A college project has turned into a life-altering experience for a 23-year- old jailed Black man who now has a future.
Brandon Harris, a Davidson College student, embarked on a research project that told the story of his childhood friend, Sura Sohna. As a result of Harris’ work, Sohna — who could have been in prison for another 12 years — was released from jail on February 8.
Walking out of prison was “one of the most beautiful days I ever had,” Sohna told ABC News. “It’s like my mind can’t really comprehend everything, but I know it’s go-time now.”
There would be no “go-time” without Harris and his project, “Telling stories of the ignored and forgotten.”
Harris and Sohna grew up together in Annapolis, Maryland, but their lives took different turns, according to Davidson College. The friends went to the same middle and high schools, but that’s where the similarities end. While in high school, Harris received a scholarship to a prestigious private school. He did so well there that he received a full scholarship offer from Davidson.
Sohna, on the other hand, had been getting in trouble since he was 12-years-old. A search of electronic court records shows a litany of cases that goes back years.
In 2016, the 17-year-old Sohna was charged as an adult on 25 criminal counts that include burglary and theft. The Washington Post prosecutors dropped many of those charges, and Sohna was released but continued to commit crimes. Court records show he failed to show at a December 2018 appearance on the burglary charge.
In February 2019, Maryland State Troopers arrested Sohna and another man on motor vehicle theft charges during a traffic stop. Troopers discovered Sohna had several outstanding warrants, including for burglary and theft, according to a state patrol press release.
This time, he went to jail. He was killed to 15-years in prison in January 2020 on one count of burglary.
Harris told the Washington Post he had seen Sohna’s mugshot in local media over the years and wondered about his friend. He reached out to him, first by letter and then with phone calls. Then, Harris approached his professor about doing the semester-long “telling stories” project, but with a shift.
“Originally, I planned to research different stories and write an essay every two weeks,” Harris said, according to Davidson College, “but I quickly realized that in order to do this well, I needed to dive deeper into a single story, instead .”
He researched Sohna’s life and interviewed the of his crimes, police, prosecutors, Sohna and his family. Harris presented his findings during a more than two-hour Zoom presentation now on YouTube that includes information on what it’s like to spend time in jail.
He also received permission from the office of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan so Sohna, in jail at the time, could attend the broadcast.
In December 2021, Sohna’s lawyer asked a judge to reconsider his client’s 15-year sentence, and the judge agreed. The judge also let Harris present his findings during a February 8 hearing.
Harris, according to the Washington Post, telling the judge of Sohna’s difficult upbringing marked by poverty and instability. Harris said his research shows Sohna simply made bad choices that aren’t indicative of who he really is.
The judge agreed. Sohna was released the day of the hearing.
“We’re so quick to judge a person based on one action or one decision,” Harris said in the Davidson story. “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.”