Bill Cosby has broken his silence, granting his first exclusive interview since beginning his sentence at SCI-Phoenix, a maximum-security Pennsylvania penitentiary near Philadelphia.
In a special phone call with the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s BlackPressUSA.com, Cosby said he’s spending his time helping to teach and encourage a large population of African American inmates – men he calls residents — via Mann Up, a prison reform program.
The 82-year-old educator and award-winning TV producer/director/comedian was sentenced to serve 3-to-10 years in Pennsylvania’s prison system following his September 2018 conviction on charges of aggravated indecent assault.
Unless he receives relief from the state’s appellate courts, Cosby said he fully anticipates serving his entire sentence, saying he’s not guilty and will never admit to something he didn’t do. Displayed remorse is generally a required prerequisite to obtaining parole or a shortened sentence.
During the exclusive interview with NNPA, Cosby was candid, vivid and outspoken.
Andrew Wyatt, Cosby’s spokesman, was also on the call, where Cosby stressed that there would be no ground rules or restrictions. No topics were off the table for discussion.
Cosby received no special treatment from the facility for this interview. Because inmates are only allowed to remain on phone calls for 15 minutes, Cosby had to call back multiple times in order to complete the interview.
“I have eight years and nine months left,” Cosby said. “When I come up for parole, they’re not going to hear me say that I have remorse. I was there. I don’t care what group of people come along and talk about this when they weren’t there. They don’t know.”
He said his trials were a sham, unjust and unfair.
“It’s all a setup. That whole jury thing. They were imposters,” Cosby said.
“Look at the woman who blew the whistle,” he said, alluding to the potential juror who overheard a seated juror proclaim before the trial that, “he’s guilty, we can all go home now.”
“Then she went in and came out smiling, it’s something attorneys will tell you is called a payoff,” Cosby said. “I know what they’ve done to my people. But my people are going to view me and say, ‘that boy looks good. That boy is strong.’ I have too many heroes that I’ve sat with. Too many heroes whom I listened to like John Henrik Clarke, Kenneth Clark and Dorothy Height. Those people are very strong, and they saw the rejection of their people. This is political. I can see the whole thing.”
“I am a privileged man in prison,” he said.
During the call, Cosby referred to his small cell as “my penthouse.”
He revisited his famous 2004 “Pound Cake” speech and clarified that he probably should not have addressed that controversial dissertation to all African Americans – the residents at SCI-Phoenix make for the perfect audience, Cosby said.
Cosby said he remains concerned, however, for all of Black America.
“They are under siege. This thing with the drugs and the different pockets of the neighborhoods where it’s going on. When you look at what drugs are doing… things that make these people drive around and shoot into crowds,” Cosby said.
“The insanity of what is the cause to the brain by all the drugs these people are dealing with. It’s exactly what I warned them about in 2004. They’ve thrown education out the window.
“They’ve thrown respect for the family out the window, and they’re blaming each other for what’s going on. There is post-traumatic stress syndrome, and there are also bad manners.”
While inmates who spoke to NNPA Newswire said they were saddened to see an icon like Cosby imprisoned, each said they believe he’s serving a higher purpose. Cosby agreed.
“I don’t belong to the Mann Up Association, but it’s a privilege to come in and speak,” Cosby said. “I never wanted them to lord me up (be put on a pedestal). This is a great privilege.”
A weekly highlight for Cosby since his incarceration has been the reform program, Mann Up, where he is often the featured speaker. The program serves to encourage and empower African American men to strive for self-respect and dignity, and to put their family first.
Anthony “Benny-Do” Sutton, Tyree Wallace, Robert Groves, and Michael Butler, each spoke from SCI-Phoenix to NNPA Newswire about the program and Cosby’s influence.
“Every Tuesday, Mr. Cosby and I sit down and talk before the other residents come in and he explains to me what moves I need to make so that Mann Up can be a success,” said Sutton, 56, who has spent his entire adult life in prison.
“He says to always remember to work as a team. We are all in this life together and Mr. Cosby is a political prisoner and he tells us that we’ve got to save our babies. We can’t be out there killing our children and our women,” Sutton said.
Wallace, who has served more than two decades in prison, said Cosby has also opened his eyes because of his authenticity.
“This powerful man, one of the best comics, a legend and here he is with us,” Wallace told NNPA Newswire.
“Mr. Cosby comes into the room with his fist in the air and all of these men rise up and applaud him. He gives us so much wisdom and the Mann Up program is the perfect vehicle. He told us a story about his mother, and how she would have him clean the hallways after guys would go and urinate. He said he’d ask her why he had to clean it, and she told him that you have to clean where you live,” Wallace said.
Groves and Butler echoed their peers.
Both have served more than a dozen years in prison and said Cosby’s presence has helped them to see their lives differently.
Cosby recalled entering Temple University as a young man in the 1960s and his desire to become a teacher.
“I’m not a psychiatrist, and I’m not a psychologist. I’m an educator, and what I look forward to is talking to this group of 400 or so men. Some of them here are in their 70s, in their 50s, their 40s, 30s, and 20s,” Cosby said.
