Through Barbed Wire  


His Name is Arnold King
By Marva King and Sven Bursell
June 2007

His name is Arnold King. Should you care who he is, or even that he exists? He is not a celebrity, though his road of destiny, where early accidents of fortune, and misfortune, predetermined him for all he was, is now, and can be in the future. On this road, he lost his soul but found it again in the dark depths of despair and chaos.  

His dream is to help youth at risk but his hands are tied. His dream is to help keep our streets safe to walk on, but his legs are shackled in irons. His dream is full of hope that comes with the rehabilitation of his soul. His hope he sustains, despite the bars that enclose him -- for without this hope there is nothing but his pain. Many of us hope that the injustice of his continued incarceration can be righted so that the human being that is Arnold King now can follow his destiny to help ease the pain and troubles of others.

In the words of City Councilman Felix Arroyo, “Rehabilitation is an immense and difficult process. For all of us even to change a habit takes so much focus and commitment from ourselves … and to change …the way you are and to be able to transform yourself is an amazing process. I look with amazement at Mr. King, who showed us (through his own behavioral process)…that, yes, this is possible.”  Mr. King has outlined these life changes in legal filings of petitions for commutation of his life sentence from December 1987 – April 2007, through his published writings, through his 30 successfully completed furloughs, and through his professional job opportunities. He has lived his life in honor of the one he took by creating the youth development programs of “Through Barbed Wire” and “Prison Voices” that consults with schools and agencies on youth issues and crime, that counsels students and parents, and that trains prison inmates to become better human beings upon returning to the larger society. 

Councilman Arroyo reminds us “although we have societal structures to take away those who are unable to follow the rules of living with each other …that we as a society also have processes by which if you are able to change, you will be rewarded. That society is there not just to punish, but to rehabilitate.” 

Mr. King chose to rehabilitate himself and live in honor of the life he took. He walks a daily path filled with hope, justice, contribution, and redemption. Mr. King longs for release from prison to become a contributing member of his community. 

City Councilman Chuck Turner advises that in his district, and particularly with his younger constituency, “there is the double issue of taking responsibility for your behavior despite your life circumstances…. and combined with the struggle to believe in yourself and to believe that you can go beyond what you see around you in your life is just ….difficult.“ As a master teacher professionally trained through the Boston University School Prison Education Project, Mr. King counsels young men and women towards making the correct choices in life so they do not end up like him.  Boston University Professor Paula Verdet believes Mr. King exemplifies the concept of true rehabilitation as “he helps other inmates face their past, their present situation, and their future.”

Former juvenile delinquent imprisoned for murder, now a Massachusetts correctional officer, Hasan Smith informs, “As I went through the Lifer’s Program for juvenile delinquents with serious offenses, my mentor Mr. King advised me to think about how the victim’s family feels….during a time I didn’t want to think about anything but being mad at the world.”  By talking and working with Mr. King, Mr. Smith’s life was changed and transformed. This is how Mr. King sees his future – influencing young men like Mr. Smith to turn their lives around and see the benefits of living in a just society.

Salim Elijah and Joe Lewis, two young teenagers going through the City School program of Dorchester, MA, connected with Mr. King through his youth development programs and remarks on Mr. King’s influence on them. Mr. Elijah tells us “Mr. King is able to talk frankly with him and his peers about life ….and how important it is for teens to have the support of someone like Mr. King for gaining a perspective on life situations which they should not be involved in.” Mr. Lewis advises, “Mr. King has a tremendous effect on students from juvenile day reporting centers and that Mr. King would be able to contribute more if he were accessible to the youth within the community.”  Councilman Turner wants Mr. King actively working in his community with youth just like these. 

The City School program’s Executive Director Miriam Messenger agrees with Councilman Turner and considers Mr. King a colleague and educator for such youth within her school program. She proclaims, “Mr. King is a very gentle and truthful voice and even though he has spent thirty-six years inside of prison, he finds a way to relate to young people so that he may help them.”  Ms. Messenger believes Mr. King has transformed and he has shown the power to help transform other people to work for the good of society.

Through these years, Mr. King has shown over time that he is a changed man, that he is no longer a threat to society, and that he takes full responsibility for the life he can never bring back while offering his life’s work in atonement as he strives towards continuous redemption.  Mr. King deserves a second chance to confirm that he is worthy to walk, live, work, and worship back in his community. 

Latest information

Please read and sign the petition to support Arnie King’s request for commutation of sentence. <