R. Kelly has been battling sexual misconduct allegations since the ’90s, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the “I Believe I Can Fly Singer” was placed behind bars to await a trial that, as of November 2020, has yet to happen.
As the BBC reports, Kelly’s questionable behavior began in 1994 when, at the age of 27, he married a 15-year-old Aaliyah. In 1996, he was sued by Tiffany Hawkins, who dated Kelly when she was 15 and alleged “personal injuries and emotional distress.” In the early 2000s, the singer was sued by three more women, and in 2002, he was slapped with 21 counts of making child pornography, followed by 12 more charges and an arrest in Florida. Insufficient evidence resulted in his walking free, and it wasn’t until a 2017 Buzzfeed feature alleged Kelly of running a sex “cult” that more women began to come forward. The Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly followed, and, as Billboard notes, Kelly was arrested in February 2019. He was charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against four women (including three minors) and was released on $100,000 bail.
That July, Kelly was arrested again, except this time, there would be no bail. After being charged with 18 counts of “kidnapping, forced labor, child sexual exploitation and child pornography production and obstruction of justice,” he was placed behind bars, where he remains. Here’s what R. Kelly’s life in prison is really like.
On July 11, 2019, R. Kelly was arrested while walking his dog in Chicago and slapped with a 13-count indictment, which, according to ABC News, included charges of “sexual exploitation of children, conspiracy to defraud the United States, coercion and child pornography.” He entered a plea of not guilty but remained behind bars at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago to await his trial, according to AJC.
Just a few weeks later, in August 2019, Kelly was brought into a courtroom by three US Marshals, as reported ABC News, with his hands “clasped” behind his back. Kelly was reportedly wearing “blue prison scrubs and orange slip-on shoes with a white and blue striped sole” and sporting a “thick beard” as he faced another set of charges, which were filed against him in Brooklyn Federal Court. This time, Kelly pled not guilty to five charges claiming he ran an “enterprise” made up of managers, drivers, assistants, and more whose job wasn’t just to promote his music but also to “recruit women and girls to engage in illegal sexual activity with Kelly.”
Despite Kelly’s plea, Magistrate Judge Steven L. Tiscione denied him bail and ordered the singer to be “detained pending trial.” On January 8, 2020, Kelly celebrated his 53rd birthday in jail, and, as of November 2020, it appears that’s where he’ll also be spending his 54th.
R. Kelly will spend the pandemic behind bars
In late March 2020, shortly after the World Health Organization dubbed COVID-19 a pandemic, R. Kelly asked a federal judge to set him free due to health concerns, as reported by CBS Minnesota. In the filing, which was submitted to the US District Court in Chicago, the singer’s lawyers wrote that “the health risk to Mr. Kelly, because of his age and existing health issues, especially considering the conditions at the MCC, necessitates his release on bail.” They claimed that the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Kelly is awaiting trial, lacks access to basic hygiene measures, including soap and hand sanitizer, and that the size of the cells makes social distancing impossible. They also argued that “the courts have long recognized that there is no greater necessity than keeping a defendant alive, no matter the charge.”
Their plea fell on deaf ears, however. As The Hollywood Reporter learned in April, Judge Ann M. Donnelly ruled that R. Kelly would remain in prison because he’s “a flight risk and poses a danger to the community, especially prospective witnesses.”
In August 2019, The Blast learned that R. Kelly’s lawyers were petitioning for his release from solitary confinement, claiming that the singer had “no meaningful interaction with other humans,” that he spent “no time outside getting sunlight,” and that he couldn’t buy snacks, even though other inmates were allowed to.
All of these claims of unfair treatment were quickly shut down by prosecutors who stated (via The Blast) that Kelly “has had a cellmate for quite some time despite his initial refusal. In fact, he has had more than one cellmate so far,” they added. What’s more, they revealed that as of September 2019, the “defendant had access to indoor recreation three times a week, though it was not outdoors on the rooftop” and that he had “seven social visits” to date, as well as three purely social phone calls. As for those snacks, they added that he “purchased items from the commissary, including snacks such as Snickers” and that “MCC staff have taken steps to ensure [the] defendant’s safety, and in doing so, have treated him with dignity and respect.”
In August 2020, TMZ learned that R. Kelly was placed back in solitary confinement for his own safety following an attack that took place inside his cell. According to sources, Kelly was sitting on his bed when the inmate walked in and began punching him because he was mad that protests staged by the singer’s supporters outside the MCC were causing the facility to go on lockdown.
Kelly’s lawyer, Steve Greenberg, wasted no time using the attack as a reason to ask for his client’s release. “We have not been provided any information from the jail, nor has Mr. Kelly called,” he tweeted, adding, “Regardless, it is time to release Mr. Kelly. The government cannot ensure his safety, and they cannot give him his day in court,” he argued. “We should not incarcerate people indefinitely because we cannot provide them with due process!”
