Survivors' Stories and Letters to Cuomo
These are a few of the many stories behind the statistics. We demand immediate freedom for these survivors, and for all criminalized survivors of gender violence!
Jump to survivors' letters to Cuomo, or read and hear their stories immediately below.
- Valerie Seeley
- Rachel Ball
- Betsy Ramos
- Jessica Paradiso
- Kelly Harnett
- Sherrita Crumpler
- Darlene Benson-Seay
- Kelly Forbes
- Theresa Debo
- Laura Martin
- Cynthia Galens
- Breanna Simpson
- Joanne Armour
- Tanisha Davis
- Shantell Green
Valerie Seeley is the only survivor of gender violence who has had her sentence commuted by Governor Cuomo. We demand the same for the other women whose stories are below! Listen to Valerie describe her experience in her own words.
Rachel Ball grew up in upstate NY. She is currently serving 8 ⅓ years for criminally negligent homicide, two felony drug counts and a misdemeanor of endangering the welfare of a child. Like many survivors who are unable to leave abusive relationships, Rachel was held responsible for the actions of her boyfriend Josh Bennett.
Even though Rachel and Josh were only together for a year, the relationship became intense very quickly. At first he showered her with attention and gifts,taking Rachel's kids out to the movies, but quickly became jealous, manipulative, and abusive. Rachel had been using cocaine recreationally, but over that year, began to experience very intense withdrawal symptoms -- she found out that he had been mixing heroin with cocaine to get her addicted to it to ensure that she would stay with him. They were both evicted from her mobile home when he got caught dealing drugs on the premises. She lost two jobs because he would show up to her work unannounced and harass her about her male coworkers out of jealousy. The police were called multiple times, but they never questioned Rachel separately from Josh. She didn’t feel safe telling them about the abuse with him standing right there.
Rachel tried to hide the abuse from her children but one day her older son and daughter saw Josh push her down the stairs. Fearing for Rachel, her daughter sent a Facebook message to Rachel’s best friend asking him to come pick them up because “Josh is hurting mommy”. This incident spurred Rachel into action; she made a plan to leave.
The day that she was planning to leave, she had packed all her stuff and was calling a cab when he woke up and overheard her. He took the phone from her, cancelled her cab, and beat her unconscious, smashing her head off of walls, door frames, and a bedpost. For the next three days, Rachel could barely remember what happened, and was in and out of consciousness. Josh gave her more drugs under threat of violence when she woke up so she passed out again. When she finally woke up, she saw him at the foot of a bed with a shotgun, asking her if she really wanted to leave. Fearing for her life, she said no. He told her to go downstairs and make breakfast. She didn’t hear her baby, Kayleigh, which was unusual, so she asked him where she was. He said she was sleeping and that Rachel should let her sleep and go make breakfast. Rachel had a feeling that something was wrong so she went to check on her, finding her unresponsive and cold to the touch. She immediately called an ambulance to try to save her. When the paramedics came they rushed Kayleigh to the hospital, but tragically she was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Rachel was distraught and inconsolable, and wanted to cooperate with the police because she wanted justice for her daughter. The DA charged her and Josh with Kayleigh’s death, and threatened to charge Rachel for the guns and drugs that were found on the property (all of which belonged to Josh).At the advice of her lawyer, Rachel reluctantly agreed to a plea deal to a lesser charge because without it she faced the possibility of life in prison.
Rachel has been sober since the day she found Kayleigh. She now knows that her story is the story of many women who are living with addiction and in abusive relationships. She will always carry the pain of losing her daughter, but hopes that in telling her story she can help others. In her time at Bedford, Rachel has been taking classes through Marymount College and is working towards a degree in sociology. She lives on the honor floor and works for the DMV. She hopes to become a counselor so she can help women escape abusive relationships and assist those who struggle with addiction. She has participated in family violence treatment, alcohol/substance abuse treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous, and parenting classes. She is working consistently to end the abusive cycle she was caught in so that her children grow up knowing she is a survivor. Rachel has also rediscovered her love for writing and hopes to publish her life story some day. She looks forward to moving in with her elderly grandmother and being reunited with her son and daughter. They are all anxiously awaiting her return home.
Betsy Ramos has been behind bars for 22 years for second-degree manslaughter. At 15 years, she had served her minimum sentence. Nonetheless, in January of this year, she was denied parole for the fourth time. She is 54 years old, has cancer, and is HIV positive. Based on her age, gender, and illness, Betsy has a greater chance of dying in prison than of ever recidivating. Her story serves as a sharp indictment of the system we call the “justice system.”
On the morning of May 26, 1998, Betsy woke to two police officers at her door. They had come to serve a warrant on her abusive boyfriend, Joseph. Fearing arrest, he instructed Betsy to tell police that he was not present while he hid in the closet. In Betsy’s own words, at that point in their relationship, she feared her boyfriend more than she feared the police. The officers searched the apartment twice before finding Joseph. He resisted arrest, grabbing hold of one officer’s gun. He and the other officer, Anthony Mosomillo, shot and killed each other. Betsy was arrested and charged with Mosomillo’s death.
Betsy’s story, and the circumstances leading up to that day, began years earlier. As a teenager in Brooklyn, she was abandoned by first by her mother, then her father. She began using heroin, which led to three years in federal prison followed by ten years of supervision. In 1996, she met Joseph at a halfway house, not knowing that he would be abusive and controlling, using her HIV status to manipulate her and telling her repeatedly that no one else would love her. That control soon extended to every aspect of her life — beating her with his fists, choking her, and, at one point, holding her down and forcibly sodomizing her. As the abuse progressed, Joseph would beat her “where the marks wouldn’t show.” As a single woman without children, it was hard to find shelter, although she tried to leave on multiple occasions and her abuse is documented by multiple domestic incident reports to NYC police.
