Kimberly Yates drops the names Crypts and Bloods and Mexican Mafia like a Southern socialite drops the names Chi Omega and Kappa Delta. She adorns herself with bold tattoos like a genteel lady wears strings of subtle heirloom pearls. She racked up frequent flier miles from illicit business trips like a Fortune 500 executive garners perks associated with corporate travel. While other young women were looking for the perfect little black dress, Kimberly’s wardrobe consisted of prison-issued, badge-of-shame orange jumpsuits.
The sky was the limit for Kimberly Yates who could have reached for the stars but instead acquiesced to the dark side of the criminal underworld. She was powerless to control the destructive ways of her family and to avoid the heartbreak of separation and the finality of death. The power she lacked over her home situation was the power she successfully pursued and obtained in the high stakes game of drug trafficking.
In her book, “What Little Girls Are Made Of” Kim rationalizes, “The hurt and anger I felt from the loss of my dad only escalated my persistence to be a successful businesswoman.”
Kimberly was always rebellious with a natural disdain for authority. She flaunted her disdain at an early age by dating outside her race, provoking criticism and racism in a time and place where interracial romantic relationships were risqué bordering on scandalous. Oh to be young and in love and bask in love emboldened by the sneers and criticism of those more comfortable with conventional relationships. On the quest to self-actualization, Kimberly defiantly laughed in the judgmental face of racism.
Nonetheless, family and acquaintances expected great things from the young overachiever who excelled academically. She was bright and always looking for her next challenge. She laid claim to the title of citywide spelling bee champion and graduated from high school a year early. She was college bound and had her sights set on becoming a criminal attorney. But then, who wanted to settle for being a criminal attorney when she could take center stage and become the criminal instead?
Kimberly elaborates in her book, “Being a drug dealer seemed to be a more opportune career for me. After all, most of my life, I had seen the benefits of crime through family members—financial security, power— what more could I want? I just didn’t think about the ‘prison’ part of it.” Despite the difficulty of a woman making it big in the drug game, Kimberly found herself climbing the ladder of success. She learned it was imperative to show no feelings or emotions and quickly gained respect. It was a game and she played it well.
It took only a $1,000 Crime Stoppers’ tip provided by a jealous girlfriend to thwart Kimberly’s power and pause her business, ending frequent coast-to-coast trips and a seemingly endless flow of money. The power player—with long blond hair, an hourglass figure draped in the latest flattering styles, AND dripping in diamonds— was headed to Pewee Valley, KY to be incarcerated in the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women for trafficking in cocaine.
Instead of reforming in prison, Kimberly kept the prison community in contraband including marijuana and cocaine and suffered no repercussions. Not only did she cultivate a lucrative business while in prison but learned from the best how to elevate her drug business to a whole new level once she regained her freedom.
All the while, every weekend for eight years, the grandparents who lovingly reared Kimberly never missed a weekend of traveling the 3½ hours from Paducah to Pewee Valley to visit their precious granddaughter. And for eight years amidst murderers and drug dealers, Kimberly plotted to emerge from prison with the intent to sell drugs once again but this time not to get caught.
When Kimberly was released from prison she followed through on plans to capitalize on contacts made in prison and broaden her network. She was high not on drugs but was exhilarated with power and the level of success she had obtained.
The high life was to come to an end when she was arrested once again on drug charges. The drug charges were dismissed but Kimberly’s luck didn’t hold out and she was found guilty of parole violation. She was headed back to prison and this time she was pregnant. Her son was born in Pewee Valley and less than 24 hours after his birth he was handed over to Kimberly’s mother. Ironically, the mother she resented for abandoning her was to be the same woman who dedicated herself to providing a loving home for Kimberly’s son.
Kimberly served out her time in the Pewee Valley. During her years of incarceration she hadn’t kept up with the times. She was painfully aware of the fact she had never seen the inside of a voting booth or voted. She didn’t know how to use a computer or a cell phone. Choices on a restaurant menu overwhelmed her. Last but not least, her baby boy was no longer a baby and during her absence had grown into a little boy.
Kimberly recalls the worst thing about prison, “All you want is freedom and your family.”
The desire for freedom and family wasn’t strong enough and the maternal instinct wasn’t primal enough to prevent Kimberly from resuming her life of crime. She did a stint on the east coast with family mob connections and she added counterfeiting to her criminal repertoire.
Her freedom was short-lived and this time she was charged with federal offenses. An agreement was reached for Kimberly to plead to Continuing Criminal Enterprise, a statue targeting large-scale drug traffickers who are responsible for long-term and elaborate drug conspiracies.
Differences in state and federal prisons were dramatic. According to Kimberly, “It was easy to do state time. You wore your own clothes, could receive packages and had conveniences but you still wanted your freedom and family. Federal prison had more structure. We were required to wear uniforms. We were told what time to get up and how long to talk on the phone and everything you could or would be allowed to do.”
Kimberly gave birth to her second child, a daughter, while incarcerated in federal prison. She was allowed three months with her newborn daughter in a halfway house provided by a special government program While in the federal institution, Kimberly was raped by a prison guard. She did not immediately report the incident because her offender threatened to harm her family. During this time, Kimberly was housed in the same facility as celebrity Martha Stewart, who lent her support and encouraged Kimberly to come forth with allegations.
“Martha Stewart was a kind woman and a bundle of support who encouraged me to go public and tell my story and publish it,” Kimberly related.
Eventually she did report the incident and others came forward with similar stories. The guard was convicted of raping three inmates and was sentenced to prison but only served a total of four months for the rapes. Kimberly became an activist speaking out against prison rapes and has spoken before a Senate Committee and lobbied against the PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act). She has also worked with the organization, Just Detention International, as a council member to stop prison rape.
Kimberly has been out of prison since October of 2007. Has she reformed? Will the lure of a criminal life ever draw her in again?
Kimberly is quick to comment. “I am honest with my children about my past but with those days behind me I would rather stand before a jury of 12 people than stand before my two children if I broke the law again.” People who know her best vouch for the pride she has in her son and daughter and her deep maternal love for them both, despite enduring years of separation.
Her cousin, Lone Oak native and songwriter, author and President of the Penny and Tubs Foundation, Marcie May, describes Kimberly. “Kimberly is strong, determined, energetic and sure of herself. Elegance isn’t everything. She is always true to herself and the maker of her own destiny. She loves her children.”
Her attorney, Charlotte B. Scott who Kimberly refers to as Fairy Godmother, describes Kimberly in one word, “Irrepressible.” Ms. Scott elaborates on Kimberly’s relationship with her children. “She loves her children and holds nothing back. She believes in total honesty with both of them.”
As for Kimberly there is an ever-present tiny voice in the back of her mind belonging to probation officer, Rudy Carrico, who she has the utmost respect for despite her hatred for authority. Mr. Carrico’s voice is always saying, “Do the right thing Ms. Yates.”
Kimberly Yates has regained her identity as Kimberly Yates but still keeps the prison badge with her at all times identifying her as US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prison Number 07983-033. Kimberly says, “It brings back what you were, what you were thinking, what you were going through. You don’t want to go back to being that person.”
Kimberly Yates is available for speaking engagements. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book, "What Little Girls Are Made Of," can be purchased at Amazon.com. The sequel will be released in April, 2015.