This article was first published in the Spring 2014 print edition of UConn Magazine. To access more stories like this, visit s.uconn.edu/spring 14 or download UConn Magazine’s free app for tablet devices.
It was 1933 when UConn students so insightfully designated the husky as the symbol of strength, grit, and resolve that has come to define the true spirit of the University. In this special feature, UConn Magazine invited 11 proud UConn alumni to speak out about what defines them, from their darkest struggles to their greatest triumphs. And no matter how different their backgrounds, their hardships, or the mistakes they may have made along the way, that same enduring strength and indomitable spirit remains, living on at the heart of every Husky.
Like any aspiring UConn student, Evan Kimia ’12 (ENG) was excited when he received his acceptance letter in February 2009. There was only one problem. He was in prison.
Kimia, of Greenwich, Conn., was serving a four-year sentence for second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle in connection with the death of his friend Justin Scott Brown.
Police said Kimia was underage, intoxicated, and traveling too fast for conditions when he lost control of his Saab while negotiating a curve on Sept. 2, 2005. The vehicle hit a tree, spun, and struck a stone wall. Brown, who was in the front passenger seat, died. Both were 18 years old.
Looking back, Kimia, now 25 and a software engineer for Zynga in San Francisco, says the incident taught him a lot about human nature and the fleeting preciousness of life.
“Human beings can be incredibly compassionate and equally vicious,” says Kimia. “There will always be people who will try to tear you down. I’ve had people call me a murderer, alcoholic, and even a sociopath. I’ve learned to value the compassionate ones and ignore those that don’t matter. I try not to let things get me down.”
Kimia transferred from prison to a halfway house in time to start his classes in Storrs, having accumulated nearly 40 college credits while incarcerated by enrolling in mail-order courses.
We all have one life to live, and we should make it count. —Evan Kimia ’12 (ENG)
After he finished cleaning prison toilets and doing his other daily chores, Kimia would study at a homemade desk fashioned from cardboard. He read textbooks under a makeshift light made out of a light bulb, pens, and a vitamin bottle cut into the shape of a lampshade. “You would be amazed at the things you can make out of cardboard and some homemade superglue made out of floor wax and coffee creamer,” Kimia says.
Prison taught Kimia to appreciate the opportunities presented to him.
“I could have also died in that car wreck,” Kimia says. “Or I could have been sentenced for an extremely long period of time. In prison, the confinement is enough to make you miss the outside world, but it’s the people in there that make you appreciate life more. … I heard the older inmates reflecting on past mistakes that have made them miss so many holidays, birthdays, births, and funerals. Life is all about the sweet and the sour, and going through [this] has definitely made the sweet things sweeter.”
Brown’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit following his death and was awarded a $2.3 million court settlement that was paid by Kimia’s insurance company. Kimia says he tried to reach out to Brown’s family shortly after the accident, but they did not want any communication with him.
He has learned to live with what he has done. “It’s important for anyone dealing with a troublesome uncertainty to eventually move on with your life and to do what’s important to you for your remaining time,” says Kimia, who apologized for his actions during his sentencing.
As he adjusts to his new life on the West Coast, Kimia makes sure to keep his focus. His message to others: “Don’t get too comfortable.”
“I think it’s meaningful whatever your situation is,” Kimia says. “I’ve had friends get jobs they don’t like and just stay there because they get used to the lifestyle. They lose a grip on their dreams. Everyone should take a moment of self-reflection to see if they are too comfortable in a life they never really wanted to live. We all have one life to live, and we should make it count.”