What R. Kelly's Life In Prison Is Really Like

In Ernest Hemingway's 1926 classic "The Sun Also Rises," war veteran Bill Gorton asks fellow former soldier Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt. "Two ways," Campbell replies. "Gradually and then suddenly." The same description could apply to the downfall of the former R&B icon R. Kelly, who is currently serving prison time for racketeering, bribery, sexual exploitation of a child, and sex trafficking. It has been a spectacular crash for the man who was once known as the "King of R&B," with a discography that includes more '90s Top 40 hits than any other male solo artist. 

Rumors of Kelly's sexually inappropriate behavior had swirled for years, even making headlines during the peak of his stardom. His questionable behavior first came to light in the mid-'90s when his marriage to fellow R&B artist Aaliyah was dissolved when it was revealed that she was just 15 years out at the time of their wedding. In the early 2000s, Kelly was accused of sexual misconduct — including sex with an underage girl — and in 2002 faced 21 child pornography charges in Illinois. All charges were dropped, but as the years passed rumors continued to dog the star, along with criminal charges.

Finally, in 2018, the documentary "R. Kelly: Sex, Girls, and Videotapes" became the first of a series of damaging pieces of investigative journalism that lifted the lid on Kelly's abuse of young women and girls, leading eventually to his arrest, trial, and Kelly being sentenced to 30 years behind bars in 2022. And according to several reports, Kelly's time in prison has not been easy — here are the details.

An assault reportedly left him paranoid

Though R. Kelly was only formally sentenced in 2022, he has been behind bars since he was first arrested after turning himself in to police back in 2019, after which he was held in Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center. According to tabloid gossip website TMZ, the following year Kelly was the victim of a brutal attack by a fellow inmate, gang member Jeremian Farmer. Farmer allegedly entered the disgraced vocalist's cell and began punching him repeatedly as he slept. 

It is believed the attack came after the inmate had grown frustrated by repeated prison lockdowns, which came as a result of Kelly protestors demonstrating outside the complex. Kelly suffered only minor injuries, but the Chicago Sun-Times later reported that his lawyers said the assault exerted a mental toll on the singer. In the weeks following the attack, he allegedly experienced paranoia and insomnia, in constant fear that another attack may be around the corner.

R. Kelly's medical treatment in prison

Reports suggests that R. Kelly's time in prison has coincided with a downturn in his physical health, with the notorious singer and his legal team claiming that the treatment he has received behind bars has been inadequate and potentially life-threatening. In a voice recording published by "RapHouseTV" (via Vibe), Kelly discussed a recent procedure he had undergone to remove blood clots from his leg. According to the singer, staff at Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he is being held, performed the operation incorrectly.

"Somebody miscommunicated or somebody took a guess at what's going on with my leg," he claimed. "I'm not supposed to die this way. You're not even supposed to take a chance on that." He later complained that staff failed to X-ray the affected area and said that the lack of diagnostics left him afraid for his life. Kelly's concerns have been echoed by his lawyer, J​​ennifer Bonjean, who told ABC 7 Chicago that a lack of adequate medical care is a widespread issue in prisons.

Suicide watch and legal battles

R. Kelly has continued to be embroiled in legal battles since he was handed his first lengthy prison sentence in 2022. At the time, the singer was held at Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center, where his lawyers claimed he was unlawfully kept on suicide watch. In court documents filed by Kelly's legal team, his lawyers argued that he was being kept on suicide watch as a form of punishment, and that he displayed no evidence of being at risk of dying by suicide. Kelly went on to sue to prison in question.

Kelly's legal team have also filed multiple appeals against his sentences, which — alongside the 30-year sentence handed down to him in New York — now includes a separate 20-year sentence in Chicago. In April 2024, his appeal against the latter was rejected by the Chicago appeals court. Kelly currently remains behind bars, having been transferred to Butner, North Carolina.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.