Instead, MCC decided to put Kelly in solitary confinement. “That’s the only place they can protect him,” Greenberg later told Page Six. Explaining the root of the altercation, he added, “My understanding is, every time there is a pro-R. Kelly protest outside of the jail, they lock down the entire facility. When they do this, inmates don’t get their commissary, they don’t get their shower, stuff like that and since they’re fairly sporadic anyway, they get upset,” he said, concluding, “So they’re penalizing everyone in the facility because people are protesting in support of Kelly.”
In October 2020, R. Kelly’s lawyers rehashed the altercation that took place in his cell in August in a new court filing, claiming (via CNN) that new video proved that no one “raised a finger” until Kelly’s attacker was “well into beating” him. Claiming that “Mr. Kelly has suffered significant physical and psychological injuries,” lawyer Michael Leonard argued that “an unresolved issue remains as to whether MCC personnel encouraged, and then allowed, a beating of Mr. Kelly to take place. That alone merits an evidentiary hearing.”
Meanwhile, prison employee D. Szyhowski — who broke up the fight — said the lawyers’ claims were simply not true. As he told it, he acted immediately when he found inmate Jeremiah Shane Farmer “punching inmate Kelly repeatedly in the head and torso.” Szyhowski explained that he ordered Farmer to “cease the assault,” and when he refused, he deployed pepper spray to stop the attack.
As for Farmer, he claimed in docs obtained by TMZ that he had attacked Kelly “in hopes of shedding light on government corruption.”
These days, R. Kelly appears to have as many lawyers as charges. Following the attack in his cell, yet another lawyer spoke out on behalf of her client, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that “fear and terror have left him petrified and paranoid.” Nicole Blank Becker went on to claim that Kelly “can’t sleep and is now afraid to leave his jail cell during the two hours he’s permitted daily to venture out. His insomnia is serious,” she continued, adding, “He’s even afraid to get his hair cut.” What’s more, Becker alleged that the singer “is scared for his life,” that he’s “terrified,” and that “he’s gained a lot of weight since COVID-19 due to lack of exercise.”
Becker went on to share her (very different) account of the attack, telling the outlet that the singer was actually “lying down with a blanket covering his face and wearing ear pods on the bottom tier of a bed bunk at 9:45 a.m. […] when someone wearing shoes entered his unlocked cell and began to stomp and kick his face.” Calling the decision to keep him behind bars “tremendously unfair,” she argued, “He’s stuck in jail and can’t get a trial because of the pressure of COVID-19 on the prison system; he can’t have contact with the outside world; he lives in a tiny little cell in fear of his own safety; and he suffers from headaches from being beaten up physically,” she lamented.
R. Kelly was set to face charges of racketeering and sexual misconduct in Brooklyn federal court in July 2020, but as Vulture confirmed in April, Judge Ann M. Donnelly rescheduled it for September 29 due to the pandemic. As the outlet noted, this would likely cause his Chicago federal trial, which had already been moved once from April to October 13, to be pushed back once more.
Come August, jury trials had resumed in Chicago, but if Kelly was hopeful he’d keep his court date, he was wrong. Prosecutors petitioned the court to postpone his hearing, noting the difficulty of keeping everyone safe as they planned to call 50 witnesses, 12-13 of which would have to travel in from a different state, including 8-9 of whom would be coming in from states on Chicago’s coronavirus quarantine list. They also argued (via the Chicago Sun-Times) that the trial “would draw 34 or 36 people to a courtroom, not counting spectators” and that the risks were too high.
US District Judge Harry Leinenweber agreed, concluding (via the Chicago Tribune) that “physically, it seems to be virtually impossible to proceed to trial in October.” Kelly’s lawyer, Steve Greenberg, argued that “Mr. Kelly shouldn’t have to rot away in jail just because the government doesn’t want their witnesses to spend a short time in quarantine,” but even if Leinenweber conceded, Kelly was ordered to be held without bond over his New York charges, so he wouldn’t be released anyway.
Trying their best to get R. Kelly out of prison, his lawyers have asked for his release a total of six times, and they’ve been denied on every occasion. At the time of this writing, most recently, they petitioned the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2020, arguing that the singer hadn’t been able to prepare for his case for six months and should therefore be released.
Speaking with CNN, Kelly’s legal team stated that they hadn’t been able to meet with their client in-person since March due to coronavirus restrictions and noted that because Kelly cannot read or write, he is unable to review documents on his own or provide feedback “meaningfully.” Attorney Tom Farinella said (via CNN) that “for half the time he’s been incarcerated, he’s not been able to meet with counsel” while attorney Steve Greenberg added that Kelly is “not a danger or a risk of flight” and that he’s “a prime candidate for other inmates to abuse to get jail cred.”
Unfortunately for them, the court ruled that the prosecution was able to present “clear and convincing evidence” that Kelly was, in fact, a flight risk, as well as a danger to the community, and they denied Kelly’s request.