Kempis Songster was released last month after more than 30 years in prison for a murder he committed as a teenager.
Now, he's going to the Super Bowl, courtesy of Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.
As the Eagles' nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year, Jenkins was allotted two tickets to the Super Bowl to give to anyone he wanted, said his spokeswoman, Kristi Roehm. Jenkins chose Songster and is paying the travel and hotel expenses in Minneapolis for Songster and his fiancée, said Dan Levy, community relations manager for the Eagles.
Jenkins, 30, met Songster, 45, while Songster was at Graterford Prison, and also met with him the day after his Dec. 28 release, which occurred after the U.S. Supreme Court, in two rulings, held that automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional. Jenkins has been a vocal advocate for criminal and social justice reform over the last year, traveling to Harrisburg and raising his fist during the national anthem until the Players Coalition reached an agreement with the NFL to have the league fund $90 million of community programs. His foundation supports underserved youth.
Songster said Monday that Jenkins had asked him to participate in a panel Feb. 1 in Minneapolis organized by the Players Coalition but that the Eagles had booked his flight a day too late.
Jenkins "came up to Graterford to talk about criminal justice reform," Songster said. "He said he just wanted to work with me on various issues close to his heart. Then he offered me two tickets to show how serious he was."
Songster was arrested in September 1987 for the killing of Anjo Pryce inside a drug house in Southwest Philadelphia. Both Songster and Pryce were runaways, lured to Philadelphia to work in Jamaican drug houses. While in prison, Songster developed a large following of advocates interested in his work on ending what he and other juvenile lifers call "death by incarceration." He was released on parole Dec. 28 after a resentencing.
Roehm said Jenkins chose to give the Payton tickets to Songster based on his commitment to criminal-justice reform.
"Each nominee for all teams receive two tickets for the game that they can give to anyone they like," Roehm said. "Malcolm chose to give that to Kempis. He's extremely passionate about criminal justice reform. He's been very clear about juvenile life without parole and the unconstitutional nature of that."
Levy, of the Eagles, said the arrangements were made before he was aware of the timing of the panel.
Songster, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., said he's not a huge football fan but was still honored by the invitation. He and his fiancée, Monay Washington, will be flown out by the Eagles and put up in a hotel.
"Listen. I do like the Philadelphia Eagles," he said. "I'm not an avid football aficionado. But I've wanted them to win for years."