By that fateful May morning, Betsy had suffered over 600 days of abuse. She was afraid to not obey Joseph’s demand to hide him, but hoped the police would take him, or that he’d be scared to come back. Never could she have imagined what would transpire. The Brooklyn DA used Betsy’s past drug convictions to paint her as an unsympathetic defendant, rather than someone who had been victimized herself, arguing at trial that she had helped Joseph grab the officer’s gun. This charge was disputed by Betsy and her attorney. Betsy does not downplay the impact of her decisions that day, and feels tremendous remorse for the loss of life and pain caused to the officer’s family.
Betsy has “served her time”, and then some. To keep her behind bars exposes the hypocrisy of a system that continues to seek punishment, not justice. While the events surrounding her incarceration are different from many survivors, the circumstances leading up to it are remarkably similar: trauma in childhood and early adulthood, interpersonal violence, lack of access to adequate resources and treatment, and a system that criminalizes survivorship. As a community, we all benefit when Betsy comes home.
The first time Jessica Paradiso’s partner hit her was when she picked him up from a stint in prison, where he’d been incarcerated on a drug conviction — he was angry at her for being late. Over the next ten years their relationship became only more abusive, both physically and emotionally. In addition to being abused, Jessica was coerced into participating unknowingly in a scheme her partner organized to defraud elderly people in upstate New York. She received the maximum sentence, seven to fifteen years, and has been incarcerated for three years.
Jessica met her abuser just out of high school. Her life was going well. She enjoyed a happy childhood, and had a good job and a car. Though their relationship first seemed promising, Jessica’s partner quickly became controlling. He isolated her so deeply from her friends and family that, eventually, he was the only support system Jessica had. She moved in with him and his mother. After a while her partner’s old addiction to crack cocaine resurfaced and, when police raided their house and found drugs, Jessica was arrested as an associate. Though soon released, she lost her job and car as a result of the incident.
Her partner cycled in and out of prison. Whenever he was away, Jessica felt an incredible sense of relief. She went to school for cosmetology, obtaining a degree while raising their two young children. But the abuse always continued when he was out. Jessica found herself accused of cheating; she was degraded constantly, and beaten in front of the children. When he told her that nobody else would love her, Jessica started to believe it. She became deeply depressed, finding it hard to get through each day. She felt that under his control, she could never be the mother she wanted to be; but at the same time she was threatened that if she left him, she would lose her children.
Jessica's partner got by doing odd jobs. One day Jessica was questioned by the police after cashing $4,000 worth of fraudulent checks he told her he’d obtained legally — and then forced her to cash. The incident was enough to make Jessica’s partner want to run away — he took Jessica and their children to Virginia. Eventually federal agents caught up, and back in New York, Jessica and seven co-defendants faced two charges of attempted grand larceny and one hate crime charge related to the advanced age of the victims.
Jessica’s co-defendants, including her partner and her partner’s mother, had worked at the victims' homes; Jessica hadn't been at the work sites at all, but only cashed checks under threat of violence. She accepted a plea deal, but the judge gave Jessica the maximum sentence. While she hopes her time will be commuted, Jessica feels the painful irony of her situation: that her unjust prison sentence also means that, for the first time in her adult life, she's free of her abusive partner. She's started to wear makeup, and can finally feel beautiful. She’s been getting her Bachelor’s Degree from Marymount College while at Bedford Hills, and has been working with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
However, she knows that she deserves better. She worries about her children, whom she hasn't seen in years. She can't wait to get out and be their mother again. When she's released, Jessica plans to finish her bachelor’s degree, get a job mobilizing the skill sets she’s developed while working with the DMV, spend her life fighting for women incarcerated for acts of self-defense against domestic violence.
Kelly Harnett was there in 2010 when her abuser murdered someone in a New York park. Because she was present, Kelly was also charged with the victim’s death. Because she maintained her innocence and refused a plea deal, Kelly ended up with a longer term in prison than the perpetrator of the crime. He was sentenced to 15 years, while she’s serving 17 years to life for second-degree murder.
Kelly had been in a relationship with her abuser, Tommy Donovan, for four years. Donovan was a mixed martial arts fighter, and Kelly lived constantly in fear of his violence—he was always threatening her, and he threatened Kelly’s mother too. One day Donovan threw Kelly against a tree, splitting her head open, after he grew impatient waiting when he picked her up at her mother’s. Kelly later recalled, “I started screaming crying and he put his hands around my throat, telling me that if I did not shut up, he would kill me.”
Another time, he threw her to the ground after a night of smashing car mirrors in a park; the police arrived to find Kelly bleeding from a split lip. As Donovan’s violence and manipulation continued, Kelly felt her world shrinking. She was trapped without a network of support. He threatened to kill himself if she left; she thought he might kill her. Kelly came from a background marked by violence and financial difficulties, which contributed to the abusive relationship she engaged in.
Kelly had no part in the murder she’s incarcerated for. She feared for her life that night, too, as her abuser used a shoelace to strangle his victim in Astoria Park. Following the incident, the media inaccurately characterized Kelly and her boyfriend as “homeless” or “transient”—which contributed to bias as Kelly’s criminal process got underway.
Kelly’s trial was similarly unfair. She lacked effective counsel. She wanted to call Tommy Donovan as a witness—he’d written a letter exculpating her—but her attorney advised against it. The prosecution claimed Kelly “acted in concert” with her abuser, not taking into account the years of physical and emotional trauma she’d suffered at his hands. While Kelly maintained her innocence, Donovan accepted a plea deal. Her co- defendant is now deceased making her the sole party for doing time for this crime.
Compounding Kelly’s trauma is the fact that she felt that she had to be “a one woman army “ in fighting her conviction. She was up against a prosecutor with years of experience and a judge who denied her a fair trial. In addition, because her attorney is deceased she cannot access court files. In prison now for eight years, Kelly has become a certified law clerk and is helping other women fight their convictions. Kelley in fact contributed to the reversal of another incarcerated survivor of domestic violence who is now home. Kelley has spent sleepless nights writing court motions and has educated herself in the legal field the entire time that she has been incarcerated.
