Kimani's hope - Convicted Jamaican basketballer finds peace on the court
In his own words, the last four years of Kimani Ffriend's life have played out like a movie. Not a sunny, happy film, but a horror flick; one which Ffriend hopes to walk out of very soon.
Things are looking up for the professional basket baller though. After spending two years and eight months of his sentence, part of that period under house arrest after he was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter in 2014 for the November 3, 2012 death of Serbian Nevena Dragtunovic, Ffriend late last year signed a contract with Serbian team OKK Beograd and only a few weeks ago got a new contract with the top team in the country’s domestic league - Dynamic.
He’s so far been the leading scorer for the team and is one of the most valuable players in the league.
In fact, he says playing basketball has been his therapy as he hovers on the cusp of liberty - not quite free, not quite locked up.
He is scheduled to return to court on January 25 for a hearing on an appeal against his conviction.
While he awaits the outcome of his appeal, Ffriend has been allowed some freedoms and that is what enabled him to start playing again, and earn a living in the sport which brought him fame.
“The basketball for sure has been my therapy. The two hours I’m in training or the weight room or playing that is my way of getting away from the reality of the situation. If it wasn’t for me being able to play here it would have been much harder and being under house arrest it was much harder,” he told The Gleaner.
His renewed faith in God has also helped him get through the difficult moments. Ffriend admits that his position has weighed heavily on his psyche.
Because he was so well known, and the woman who died was the girlfriend of a Serbian pop star, the case has continued to make headlines.
“It’s all been very humbling. I made a lot of money financially and all of that was taken away from me, but although I lost a lot, I gained in Christ and now I rely on my faith and it’s my faith why I’m able to have a positive mind outlook,” Ffriend said.
Ffriend, who continues to live in Belgrade, has not been able to see any of his Jamaican family throughout the period and he says the experience has taught him patience.
“Everything happens for a reason and I see what my purpose is and now I have to stay patient and trust God that everything will work out,” he said.
“It messes with your head but at the same time it’s a blessing because I am able to move around, but my life is stagnant because I have to go back to court and I’m still like a prisoner. I’ve been here four years now but my life is still not moving forward. I can’t do anything in my career. I lost four of my best years in this country,” he said.
“It’s traumatising. Those types of stuff affect your mentality. Because of that I can’t really be myself until all of that is over. I’m more aware of my surroundings. I don't trust people as much as before. I’m not as open or friendly as I used to be. It’s not a good feeling and this is something I have to live with for the rest of my life."
The knowledge that he robbed a family of its daughter also weighs on his conscience.
“There is not one day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” he said.
Through basketball and over the last few months Ffriend has been turning things around and one of the best parts he says is that when the newspapers write about him it’s no longer about his court case but his exploits in basketball.
“The fact that I’m playing and the coaches want me to play is a big deal. It’s a new year. All I’ve been going so far is up and I just have to believe that God is going to pull me through,” he said.