A Research Project Turns Into A Successful Attempt to Free A Childhood Friend From Prison

According to The Grio, a North Carolina college student produced a project that assisted in the early release of a childhood buddy from prison. 

Brandon Harris and Sura Sohna met as children in Annapolis, Maryland, where they attended elementary and middle school together. As the boys grew older, their lives began to take two very different paths, with Harris getting a scholarship to a prestigious private high school, opening the way for a full scholarship offer from Davidson College.

Sohna, on the other hand, had been in and out of trouble since he was a child, and was charged as an adult at the age of 17 with 25 criminal offenses, including burglary and theft. Sonha was stopped over by Maryland State Troopers in 2019, arrested on motor vehicle theft charges, and imprisoned for his outstanding warrants after failing to appear at a 2018 hearing on the burglary accusation. On one count of burglary, he was sentenced to 15 years in jail in January 2020. 

Harris was far into his academic career at Davidson College at the time, and he learned of his friend’s issues via the news.

He made the decision to contact Sonha, first through letters and then by phone. When Harris was given the option to construct a research project focused on “telling stories,” he chose Sohna’s story and received approval from his professor, renowned journalist Ike Bailey, who claimed he could relate to Harris’ story.

“Originally, I planned to research different stories and write an essay every two weeks, but I quickly realized that in order to do this well, I needed to dive deeper into a single story, instead,” Harris recalled. 

“I was a Black man attending Davidson while a loved one was in prison, and I know the shame that can come with that experience. The similarities were too great. If I could help a student deal with this burden he is going through and guide him through this process of investigation and journalism, I knew I had to help,” Bailey told Davidson College. 

Harris began by interviewing the victims of Sohna’s crimes, numerous cops and prosecutors, as well as Sonha and his family, to learn more about Sohna’s childhood and subsequent life story. “Telling Stories of the Ignored and Forgotten” was the title of his project, which culminated in a two-hour Zoom presentation at the end of the semester, highlighting his findings and including first-hand testimony from Sonha about his time in jail. Harris went so far as to petition Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to allow Sonha to attend the event from behind bars. 

The presentation drew a lot of attention, so Sonha’s lawyer petitioned the court in December 2021 to have the 15-year sentence re-examined, with Harris submitting his findings during the February 8th hearing. While Sonha’s choices were awful as a result of his tumultuous background, which included poverty and instability, Harris believes that his friend’s actions were not indicative of who he was as a person. As a consequence of Harris’ efforts, the judge agreed and released Sohna on the day of the hearing, the now 23-year-old became a free man 12 years sooner. 

“Coming out of prison was] one of the most beautiful days I ever had. It’s like my mind can’t really comprehend everything, but I know it’s go-time now,” Sonha told reporters.

Harris is glad for the opportunity to assist, and he sees his friend’s experience as a warning not to rule anyone out. 

“We’re so quick to judge a person based on one action or one decision. I believe everyone is a product of their own experiences, and we’ve moved away from trying to understand where people are coming from. Sura has great potential in his life; he just needs people who believe in him,” said Harris.

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