When she gets out, she wants to become a paralegal. Her case is an example of the links between domestic violence and the carceral system—of how easily survivors can be punished for events that happen outside of their control. Kelly recognizes, too, how the effects of trauma and abuse spiral outward and punish others indirectly. Kelly’s mother has had numerous spinal surgeries and requires physical assistance, which Kelly wishes she were able to provide. Kelly wants to go home and help her mother, as well as other survivors of domestic violence.
Sherrita Crumpler is a 35-year-old woman currently serving a 17 Year sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. A tragic accident that took the life of her girlfriend Candra Keels led to Sherrita being convicted in August 2015 of Manslaughter in the first degree. She did not have a history of or prior convictions of any violent crimes.
In her words, “all that I am guilty of is loving someone and remaining with them despite years of domestic violence.” She stayed with her former partner out of a sense of debt due to her partners support during Sherrita’s many bouts of Crohn’s disease-related illnesses. “I simply wanted to be loved despite my physical condition,” she said.
“Domestic violence in a relationship starts out slow and, because you are in it, you don’t see the damage that is truly happening to your life,” Sherrita recalled. “The first time they slap you and say I’m sorry and you say it’s okay. When they take your cell phone and destroy it, it’s okay because she bought me a new one. When she comes to your mother’s house and slashes your tires, it’s okay because she got me new ones.” Sherrita explained that her continued acceptance of Candra’s behavior was because of her having been brought up in a loving family, one in which forgiveness was celebrated.
On the day that stole two lives, Candra was at work while Sherrita made dinner in the style that Candra liked, extra salty. She wanted to make sure that Candra had food to eat when she came home. Sherrita had some company over at the time and Candra’s cousin, who lived upstairs, happened to notice. She told Candra, who got angry. Candra hated when Sherrita had friends over. The text messages started coming. To make sure that her friends didn’t have to witness Candra’s anger upon her return, Sherrita decided to take them and leave the apartment. Yet Sherrita came back later, not to stay, but to get some money and leave once more with her sister. She thought Candra would be asleep, but she wasn’t. Once she entered the house, Candra started hitting her. She hit Sherrita with something so hard across her face that her vision became unclear. Sherrita’s sister walked in to try and convince Sherrita to leave, yet Sherrita could not completely comprehend as she was still standing in a daze. Her sister left, thinking that Sherrita would gather her things and join her in the car. Once she regained her composure, Sherrita told Candra that she was leaving or Candra could leave. Candra became irate and came at her with a knife. The two started struggling and both fell to the floor. When Sherrita finally got up, Candra told her she was hurt. Sherrita immediately called 911 for help and the two stumbled outside to get Sherrita’s sister to help them. After Sherrita’s interrogation, she was rushed to the hospital because she couldn’t move one side of her face as a result of her injuries. She was drooling and her face was numb. While at the hospital the doctors told her she had a cracked eye socket and checked her for brain damage on account of the big bruise on top of her head. Candra was taken to the hospital with what was initially stated as non-life-threatening injuries. It took hours for the doctors to work on Candra and, sadly, she passed while at the hospital.
Sherrita’s full history of her status as a survivor of domestic violence was not considered at the trial and her lawyer refused to object to inaccuracies put forward by the prosecution. Moreover, during the trial Sherrita’s Constitutional Sixth Amendment Rights were violated.
Though she didn’t do it, Darlene Benson-Seay is incarcerated for killing her boyfriend, Ronnie, who abused her violently for years. He’d fallen into debt to two drug dealers, who came to collect one night—knocking Darlene out and stabbing Ron. After Darlene called 911 and tried to help Ron survive, she was charged with his murder.
Darlene had come from an impossible difficult background. She experienced abuse – sexual, physical, and emotional – by her grandfather, brothers, and boyfriends. As a child, Darlene was hit in the head so hard it left her comatose for three days. She was raped and held captive by a police officer. Her father lined Darlene and her siblings up against a wall as if planning to shoot them execution-style. When Darlene was eight years old, she lost her mother, who was stabbed to death while pregnant. Afterward, Darlene raised her younger brothers and sisters.
Darlene continued to suffer abuse as an adult, inflicted by boyfriends and neighbors. In a couple instances, she used a knife to defend herself. She met her partner, Ron, at AA and they dated on and off for 15 years. She enjoyed their relationship for the first decade, but then Ron reconnected with an old friend; he started doing drugs and became violent. Darlene found herself fighting him off every other day. She was in no shape to move because she was thrown down the stairs. He cut her and threw knives are her. Once, Darlene stabbed Ron in the foot to stop him from attacking her. She called the police repeatedly, but eventually they began threatening to arrest Darlene too—so she stopped calling. Darlene did what she could. She took long walks to give herself and Ron a cooling-down period. She would go away and stay with her family. She suffered two strokes because of the abuse.
Ron not only beat her—he fought with his old friend and another man, to whom Ron owed money for drugs. In 2012, Ron was being pursued for the money and Darlene couldn’t take it anymore, and started packing to leave. She was worried the men, who’d historically used gruesome violence to collect their debts from Ron, would hurt her too. As she and Ron fought over her plans, the med showed up and knocked Darlene unconscious; she woke up to find Ron had been stabbed. Ron’s eyes were open and he seemed to gesture for Darlene to take the knife out of his chest, in order to help him. She did and put pressure on the wound and called to her brother, who lived downstairs, to call 911 because she had no phone.
Darlene was told by police that she didn’t need a lawyer. Confused and traumatized when they asked if she’d stabbed Ron, she said yes—referring to a time years prior when she’d stabbed him in his foot in self-defense. This hurt her case at trial, and so did her ineffective counsel, who put Darlene on the stand despite her insistence she wasn’t in the right mental state. She felt coerced into a plea deal for manslaughter. She says she would never kill anyone—after the trauma and grief of her mother’s murder, she knows acutely what it’s like to lose someone. Darlene is strong after so many years of abuse, but she’s still incensed at the plain injustice of her incarceration.