“I tell them what I know and what I feel. I feel that everything that I said in 2004, there is a light [behind it],” Cosby said.
“The mistake I made [in 2004] is making it sound like all the people were making the infractions, and that’s not true.”
Cosby said that he believes he’s in the right place at the right time because he’s spent his life and career trying to reach African American men.
“I’m looking at a state [Pennsylvania] that has a huge number of prisons, and the one I’m in, thankfully, has the largest population of African Americans,” he said. “These are guys who are also from Philadelphia, where I grew up. Many of them are from the neighborhood.
“Michael Eric Dyson said ‘Bill Cosby is rich and forgot where he came from.’ That’s not true,” he said. “I’m not calling him a liar; I’m saying that’s not true. What I’m saying is that it’s not the same neighborhood as it was when I was coming up.
“The influx of drugs and what they’ve done with their own history,” Cosby said. “If they would pay attention to these things and put education first and respect for others first … it’s almost insane to hear someone say they don’t know how to be a father.
“As I said earlier, the revolution is in the home, and we’ve got to put it there,” he said. “Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On,’ is very prophetic in that too many of us are dying in these neighborhoods. Too many of us dying and, another quote from the song, is ‘we’ve got to find a way.’”
It’s easy to see the devaluation of the Black family by others, Cosby said.
He said the shelving of his iconic “The Cosby Show” is proof that those in power have long conspired to remove anything positive from the Black community.
“When ‘The Cosby Show’ came on with the Huxtables, just think about it. While it was running, other networks and even the media were doing jobs on trying to belittle whatever it represented,” Cosby said.
“Then, with ‘A Different World,’ they really ramped up the rhetoric,” he said. “While new shows were coming and we had gone off the air – this is the worst time in the history of television – I remember hearing shows coming on advertising saying this is not ‘The Cosby Show,’ which is an indictment in itself.
“They did not like what ‘The Cosby Show’ looked like for us, and many of us traded into it,” Cosby said. “Now, look at what has happened. They’ve taken everything that I’ve done and swept it into a place where it would not be shown.
“Thank goodness for TV One and BET, but we’ve got to respect ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got to have a very, very strong respect for our history.”
Behind the steel walls at SCI-Phoenix, Cosby said he’s at peace.
His fellow residents often ask about his contemporaries like Richard Pryor, whom Cosby once encouraged to use profanity because it fit Pryor’s act.
“It’s a huge smile in my spirit. I can… use their own profanity back at them. I’m saying things to them like, ‘how many times if you have a lamp, do you rub it, give it three wishes. And, how many times can you say mother f—-r and things will come true?” Cosby said.
“Sometimes, you have to turn on the conjugation of things like slang. You speak it in the home, and that’s what I said in 2004. It was the shock of hearing, ‘Where you is?’, and ‘Where you at?’ and then hear the parents say it too.”
Cosby believes he’s reaching his fellow residents.
“I’m reaching them because they want to be reached. They’re in prison. I don’t forget a saying, one I quoted or read in a book, which says, ‘I don’t know the secret to success, but I do know the secret for failure.’ You can’t please everybody. I have a feeling that these people [Mann Up participants] really want somebody. They have rappers here who are strong and spirited people. They don’t just blame people; they say, ‘we’ve got to do it.’”
Cosby has also served as a voice of reason in prison.
“I heard a guy say to someone that if someone did something he didn’t like, he’d go out and get all his boys and they’d kill the fella. I said, how much sense does that make? You call your boys, and they want to kill him,” Cosby said.
“I said to look at all the people you’ve got involved, and when you get caught, you are all going to jail, and you got one dead fella. ‘Call if off,’ I told the guy. I said to him that you need to call your friends, too.”
Cosby often tells his fellow residents about an epiphany he had while serving in the Navy, which has allowed him to remain in good spirits while behind bars.
“I got a wife, family, and friends who are so happy that I have something. I go into my penthouse and lay down and start to think about how I can relay a message and give it on Saturdays (during Mann Up sessions) so that they would hear it and feel it,” Cosby said.
“This Saturday, I gave a talk dedicated to women. I told the story of my wife, who said to me when she got back home after bringing our 43-year-old daughter back home dead from the hospital. It was the most difficult thing she’s ever done in her life, to sit there and watch her daughter die,” he said.
“From there, I went into the fact that mothers have something that we all have, which is a navel. We have to respect our mothers and our women. We’ve got to stop buying drugs. If you have no buyer, you can’t sell,” Cosby said.
After calling back a third time to complete the interview, Cosby said he needed to express the critical role the Black Press has had in telling his story.
“Sixty-five years from now, they will be quoting what you’ve written about your fellow journalists. [Wyatt] has information on how these people have rejected the truth. You have the information too because you were in that courtroom,” he said.
“I’m a privileged man. You talk to [NNPA President and CEO] Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., and he will tell you that there is a history of Black political imprisonment in America, and it’s repeating itself in some kind of way.”