After successfully petitioning President Donald Trump in the fight to grant Alice Marie Johnson clemency in 2018, Kim Kardashian West has become the face of criminal justice reform. In the years since, she’s partnered with the advocacy group #cut50 to help bring awareness and changes to systemic problems that have led to unfair sentencing.
In the Oxygen documentary, Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, the media mogul chronicles her journey as she meets with policymakers and lobbies public officials, reviews cases, sits down with people behind bars who need her help, and works with her legal team to facilitate their release.
“There are millions of people impacted by this broken justice system, and I wanted to put faces to these numbers and statistics,” Kardashian West said when the project was first announced. “There are a lot of people who deserve a second chance, but many do not have the resources to make it happen. I want to help elevate these cases to a national level to effect change.”
While she’s received and reviewed many letters from incarcerated individuals seeking her help to expose the injustices in their convictions or sentencings, Kardashian West narrows her efforts on four cases involving Alexis Martin, David Sheppard, Dawn Jackson and Momolu Stewart, giving context to each of their stories.
Early in the documentary, Kardashian West reads a letter from Jackson, a mother of seven who was found guilty of stabbing a man to death. This man, it turns out, was her step-grandfather and repeatedly raped and abused her since she was five years old. “I got chills,” she says after learning about Jackson’s story. “I cried reading it. And I got the sense that she had had it and was crying out for help.”
So far, Jackson has served 21 years of a mandatory 30-year sentence behind bars. But her case proves to be the most difficult of the ones that Kardashian West works on. Despite efforts she and #cut50 made, Jackson has not been granted clemency and remains in prison.
The next case involves Martin, who was 15 years old when she was arrested for aggravated murder and was serving out a minimum 21-year sentence when she reached out to Kardashian West. The reality star sat down with Martin, who was abused as a child before getting mixed up with a drug dealer. “He raped me,” she tells a visibly moved Kardashian West.
Later, the Keeping Up With the Kardashians star goes to Washington, D.C., where she meets Stewart, who was a teenager when he was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in a 1997 shooting death. He details a history of violent childhood abuse by his uncle, who constantly degraded Stewart until he ran away.
The fourth person Kardashian West advocates for is Sheppard, who was convicted of second-degree felony murder for the 1992 shooting death of a pharmacy owner. Despite not being the shooter, the prosecutor deemed him culpable and was sentenced to more time behind bars than the actual killer.
Of the four cases, Kardashian West was successful in getting Sheppard and Stewart freed. Like Jackson, Martin is also still behind bars as she awaits for the results of her clemency hearing. “Kim has a very good track record of actually being able to help people get out,” Jessica Jackson, Kardashian West’s legal mentor and co-founder of #cut50, tells ET. “Dawn’s story is certainly not over yet.” She adds that they’re continuing to work on her case.
No matter what, these four cases in the documentary, Jackson says, ”highlighted larger systemic issues” that they hope to change for good. And those issues are part of Kardashian West’s focus moving forward, as she continues to help develop and advocate for more policy changes.
In addition to her “instrumental” work on implementing the First Step Act in 2018, Jackson says Kardashian West is helping out with other bills, including one in California that helps prevent parents from going to jail and allows them to stay with their kids.
Ultimately, Kardashian West’s work on the individual cases, policy changes and the documentary all go hand-in-hand and will be something that she continues to balance as part of her ongoing legal apprenticeship. “Kim and cut50 have done a good job working together to find cases that really highlight the need for the change and then to follow up with policies that will enact that change on a broader scale,” Jackson says.