Our Voices > Walk in Our Shoes

Legacy of a ‘Thug Life’: Innocent, but in Prison, Separated from My Son

Feb 12, 2023

The perspective of

Kevin Burno

Incarcerated at

FCI Hazelton
in West Virginia

Year incarcerated


Home State


I am a 32-year-old Black man. Ten years ago, the car I was riding in hit a police officer on his scooter, breaking his leg. I’ve been in prison ever since, and I need your help to reunite with my son, my little “Fattman.”

I was raised in a single-parent household in Ward 8 of Washington, D.C. My parents separated when I was 3 years old. My mother married another man who became a father figure to me, but he ended up losing his battle with drug addiction after cycling in and out of prison throughout my adolescence, mostly for parole violations.

I grew up in poverty; sometimes, we had to closely watch what we ate, because mom had to plan out our meals carefully to make the food last. She tried to make miracles with what we had, but she couldn’t transform our violent social environment: men degraded and exploited by historical oppression, governed by the destructive influx of drugs and the resulting war on the only way of life they knew. My mother did what she could to provide me with the tools and skill sets I needed to escape the pull. But it wasn’t enough.

Murder and prison: up close and personal

When I was about 7 or 8 years old, two incidents occurred that changed the course of my life: First, my 16year-old brother Aundrey, was charged as an adult for murder and sent to prison. My world was rocked when I lost my brother. (I visited him often with our mother, at least every week at the D.C. jail and then at the District prison in Lorton, Virginia. But once D.C. closed that down and sent its incarcerated residents into the federal system, that was it. I haven’t seen him in over 20 years, although we manage to stay in touch through family. He’s currently in the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.)

Shortly after, I witnessed the murder of my neighbor, Chuck. I was playing outside my apartment building with my cousin and some friends when two men approached wearing masks and carrying guns. They opened fire on Chuck, a local hustler. We all ran for cover at the back of the building. At first, there were screams and chaos, but by the next morning everyone acted like Chuck’s murder was normal. I became curious about the streets and the “game.”

The cover of Kevin’s book-length letter to his son

New life, new hope

As a transitioning teen, I began battling my own alcohol abuse and mental health issues, which grew worse as I got older. The one bright spot was the birth of my son. When I was around 19, I worked for an after-school program at Harriet Tubman Elementary School, and that’s where I met my son’s mother. I’d been hands-on with my nephew who was around 4 at the time, and I also worked with the kids in the program. I felt I was ready to be a father. I welcomed that pregnancy! In 2008, my son Kaevaughn was born. It was and is my greatest “accomplishment.” Later, I went to night school to earn my high school diploma, then secured an HVAC apprenticeship. Although I struggled constantly with depression, I had a career in my sights.

Accused of weaponizing a car

And then came March 5, 2013: I was arrested and falsely accused of running my car into a D.C. police officer while he sat on his scooter, fracturing his leg. My co-defendant came forward and admitted he was the driver, saying the prosecutors had threatened him with a 30-year sentence in an unrelated case to coerce him into going along with their theory that I was at the wheel. In return for his cooperation, he was offered a deal: Plead guilty to the unrelated charge and get a five-year sentence, while being dropped from the case in which I had been implicated. The jury never heard any of this at trial, of course.

My case was exacerbated by the fact that when I was arrested, police discovered a significant amount of alcohol in my car. Four police officers testified at trial that my codefendant and I appeared “intoxicated,” “incoherent” and “under the influence of a substance.” I freely admit to being drunk at the time. However, no breathalyzers were administered, a violation of department policy.

I believe no test was administered to avoid a well-established law that lists intoxication as evidence mitigating against charges of intention to commit a crime. If a breathalyzer had documented evidence of intoxication, I might very well have been charged instead for a misdemeanor (driving under the influence), carrying a sentence of no more than one year in prison. Instead, I was charged with a felony, intentional aggravated assault while armed, for which a maximum of 30 years in prison is allowed. (I didn’t have a gun on me, however. I was charged with using my car as a weapon.) Thus, I am currently serving 15 years in prison for a crime I never committed, more time than some people serve for a murder charge.

Why was I targeted? I believe it was due to my association with my infamous brother, Aundrey. After he was first held at the D.C. jail, he was featured in an HBO documentary, “Thug Life in D.C.” I was typed by association. Thus, when I was arrested, the Washington Post headline read, “Brother of hit-and-run suspect jailed for shooting D.C. officer, killing teen.”  This sort of condemnation in the press created a media frenzy, heavily influencing public opinion and interfering with my due process in court. Because of my connection to the HBO film, my case was an opportunity for local police and prosecutors to benefit from the celebrity-like exposure and push for ridiculous budgets, with the arresting officers labeled heroes.

Due to the unchecked power of the prosecutors and inadequate counsel, I didn’t receive a fair trial when my case finally came up in 2015. I’ve now been in prison for over 3,000 days for a crime I never committed. If I don’t receive help, I will have more than 1,500 more days left in prison. And while yes, I feel like my personal potential and the contribution I could be making to my family and community is being wasted in prison (I loved working in afterschool programs!), my main sorrow is being away from my son. My family tries to help make sure he carries his own cell phone so we can keep in contact, but my grandmother (who died in 2021 from COVID) is sorely missed; she was the only person who made the effort to bring him to see me during the past nine years, driving him to see me two to four times a year. Since I’ve been in prison, I’ve also lost my biological father, my stepfather and a favorite cousin.

Whatever it takes, I will be a role model for my son

I do what I can, however, to be a role model for my son. In prison, Aundrey and I developed and piloted a course for other incarcerated men called CAMP – Crasher’s Anonymous Mentoring Program. “Crashing out” is a slang term that means a sudden decline in behavior and action, and the program was designed to counteract it. (Unfortunately, COVID cancelled a lot of programming in prison, including CAMP. But we’re still developing and tweaking it.) And I will keep making the most of my time in prison, as much as possible, until I am freed.

That needs to be soon. I grew up surrounded by relatives in prison, including my uncles and stepfather, who I don’t remember staying out of prison for longer than a year. My family was never complete; things never felt settled. I want different for my son. But for that, I need your help. Contributions to the Help Free Kevin Burno Fund will go toward helping me retain a private investigator to challenge the government’s collision “expert,” who was a detective from the same department that brought the charges. (Under D.C. Code, defendants are entitled to independent, expert testimony; I requested one, but lawyer assigned to my trial didn’t follow through.)

I am innocent, and with the right assistance, I believe I can prove it.

Follow my case on Instagram: @helpfreedc
Write me via:
helpbringkevinhome3@gmail.com or
Kevin Burno #61833-007
FCI Hazelton
P.O. Box 5000
Bruceton Mills, WV  26525

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