In 2001, Kelly Forbes immigrated from her native Trinidad with her young daughter to Brooklyn. She was a single parent with a history of trauma, and wanted to be near her family. She married Michael one year after meeting him in the doctor’s office where she worked as a medical assistant. She was 28, he was 48. After enduring several months of abuse, he was killed during an altercation in which she defended herself as he tried to choke her. Imprisoned since 2007, she has served eleven years of a 21 year sentence for his death.
Initially Kelly rejected Michael’s advances because they were very aggressive, and because of his age. After two months, she gave in, and they got married in 2007, the following year. Her thinking at the time was that she was better off married with a safe and stable home for her daughter. Supposedly he owned a barbershop, but she really knew very little about him.
After the wedding, Michael “surprised” Kelly with an enormous house in Merrick, NY (Long Island), where she had no desire to live. It was a very long commute to work, her daughter had to be placed in a new school, and she was completely isolated from her family. She felt that he was trying to control her every move. He didn’t want her to work and he didn’t want her to spend time with her daughter. He often fired the babysitters that she had to hire to look after her daughter after school until she arrived home from work. Then she would have to take the day off the next day, endangering her employment status. He began to abuse her emotionally, mentally and physically, telling her not to go see her brothers, because “he had enemies in Brooklyn.”
They argued constantly, and he started hitting her on a regular basis. At one point he almost pushed her down a flight of stairs, which her daughter witnessed. She called his parents, so they knew what was going on. She told him she wanted a divorce and he said “You’re never leaving me”. He started drinking heavily, which in combination with his health issues, his weight, and smoking, added to her concerns.
On Thanksgiving eve in 2007, they got into an argument about how much time she spent with her daughter. Kelly promised to talk to him after putting her daughter to bed. Michael was furious and forced her to sleep in another bedroom. She woke up and saw his hands coming toward her as he wrapped an electrical cord around her neck. She thought she was going to die. In the midst of a struggle, she managed to get the cord around his neck and pulled. He died from the injuries sustained. She remembers little from that night. She called a friend and then called 911. She was questioned for over 30 hours during which time she was not allowed a phone call, and she was told that he was still alive. A relative who knew about his prior abuse of his first wife said they would testify at trial but then changed their mind. Initially they tried to indict her for murder but had so little evidence they had to let her go. The second time, the charge was second degree manslaughter. Michael’s past convictions for rape and burglary came to light, but unfortunately the jury was not swayed. They deliberated for 3 hours, before convicting her. Having served more than half her sentence, Kelly just wants to go home to her daughter, who now lives with her parents in Trinidad. When she moved to this country it was to make a better life for herself and her daughter. She could not have imagined it ending this way.
Theresa Debo has survived a lifetime of horrific abuse. Now 14 years into a 22-years-to-life sentence for second degree murder, Theresa will turn 62 in November 2018. Unless Governor Cuomo grants clemency, she will remain in prison until she is at least 70 years old.
From early childhood, Theresa suffered severe physical abuse by her birth mother and sexual abuse by an uncle. After the state finally removed Theresa from that home, she was adopted into a loving family. However, her childhood trauma continued to haunt her and she became involved in a series of classically abusive relationships.
At age 45 Theresa began dating Richard. Initially he was “sweet as pie,” but soon he began drinking excessively and controlling what Theresa wore, where she could go, and whether she could see her family. When Theresa moved in with him, he demanded she quit her job to “take care of the house,” “have dinner on the table,” and “have his drink ready when he got home.” He threatened to kill both Theresa and her family if she disobeyed him -- and with four guns in the home, Theresa absolutely believed him. He called home constantly to ensure Theresa never left on her own. He began beating her anytime she fell short of his expectations. Theresa “learned” how to avoid a beating by doing everything exactly as he ordered it. After Theresa had back surgery and was on bed rest, he demanded she still clean, cook, and submit to sex. When she started receiving disability payments, Richard stole her checks. Richard completely controlled of every aspect of her life.
One night, about three years into their relationship, Richard and Theresa were arguing when he became violent. He slammed Theresa against the wall, hit her in the head with a beer bottle, and, terrifyingly, pulled a 44 magnum handgun out of the dresser. He had threatened her life so many times and now it seemed he was really going to kill her. She tried to run but he caught her, still holding the gun. Theresa screamed and pushed him away with all her strength. Richard fell back against the couch and dropped the gun. Desperate and afraid, she grabbed it before he could and shot him.
After shooting Richard, Theresa was in shock and “lost more than three hours.” She was taken to the police station, where she initially told police that someone broke in, beat her, and then shot Richard. She made up the story because she was terrified of the criminal justice system and ashamed to admit that she had let Richard hurt and control her for so long.
Prior to trial Theresa was offered a plea bargain of 13 years in prison. If she had taken it, she would be home today. However, she was overwhelmed by the complexities of an unfamiliar criminal justice system and didn’t understand what the deal meant or what the consequences might be if she didn’t accept it. None of the domestic violence was admitted into evidence at trial -- like so many survivors, she never reported it. The district attorney told the jury that Theresa shot Richard while he slept, which was simply untrue and unproven.
Theresa has accomplished much since being incarcerated. She trained service dogs in the Puppies Behind Bars program for 8 years, and is a certified Hospice Aide in the prison Regional Medical Unit. She volunteers in the long-term care unit, facilitates the Alternatives to Violence program, and works in the law library. Through her participation in the Family Domestic Violence Program, Alternatives to Violence Program, and Spousal Violence program, Theresa has gained insight into cycles of domestic violence and how to end them. She has lived in the prison’s “honor cottage” for four years.
The love and support of Theresa’s adoptive family has helped keep her going throughout her incarceration. She hopes to be granted clemency so she can be with her elderly adoptive parents and help her siblings care for them while she still can.
