By Marianne Garvey
One of the first times Antoinette Jones, the sister of former death row inmate Julius Jones, who was granted clemency last year mere hours before he was scheduled to be executed for a 1999 murder he says he did not commit, met Kim Kardashian she was struck. Not just by Kardashian’s superstar presence but by her sincerity and calm nature.
“I’m a little different than other people. I see more than what people show on the outside. I kind of pay attention to, like, words that come outta people’s mouths,” she tells CNN.
For Jones, who watched “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” since it began airing on E!, the conversations she had with Kardashian are reflective of the person she thinks more people should hear about: The Kim Kardashian who will go with you to church, give you a hug or sit in your home for a conversation.
“When she spoke to my parents, she spoke to them like they were her aunt or like they were her parents, like it was such respect,” she says.
There is, Jones says, “a lot more to her” than what viewers have seen on TV.
Success comes to p-a-s-s
This week’s episode of “The Kardashians,” the family’s new show on Hulu, attempted to capture exactly that and show the world a very different side of Kardashian.
The sixth episode of the family’s Hulu series, “This is a Life or Death Situation,” focuses on her efforts to pass California’s so-called “baby bar,” one of two exams she must pass in order to become a practicing attorney in the state. It was, Kardashian says in the episode, her last opportunity to do so.
In a nail-biting scene in a car parked outside of a Red Lobster, Kardashian, her daughter North, and KKW Brands executive Tracy Romulus, eventually learn that she has passed.
Kardashian starts crying from relief.
“Wait, are you sure?” she asks, reading the results again. She makes Romulus read it. Then she reads it again and spells it for the camera, “P-a-s-s,” she says.
“I’m so happy. Like, I literally didn’t think I did,” she says. “I just know how much time and effort I put into this… I’m so happy North is here to see this because my kids know I’ve taken time away from them to study. (For them) to see that I never gave up makes me so happy — that I can show them by example.”
Passing the exam was just one part of the plan Kardashian has for a future dedicated to criminal justice reform.
As she awaits the results of the exam, cameras also follow her efforts to bring attention to Julius Jones’s case.
When he is scheduled to be executed, Kardashian is in a race against time to mobilize her powerful friends — actors, athletes and preachers among them — to tweet pleas for Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to grant Julius Jones clemency. And they do.
The episode shows Kardashian mentioning people she plans to reach out to, crossing names off a white board and the results are shown on screen as the message spreads.
She works until the final hours before the scheduled execution, ultimately getting the joyful news that he was granted clemency. Julius Jones will instead serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Kardashian is relieved. She is also the real deal and vows the fight is not over.
On the ground
But there is a lot of work that was not shown on camera.
One of the things viewers don’t see is that in November 2020, Kardashian took a 24-hour trip to Oklahoma to meet with Julius Jones, his family and Gov. Stitt.
“When she told me she met Julius and went to go visit him, that touched something inside of me,” Antoinette Jones says. “It’s one thing for you to say, ‘Hey, I’m on board to help. And I’ll tweet and I’ll talk to legal assistants,’ but for (her) to go visit my brother…that meant a great deal.”
Jones, who has been fighting for her brother since his conviction, says Kardashian had become aware of the case through letters people had started sending her about it and through a documentary she watched about him called “the Last Defense.” She felt moved to help save his life. Eventually, Antoinette Jones got a call from a lawyer in 2020 that, “we might be getting some help here in the form of Kim, which could be a good thing.”
“The lawyer said, ‘Kim heard about the case. She wants to know what she can do to help.’ And so that’s when she started tweeting [about Julius],” Jones says.
During their time communicating with one another, Jones said she could see shades of the mogul’s father, late attorney Robert Kardashian, in her drive and determination.
“When she started talking about the particulars of Julius’s case, how this or that should have been pointed out early on. I was like, ‘Yeah, she’s gonna be a tenacious lawyer — like her dad,'” Jones says. “You can tell how serious she was. It was amazing to see her break down certain things and, you know, you’re usually looking at her fashion.”
Film producer and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Scott Budnick echoes Jones’s praises. He is featured in the latest episode, working alongside Kardashian in her efforts to get Jones off death row.
Their work together began with a surprise text in 2018.
“Through a friend of hers, she found out about me, got my number, and I just got a random text that said something along the lines of like, ‘Hey Scott, this is Kim Kardashian West. I’ve heard a lot about what you’re doing with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. And I wanna learn from you.”
Budnick, sitting in his room in the Bowery Hotel in New York City, wondered if the text was real.
“Thirty minutes later, we were on the phone and I said to her, ‘Next week, I’m gonna be going to one of the two women’s prisons in California, which is out in Corona. You’re welcome to join.'”
Kardashian canceled a photoshoot and cleared her schedule to go with him.
“Literally, a week and a half later, she pulls into the California Institution for Women with one security guard and — not even knowing what she’s walking into — walks in and sits with like 15 to 20 women who had been given life sentences and had been in prison for 20, 30, 40 years,”
Budnick says. “No phone, no watch, no checking the time, just deep conversation, deep sharing.”
She stayed for an hour and a half, he says, listening to stories of women facing life in prison. She then walked around the facility for another hour.
“It was really impressive to me how she canceled her entire schedule to come make that happen,” he says.
The two continued to tour prisons, with Kardashian asking questions and learning along the way. Eventually, she was the one who told him about Jones and his upcoming execution.
Budnick got “deeply involved,” and the two would take meetings with influential figures in entertainment, sports and music and faith groups.
“We set up multiple zooms with evangelical pastors in Oklahoma and Kim, no matter who I asked her to be on a Zoom with, the answer was always, ‘Yes, I’ll make it happen,'” he says. “She believed so much in Julius’s innocence that there was nobody that she wouldn’t get on a call with.”
Budnick was with Kardashian on her trip to Oklahoma, saying they visited Julius Jones in the morning, then went to church with his family.
“We sat and talked with them for a while. Obviously, Kim took a thousand pictures with all the kids in the church,” he says. They also had dinner at the governor’s mansion, Budnick says, where Kardashian skillfully steered the topic of conversation to prison reform.
CNN has contacted Gov. Stitt’s office for comment.
Budnick says Kardashian doesn’t only walk the walk, she’ll do any mundane task you ask of her if it will help shine a light on prison reform.
“She is such a force. I see her doing everything she wants to do. I mean there will be no limits,” he says of her future as a lawyer. “She’s always asking me questions in terms of setting up organizations, she’s meeting with experts, she’s meeting with law professors, she’s meeting with people that do data. Kim obviously feels very passionately about innocence and people that are in prison who are innocent of the crime.”
Jones’ sister agrees.
“She’s true to her word. She said that she would be there to help and she is,” she says, adding that in one heart-to-heart Kardashian told her why she was so passionate about fixing the prison system.
“She said when she looked at Julius in his situation, she thought about her son,” she said.
New episodes of “The Kardashians” are available to stream Thursdays on Hulu.
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