Confessed murderer Warren Kimbro started commuting 20 miles from his prison cell to Eastern Connecticut State College on a study-release program in the spring of 1972. Today, Kimbro is no longer inmate No. 24835 but the assistant dean of student affairs at the college earning $14,000 a year. He was chosen this fall over 80 other applicants. “I’ve lived and learned a lot in 41 years, and I’m grateful,” says Kimbro, “but I sure wouldn’t want to take that course again.”
A few minutes after midnight on May 21, 1969, in a swamp outside Middle-field, Conn., Kimbro, a neophyte Black Panther, put a bullet through the head of Alex Rackley, who was suspected of being a police informant. Though he turned state’s evidence, Kimbro nonetheless was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1971. Inside the walls, he began to rehabilitate himself.
A course on positive mental attitude helped him redirect his anger and frustration. He enrolled in an accelerated learning program, became editor of the newspaper, organized a prison anti-drug program and guided other inmates into educational and vocational job training. Five months after he was sentenced, he was granted a reduction from life to four years to life. It allowed him to attend Eastern and work outside the walls as a director of a Willimantic, Conn. drug rehabilitation center. When he was paroled in January 1974, Kimbro entered the Harvard School of Education to work towards his master’s on the strength of his A average at Eastern and the recommendations of his professors, even though he had not yet completed his B.A. His beaming graduation picture, taken in Cambridge this past June, is displayed prominently on a table in his Willimantic living room.
Kimbro lives in a comfortably rumpled apartment just off campus with his second wife, Glennora, and a 14-year-old daughter, Veronica, from his first marriage (which ended while he was in prison).
Although Warren Kimbro still broods over injustice and roots for the underdog (and, incidentally, reports to his parole officer for 30 minutes every month), he no longer feels the compulsion “to put Band-Aids on the victims.” More interested in cures, Kimbro insists that all lasting change starts with education. He is where he thinks he can do the most good. “Because of what I’ve gone through, kids might be more ready to listen to me and pay attention.”
For Kimbro personally, the campus experience is exhilarating. “The only time I’m really myself is when I’m with the kids—whether it’s planning film festivals, concerts, talking or just interacting.” The admiration seems to be mutual. Senior Debby Gracy, 21, says: “He’s always there when we need him. He pulls our ideas together and makes them work, and he’s got great rapport with the kids.” Dressed in slacks and a sport shirt, Kimbro is on campus from “9 a.m. to who knows when,” but still encourages students to call him at home if they have problems. His usual rap runs: “Stop and think. Don’t rush into anything. Don’t let others pressure you.” Kimbro worries that some students might tend to glorify his past. “It was a nightmare I got plugged into,” he says quietly. “I don’t want to be respected for what I did that night, but for what I’ve accomplished in spite Of it.”