‘Wrongful Conviction’ x Soho Fellowship: The partnership championing creative exonerees

‘Wrongful Conviction’ x Soho Fellowship | Soho House

We chat to Jason Flom and Jeff Kempler of the true crime podcast about their upcoming partnership with Soho House

Monday 23 May 2022   By Lola Adesioye   Photography by Sophie Sahara 

According to the World Prison Brief, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 0.7% of the US population currently behind bars. Strikingly, many of this number – including some who are on death row – are actually innocent. 

In recent years, as calls to reform the criminal justice system have grown louder, music industry powerhouses, Jason Flom and Jeff Kempler – CEO and COO of Lava Media, responsible for signing Lorde and Jessie J, plus many other successful acts – decided to answer that call for systemic change. 

The pair are the creators of two podcasts: Wrongful Conviction – in which they speak to those who have been wrongfully convicted and has had around 30 million listens – and Righteous Convictions – where they talk to people with a passionate commitment towards a particular social reform, ranging from politicians such as Senator Dick Durbin to business leaders like Sir Richard Branson. Through their work, they have channelled the same passion, drive and commitment to telling artists’ unheard stories into fierce and effective advocacy for people who have been convicted and locked up for crimes they did not commit.

Beyond this, they are both deeply involved with organisations that work on behalf of the wrongfully convicted, including the Innocence Project and the Legal Action Center. 

‘Wrongful Conviction’ x Soho Fellowship | Soho House
‘Wrongful Conviction’ x Soho Fellowship | Soho House

Now, in partnership with Soho House, they will provide opportunities to creatives who potentially ‘could have been the next Prince or even Beethoven if their paths had not been disrupted by their interactions with the criminal justice system’, sometimes in situations that Flom and Kempler have described as ‘preposterously unjust’. 

In this partnership with our House Foundations Soho Fellowship programme, not only will creative exonerees and previously unjustly incarcerated people have access to Soho House’s physical and digital memberships, but they’ll also have use of existing infrastructure to further their own creative ambitions.

‘Getting the public to pay attention to this issue and understand it’ is one of the hardest challenges, says Kempler, as we speak about the complexities of the system as well as exposing injustices. ‘I always say: if you don’t think this can happen to you, it can happen to you,’ adds Flom.

The Wrongful Conviction podcast is compelling: hearing the stories reduced me to tears. Despite being storytellers, however, Flom and Kempler are committed not just to talking about the issues but also to taking meaningful action. ‘It’s not enough to tell someone a horrific story… we focus on what might [the listener] do in their personal lives that may contribute to a more just society,’ says Kempler.

‘Wrongful Conviction’ x Soho Fellowship | Soho House

With such heavy (often emotionally taxing) work, I ask how they are able to deal with the gravity of the situations they come across. Although Flom admits that ‘the hardest part is when I visit someone in prison, and then I have to leave and can’t take them with me,’ he goes on to explain that he draws much inspiration from the people he speaks to. ‘If they’re not sitting around crying into their beer, then I damn well better not be sitting around crying into mine,’ he adds. 
Kempler concurs, noting that in terms of their efforts’ effect on general policy and law, ‘that’s massively gratifying and encouraging’. Since starting their podcast in 2016, they have seen a number of changes in state laws, which gives them hope. ‘I think the positive energy from that really inspires me to keep going,’ says Flom.

I ask Flom and Kempler what they say to people with more conservative notions of criminal justice, to which they both have thought-provoking answers. ‘In the overwhelming number of crimes for which an innocent person is convicted, especially violent crimes, the actual perpetrator remains free,’ explains Flom. ‘So, wouldn’t you – and shouldn’t you – care, even just for purely selfish reasons, that the person who is perpetrating these horrible acts is free to do them again? And, often they do…. There’s a real risk to public safety [that comes from] incarcerating the wrong person.’ 

Kempler goes further, delving into the economic cost of wrongful imprisonment. ‘Recognise that incarceration is expensive to the public,’ he says. ‘Civil claims are very expensive. Look at how much we’ve paid out for wrongful conviction claims. Guess who pays for that? Public schools pay for that. Public infrastructure pays for that, and the tax dollars are going towards enriching the private prison systems’, which he explains have ‘a perverse incentive’ towards incarcerating those who are easiest to incarcerate.  

‘Wrongful Conviction’ x Soho Fellowship | Soho House
‘Wrongful Conviction’ x Soho Fellowship | Soho House

Both men have used their talents honed in the music industry in this social justice space, which although different, has many similarities. ‘I’m sort of blessed with the ability to recognise extraordinary talent and in people,’ says Flom. ‘I have a natural gift for telling stories, and I’m certainly am empath – I hate bullying, I’ve always hated it, and to me the most extreme bullying is state-sponsored.’

Both have high hopes for the future, both in terms of their podcasts and systemically. 

‘Every time we have a listener, that person who is a potential juror, I want more people to listen to the podcast and become woke, and for more people to serve on juries,’ says Flom. ‘And when they do, to hold the prosecutors to the standard that they should be held to – which is actually proving the case – and if not, not convict. It’s so difficult on the back end to go and get somebody out. The best thing we can do is prevent them from going to prison in the first place.’

‘I hope that I’ll live long enough to see the type of progress that levels the playing field of justice,’ he continues. ‘We see the pictures of the scales of justice, but we know that those scales are tipped all the way to one side. And in my lifetime, I’d like to see a justice system that has actual justice as its real aim, not just its stated goal.’


Read More
‘The Club’: The murder mystery inspired by Soho House – by someone who used to work there
Calling all foodies: Mandolin Aegean Bistro has arrived in LA
Why ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ is so much more than a sequel

Interested in becoming a member?