Laura Martin is serving a 20-year sentence for killing her father, a man who had physically and sexually abused her since childhood and who threatened to do the same to her five-year-old daughter.
Throughout her childhood, Laura Martin’s father molested her. No family member ever intervened or even acknowledged the abuse. In response, Laura began drinking at a very early age and, by the age of 13, was struggling with alcoholism and, soon after, cocaine use. When she became pregnant, she decided to go into a residential drug treatment program, where she was living when her baby daughter was born. The two lived in the center for another year and a half while Laura finished treatment and then began to work there as a drug counselor.
Laura had been clean for several years when her father, who was homeless and struggling with alcoholism, asked to stay in her apartment with her and her daughter. His physical abuse resumed. He slammed her face into the sink and she went to work with two black eyes. Though her daughter never saw him hit her, she would hear him yelling at Laura in the next room and say “Grandpa, leave Mom alone.”
One evening in 2004, after he had been drinking and yelling, Laura told her father that he could keep the apartment but that she and her daughter were leaving. “My father threatened to kill me and do to my daughter what he did to me,” Laura recalled. “He came at me with a bottle and I blacked out. When I realized what I did my father was dead.”
She was arrested and sent to Rikers, without bail, for three years. Her lawyer told her that, if she took her chance at trial, she risked being sentenced to 25 years to life for intentional murder. She agreed to a plea bargain and was sentenced to 20 years.
Laura is now 57 years old. She has spent a total of 14 years behind bars and has two years and nine months left on her sentence. Her daughter is 19 years old and about to enter college. The two maintain a loving relationship despite the separation. But in prison, Laura’s health is declining. She suffered from a stroke; when she went to the clinic they gave her Motrin and sent her back. When she finally was taken to the hospital, medical staff found a blood clot in her brain. She has had a number of surgeries on her hands and her leg and has also been diagnosed with high cholesterol. Wth the limited foods available in prison, she has been changing her diet.
Laura has already applied for clemency once in 2013. After five years of silence, she received a form letter informing her that her application had been denied and that she would be eligible to apply again after one year.
In prison, Laura works as a facilitator and mentor in parenting classes and alternatives to violence programming. She is an avid reader and is earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology. Laura is passionate about making people feel welcomed and supported and is eager to get back to work as a drug addiction counselor when she is finally released. She hopes that, with her commutation, that release will come soon.
Cynthia Galens is a survivor of three abusive relationships, including two marriages. The third relationship ended in the death of Kevin Stack, for which she is serving a sentence of 23 years. Cynthia acknowledges that she poisoned Kevin after he had threatened her life and the life of her young daughter. Her intent was for him to be taken to the hospital , so she could make her escape. She expresses tremendous heartfelt remorse for her action which resulted in his death. Cynthia is 60 years old and uses a cane after a knee replacement. She will be eligible for parole in 2030, at the age of 72.
Prior to this incident, Cynthia had never had any contact with the criminal justice system. She grew up in a small town and received an AA degree in graphic arts, and then worked for the Veterans Administration for 29 years. By 2004, she had been married and divorced twice (spanning 23 years) and had two children. Both marriages were characterized by abuse - physical violence in the first one and severe emotional and mental abuse in the second. Cynthia suffered years of abuse, and knew nothing else in domestic relationships. In 2005, she lost her son, then 19, to a drug overdose. She and her daughter, then 14, struggled alone to cope with this unthinkable loss. In her own words, against her better judgment and during a time of extreme dysfunction, she began a relationship with Kevin Stack who was being treated for substance use and psychiatric issues at the VA Hospital where she worked. She invited him into their lives and their home. Kevin physically, verbally, and emotionally abused her 14 year old daughter. She did what any mother would do -- go to any length to protect her child's life, after he told her “I’m going to show your daughter what it feels like to be hurt by a man”. She knew Kevin was serious about hurting her daughter after he showed up outside her school. Two months later, he told her “You’ll never be rid of me”. Despite numerous attempts to seek assistance, the restraining orders were ultimately dropped when she didn't cooperate fully with law enforcement. She did not want him to be incarcerated, she just wanted him to be unable to hurt her family. She admits that she poisoned him in the hopes that he would become sick and have to be removed from the home so she could escape with her daughter.
After Kevin died, Cynthia was arrested and charged with killing him. She chose to go to trial and took the stand to testify on her own behalf. Testimony by others as to Kevin’s abuse was not allowed by the Judge, and she was portrayed as a violent murderer who planned to kill Kevin and let him die a terrible death. This is an inaccurate portrayal of Cynthia who visited Kevin in the hospital until his family decided it was time to let him go.
Cynthia has been in prison since 2010. In that time her daughter has become a grown woman with a successful marriage, and Cynthia is the proud grandmother to two grandsons. The separation from her family, especially given the loss of her son many years ago, has been traumatic for all. Cynthia and her daughter remain close, but the prison is a five hour drive from their hometown and it’s difficult for the family to visit more than once or twice a year. Since being in prison, Cynthia has engaged in all programs that are available -- Alternatives to Violence, Parenting Through Film, and an Inmate Program Associate Program helping others to prepare for their GED’s. She works as the School Principal’s Academic Clerk and is currently in therapy, where she learns more about domestic violence and abusive relationships. When she’s not at work or therapy she spends her time in her cell creating beautiful artwork. After her release, her goals are to be with her loving family, with whom she is very close, and to be an advocate for other domestic violence survivors. She has learned a lot about how abusive relationships work and how to avoid them in the future. Currently, her earliest possible release date will be when she is 72 years old, but with a reduction in her sentence, she can once again be a part of her family and her community.
