. Let us pursue justice based on reason. Let us make sound decisions. Let us have compassion.
We will continue to follow Kevin’s story.
A clip from the documentary the documentary, “The House I Live In” featuring Kevin: