Inside R. Kelly’s Life In Prison

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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.

R. Kelly spent his 53rd birthday behind bars

R. Kelly's 2019 mugshot taken by the Chicago Police Department, Handout/Getty Images

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

R. Kelly at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in 2019

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.”

Is R. Kelly eating Snickers behind bars?

R. Kelly at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in 2019  Nuccio Dinuzzo/Getty Images

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.”

He was placed in solitary confinement for his safety

R. Kelly at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in 2019 Scott Olson/Getty Images

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 tweetedadding, “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.”

Did no one intervene while he was attacked?

R. Kelly leaving Cook County jail in 2019 Scott Olson/Getty Images

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.”

R. Kelly is allegedly ‘petrified’ and ‘paranoid’

R. Kelly on stage in Detroit in 2018 Scott Legato/Getty Images

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.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on his trial dates

R. Kelly appears before a judge at Leighton Criminal Court Pool/Getty Images

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.

The 2nd Court of Appeals is keeping R. Kelly locked up

R. Kelly attends a hearing on September 17, 2019 Antonio Perez – Pool via Getty Images

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.

Next Up

Disturbing Details About R. Kelly And Aaliyah Come To Light

R Kelly Getty Images

Artist R. Kelly, the self-proclaimed King of R&B, is facing some major allegations in a new Lifetime documentary and in a disturbing People magazine interview — specifically about his relationship with the late singer Aaliyah.

R. Kelly, who was born Robert Sylvester Kelly, is no stranger to bad press and disturbing rumors — notably, he’s been accused of controlling women by running a sex cult —  but the “Trapped in a Closet” crooner is now making headlines again for his alleged past with Aaliyah. Kelly and Aaliyah (full name Aaliyah Dana Haughton) were rumored to have married when she was just 15 years old.

In an interview with People, eight individuals who claim to have either been controlled by Kelly or have known people who have been spoke with the magazine about their experiences with the singer. The magazine’s article come shortly before Lifetime premieres their new six-part docuseries about Kelly called Surviving R. Kelly, in which the celebrity’s family, friends, and colleagues share past interactions with the singer.

Jovante Cunningham, a former backup singer, opened up about her memories of Kelly with Aaliyah, whom he’d reportedly mentored. “Aaliyah [was] very tom-boyish, glasses, braces, no swag,” Cunningham recalled of the then-12-year-old singer. “She truly was a beautiful young lady. We used to sneak Aaliyah out of the hotel room and take her all over the place.”

She noted, “Those were the good old days, but those are the things that also make you cry.”

Cunningham remembered once touring with Aaliyah when the artist was 15 years old after the singer had released her 1994 album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, according to BET. “We were out on the road with Aaliyah,” she began. “On a tour bus, there really aren’t many confined spaces. When you get on the bus there are bunks and so these bunks have little curtains you can pull at night if you don’t want anybody to see you sleeping.”

She continued, “So it just so happened we were all laying in our bunks and the curtains are open, everybody’s communicating, laughing. … When the [room] door flew open on the bus. Robert was having sex with Aaliyah.” Kelly was reportedly 27 years old at the time.

When asked to describe what she allegedly witnessed, Cunningham said, “Things that an adult should not be doing with a child.” She added, “I can’t stress to you how people are still suffering behind things that went on 20 years ago.”

Getty Images

However, Cunningham wasn’t the only one to recall Kelly’s relationship with Aaliyah. Kelly’s former personal assistant Demetrius Smith also opened up about what he saw during his time with the singer. He claimed that he witnessed Kelly and Aaliyah’s wedding and helped get false documents so that an underage Aaliyah could wed.

Smith recalled Kelly approaching him when they were in Miami, Fla. and telling him that he got Aaliyah “in trouble,” believing that he’d gotten her pregnant. “That broke my heart right there because I really believed him when he said that he wasn’t messing with Aaliyah…Once he told me that I was at a loss for words,” Smith said.

He further admitted, “I was in the room when they got married. I’m not proud of that. I had papers forged for them when Aaliyah was underaged. It was just a quick little ceremony, she didn’t have on a white dress he didn’t have on a tux. Just every day wear. She looked worried and scared.”

According to reports, Kelly and Aaliyah’s marriage was annulled just a year later. “Her parents had the last say,” Smith stated.

Aaliyah later passed away when she was just 22 years old, after a plane she was in crashed after leaving the Bahamas (via People).

Kelly’s alleged relationship with Aaliyah wasn’t the only time he was accused of engaging in sexual acts with a minor. A video allegedly showing just that with a woman who may have been as young as 14 caused him to be indicted in 2002, as noted by People. Kelly and the woman believed to be in the footage denied the people in the recording were them. Kelly was later found not guilty on 21 counts of child pornography in 2008.

In 2017, BuzzFeed News reported that Kelly, 51, kept women at his properties in both Chicago and Georgia, who are allegedly ordered to fulfill his wishes and are emotionally and physically punished if they do not follow his commands.

Kelly denied the allegations made against him in the report.

Surviving R. Kelly premieres at 9 p.m. on Lifetime on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. The docuseries will air in three parts, with its final segment airing on Saturday, Jan. 5.