Breanna Simpson is serving 25 years for defending herself against a man who tried to kill her on numerous occasions. She is a survivor of a long struggle to be free of drugs and alcohol, the loss of custody of her children, and severe abuse at the hands of men in three successive relationships. Breanna feels tremendous remorse for the death of Henry, and in her own words, never stopped loving him. She is now 36, has spent five years incarcerated, and will be 56 when she comes home unless her sentence is commuted.
Breanna grew up in Southern California, and was introduced to drugs by her mother. She became involved with Jack and had a daughter at the age of 19, whom she doted on. In her words, Jack “didn’t hit her that much.” Her struggles with drugs and alcohol became paramount in her life, and during that time her maternal grandmother orchestrated Breanna’s daughter being taken away from her. Feeling that she had lost everything, she went to Las Vegas where she met Joey, with whom she had a son. Joey abused her severely, resulting in hospital visits and numerous attempts to leave. Eventually, she fled to New Mexico. It was a terribly difficult time for her and she ultimately gave up her son up for adoption, thinking that he would have a better life. She became involved with Henry, who initially, like the previous two relationships, was charming and wonderful. Despite the beatings, in Breanna’s words he was better than the other two “because he didn’t cheat on me.” They moved back to Henry’s hometown in upstate New York.
Breanna has scars from the time he tried to strangle her and stab her with a knife in 2012. Ultimately she grabbed the knife and swiped at him, grazing his shoulder. As a result of the incident, she pled guilty to assault and received three years of probation. The abuse continued -- everyone in the small town knew that he beat her as she showed up to the hospital covered in bruises. Yet, she protected him from the police, not wanting him to be arrested. She was close to Henry’s family, who saw the beatings and the bruises. In an attempt to end the relationship, she moved into her own apartment, but continued to see him -- because he still “treated me nicely when he wasn’t drinking.”
In June of 2013, she was in her apartment taking care of a friend’s young daughter. She let Henry, who was intoxicated, into the apartment and he quickly became abusive. She was in fear for her life and the life of the child with her. He attempted to stab her and she grabbed the knife. As she was holding it he pushed into her and the knife cut him near his ribs. After the incident, the police requested to discuss the incident with her - during questioning they initially did not tell her that he died. She was devastated when she found out.
She opted to go to trial after being offered a plea of 20 to life. She wanted everyone to know that she loved Henry and what had happened was an accident. She felt certain that the truth about the abuse she had suffered at his hands would come out and that she would be given a sentence which made sense given the circumstances. This was not the case. Very few of the witnesses available to testify on her behalf were allowed to do so. She wanted to take the stand, but her lawyer advised her not to. At trial, Henry was portrayed as an angel, while she was spoken of as a monster who had tried to kill him twice. This was just untrue -- she continued to love Henry throughout, despite the abuse.
Since being in prison, in her words, she has become a different person. She reconnected with her father and her daughter, is free of drugs and alcohol, participates in courses on family violence and is working toward her associate degree in sociology. She is in therapy understanding more about abusive relationships and developing self-esteem. She works at reception in the prison store. She feels grounded and is now able to look at her past and understand more of what happened to her. When she is released, she plans to go back to Texas to be closer to her father. Keeping Breanna in prison for another twenty years serves no purpose, other than to deprive her of a life spent helping other young women stay away from abusive relationships, which is what she hopes to do.
Joanne Armour is serving 20 years to life for defending herself and her 14 year old daughter against an attack from her close friend of eight years, Lacandace Miles, in December of 2013. Despite her desire to go to trial, she maintains that she was pressured into taking a plea after she felt threatened with her daughter possibly being implicated in the incident. Joanne had suffered extensive abuse at the hands of her previous husband, and then more abuse while she was involved with Ms. Miles.
Joanne and her current, although estranged, husband lived together for more than 14 years, until 2013, during which time he often beat her, resulting in numerous hospital visits. She did not work outside the home -- her husband provided for her and her daughter, who is now 19. He would go away and come back frequently, leaving her with no money. At one point, he had left and she and her daughter were evicted. She decided that she had had enough of his abuse. When Lacandace invited her to move in, she decided it was her best option. She and Lacandace had a long friendship, and she often took care of Lacandace's four children, making sure that they were fed. Unfortunately, this relationship also began to be characterized by abuse -- with Lacandace slapping and punching Joanne. This resulted in Joanne trying to defend herself. However, with nowhere to go, and unable to find room in a shelter, she moved in with Lacandace, taking her daughter with her. They lived together as a family with the children. Even Lacandace’ own family acknowledged that Joanne cared for Lacandace’s young children as if they were her own.
The abuse escalated, and Joanne was in fear for her life and the life of her daughter, but also distraught about what would happen to Lacandace's young children if she left, especially her five year old son. Joanne contacted her sister who lives in Chicago, who purchased bus tickets for Joanne and her daughter. On the night of December 20, 2013, Joanne was ready to leave with her daughter. Lacandace attempted to wake up her young son at 9pm, and Joanne advised her to let the child sleep. Lacandace came at Joanne, and slapped her, causing her to fall and hit her head. At that point, she was weak and dazed. Lacandace got on top of her and continued hitting her. Joanne’s daughter intervened in an attempt to save her mother. Joanne was terrified when Lacandace started to bite and scratch her daughter. When she saw blood on her daughter, she “snapped” from fear and picked up a stick that Lacandace kept by the door and hit her, in an attempt to get her to stop biting her daughter. At one point, she did hit Lacandace in the head, but Lacandace was upright and still fighting. Lacandace passed out and Joanne took her child and fled to the bus station, still in fear. Joanne did what any mother would do feeling that her child’s life was threatened.
She was subsequently picked up in Chicago and brought back to stand trial. According to Joanne she was threatened with the potential implication of her daughter if she did not take a plea. She had no one to talk to and no support. In order to save her child, she pled to murder in the second degree, not knowing the implications of the charge. Her only intent was to leave and make a new life for herself and her daughter in a safe city. There were two coroners reports, both of which were inconclusive as to the cause of death.
Joanne feels tremendous remorse, but has tried in every way possible to use her time in prison for her improvement, completing classes in Alternatives to Violence and Family Violence. She is very involved with Rehabilitation Through the Arts, a group that brings theater into the prisons. She has starred in several productions and also writes poetry which has enriched her life in many ways. Joanne maintains hope that she will be able to come home and be with her daughter as she enters nursing school.
Tanisha Davis is a caring 32 year-old single mother serving a 14-year sentence in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women after acting in self-defense against her abusive partner. In 2013, she was convicted by a Rochester jury of first-degree manslaughter, after stabbing her violent abuser a single time in the shoulder in an act of self-defense after another brutal attack at his hands.
Tanisha met her abuser, Montreall Wright, when she was 19 years old and he was nearly 30. Although Tanisha did not know it at the time, Wright had abused other women in the past and was on probation for another domestic-violence case when they met. By the time Tanisha learned this information, Wright had started to abuse her. During the course of their nearly eight-year relationship, Wright became increasingly violent, controlling, and manipulative. He attacked her for any reason at all: because she wanted to put up her own Christmas tree in her house, because she left her high-heel shoes at a party, or because she did not want to drive with the window down in the cold Rochester winter. When Tanisha tried to break up with him, Wright stalked her, breaking the windows of her house, forcing his way in, and terrifying her young son. On one occasion, while driving with Tanisha and her son in the car, Wright swerved into oncoming traffic because she refused to tell him she loved him. Wright sexually assaulted Tanisha and choked her in her sleep. She now has a scar on her hand, a chipped tooth, and a bad knee as a result of his attacks.
Though Tanisha called the police often, it was to no avail. Eventually, they began to remove Wright from Tanisha’s house only to drop him off around the corner. On the night of the incident that led to Wright’s death, Tanisha had two orders of protection against him. Following a disagreement, he began beating and choking her. In a voicemail that captured Wright’s attack in the minutes preceding Tanisha’s act of self-defense, he is recorded yelling, “Is this what you want?” while hitting her as she cried for help.
Tanisha went to trial and testified about her act of self-defense. She was convicted after a trial ridden with errors and injustices. For example, the jury wasn’t properly instructed on how, under New York law, the imminent threat to Tanisha’s life justified her acting in self-defense. The prosecutor called Tanisha, a Black woman, a “hood diva,” and made racist remarks about “the culture she is from”—and no one objected or stopped him. Virtually no evidence was introduced regarding the abuse Tanisha suffered.
Tanisha has said that living with her abuser was like being in prison, and the trauma of her abuse continues to affect her. Tanisha suffers from PTSD and has nightmares that Wright is beating her. Sometimes feels that he is “still in control.” This trauma and control are now compounded by prison. While her avenues for direct appeal have been exhausted, she continues to fight for her release. She keeps in touch with loved ones, although the long distance makes it difficult for her family to visit. Tanisha’s son is now 13 years old, and she does everything she can to mother him from afar. She is doing her best to prepare for a better life for herself and her son once she is free by pursuing her GED and completing available programs. Tanisha also helps members of her family manage interpersonal disputes, and, inside the prison, she counsels other women trying to leave abusive partners. It’s work she hopes to continue once she's free.
Shantell Green is incarcerated for protecting herself against an abuser who would have killed her while her four children watched. She was pregnant at the time with her fifth child. Shantell, who is 30 years old, is serving a nine-year sentence in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
Shantell met her abuser, Dewayne Simmons, at the grocery store, where he offered to buy milk for her daughter. But he became violent and controlling shortly after they began dating. He hid her license plates, preventing Shantell from going to work or visiting her family without his permission. He demeaned Shantell constantly and in public. In the two months they were together, Simmons attacked Shantell 13 times, often drunkenly, and often in front of her children. He continued to beat her after she became pregnant, including with an aluminum baseball bat. Shantell had a warrant from a previous case, a fact Simmons held over her—he taunted her about not being able to call the police.
On June 12, 2017, Shantell believed she was going to die. They were at a picnic at Simmons’s family’s home, and he had her pinned against the kitchen sink with his hands around her throat. He had already knocked his own father unconscious for trying to intervene. Shantell’s young son pulled on her leg in an attempt to help her. She used a knife she’d been cutting the children’s food with to poke him in the chest. He punched her in the face and continued choking her, and she pushed the knife into his back. Finally, Simmons released his grip and collapsed to the floor. He died later that day, and Shantell was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
Shantell and her attorney had planned to support their self-defense case with evidence of Simmons’s history of violence toward her and other women who had scars and broken bones from his abuse, and who agreed to testify on Shantell’s behalf.
However, in the prosecution’s framing of the case, Shantell attacked Simmons without provocation. Worried that her prior criminal record would make jurors assume she was guilty, and terrified at the prospect of losing her children if she received a long sentence—possibly a life sentence—Shantell accepted a plea bargain of nine years for a conviction of first-degree manslaughter.
Shantell gave birth to her baby in prison, naming her Faith. Faith can stay with Shantell in the nursery unit at Bedford Hills until she turns one, when she’ll go live with her older siblings at Shantell’s mother’s apartment in Rochester, a five-hour drive away. Due to the distance and her mother’s health issues, Shantell has only seen her older children once since she arrived at prison in early 2018. The separation from all her children is damaging to the entire family, but being separated from her baby will result in long-lasting trauma to both mother and daughter. Under Governor Cuomo’s arbitrary commutation criteria, Shantell wouldn’t be eligible for clemency until 2022. But the governor can change that now with the stroke of a pen.
Survivors' Letters to Cuomo
These are letters directly from survivors of gender violence who are currently incarcerated in New York State prisons to Governor Cuomo, who has the unconditional power to immediately free them. We support their demands for immediate freedom!
I have been ruled by, ruined by, convicted of, and survived violence. My 23 year conviction as a first time offender is directly connected to surviving intimate partner violence.
It is imperative that more consideration for commutations be given to incarcerated survivors of domestic violence.
I will be 71 upon my release without some relief from your office in the form of a sentence reduction.
The dictionary defines a survivor as one who remains alive or existent, who outlives or outlasts. I intend to continue to be a survivor. And I implore you and your office to begin to grant commutations to survivors of intimate partner violence and other racialized, gender based violence, who are in prisons throughout New York State.
The current “me too” movement applies to many criminalized survivors. I challenge you and your office to refute what I am calling the “too few” movement.
How many commutations have been granted on your watch?
Dear Governor Cuomo,
I would like to thank you in advance, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my letter. I am writing to you in hopes that you will find my letter insightful for initializing a form of justice for Domestic Abuse Survivors, such as myself. Additionally, I would like to communicate that my Sixth Amendment Rights were violated during my trial.
My name is Sherrita Crumpler, I am a 35 year-old female, currently serving a 17 Year sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility; a maximum security prison located in Bedford Hills, New York. I do not have a history of or prior convictions of violent crimes. I was convicted of Manslaughter in the first degree for the life of Candra Keels. This incident was a tragic accident that stemmed from Domestic Violence. Unfortunately, what I am guilty of is loving someone and remaining with someone who was domestically violent during years of acquaintance that ultimately turned into a relationship.
What I have observed and learned during my sentenced at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the stories of Domestic Violence and Abusive relationships never start with a Tragic End. The Domestic violence stories typically have two common elements, the individuals do not comprehend that they are in an abusive relationship and the relationship has a tragic ending. I have Crohn’s disease and there were periods during our relationship when I was extremely ill. I had part of my intestines removed, I was required to wear a colostomy bag, I experienced severe bouts of diarrhea and vomiting as a result of my incurable disease. However, during my many stays in the hospital Candra was by my bed side with my family. As a result of Candra’s support, I thought I owed her a commitment for spending time with me during my several bouts of illness. I am guilty for wanting to be loved despite my physical condition. I stayed in the relationship, despite warnings signs of anger, I was convinced that she loved me and accepted me no matter what was wrong with me. In spite of our same sex relationship, I thought she understood me and all my feelings. I am guilty of not leaving Candra in this relationship even when she displayed several violent incidents.
My in-processing experience was deceptive, I communicated all the facts of the incident to the Police, as well as the Detective. The outcome of my interview was distorted in the courtroom and I was unjustly convicted. My Constitutional Sixth Amendment right to Effective Assistance of Counsel, “Defense counsel can deprive a defendant of effective assistance by failing to provide competent representation that is adequate to ensure a fair trial or more broadly a just outcome” (Sixth Amendment) was violated. During my trail a video was shown to the jury of my interrogation, on several occasions during the interrogation, the detectives communicated to me that my story was false, and I needed to say something different. The detectives told me repeatedly during my interrogation that no one would believe my story was an accident. My Counsel neglected to ask the Judge to instruct the Jury not to consider the opinions of the Detectives during my interrogation. As a result, the Jury was allowed to absorb the opinions of the detectives and watch the full interrogation recording. Again, there was no objection to the evidence of the interrogation by my counsel, as a result the Jury had a clear path to develop a prejudice position towards me when making their decision. I communicated to my Counsel that a witness was not telling the truth on the witness stand, and he instructed me to be quiet, again my counsel should have objected, unfortunately he did nothing.
Several Family members communicated that a Juror was sleeping during the presentation of evidence, my lawyer communicated this to the Judge and the Juror was allowed to remain a member of the Jury. The district attorney was told by the judge to come back with a lessor plea, the Judge stated that the plea offer was too excessive for this crime, unfortunately the district attorney did not reduce his plea per the Judge’s instructions, again a clear opportunity for my counsel to object and he remained silent. During my trail, the media showed a picture of me from a previous incident that did not align with the timing of my booking, potential jurors were bias against me prior to being selected. The picture did not show my two black eyes, cracked eye socket, bruises to my head, cracked tooth and busted lip. Due to my injuries and my inability to properly move my face, I was rushed to the emergency room for treatment. Again, none of these facts were mentioned during my trial, by my counsel.
I listened to several inmates’ stories that have experienced Domestic Violence. These stories did not start out with a tragic end. There were many things that lead to the tragic end. Governor Cuomo when two people are in a domestic violent situation, such as me, many things happen. It starts out slow and progresses more and more, but because you are in it you don’t see the damage that is truly happening to your life. One of my main goals is to help individuals see that Domestic Violence is a cycle, many individuals do not understand that they were in a Domestic Violent Relationship because it happens slowly over time, but each time something happens to them it was worse than the last time. In my case it started with Candra slashing my tires, then the slaps across my face, her finding me and crashing into my car, and then her fighting me, hitting me with anything in her reach. My goal is to help individuals at the beginning of the story not the end. Unfortunately, in my situation a life was lost, and another was condemned as result of the lack of awareness of Domestic Violence. I have taken several classes some of the course that I have taken include: Women Initiates, Anger Management and Alternative to Violence just as a few examples.
I would tell my old self how important it is to leave an abusive relationship the minute the first incident occurs because in many cases the future only leads to lost lives there is no win in the situation. I would tell my old self that I do not have to stay in any unhealthy relationship just because they have done something for me or because my family accepted them because they did not know what was truly going on.
Governor I want to help individuals at the beginning of the story not the end. I want to show that we try to do everything that we can not to trigger that anger in another individual, but it happens. I would cook food for Candra, and if it was not salty enough, in the garbage it went. I want it to be known that it does not matter what type of relationship you are in straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, black, white, old, young Domestic Violence affects all. Even in a male/female relationship there are times when the male is abused, our society thinks this does not happen, but it does. Just like in my case my presence and appearance also played a role, I appear to dress more boyish, but I was not the violent partner in my relationship. Governor in our schools we teach about sexual education, but I want to find a way to incorporate in that curriculum signs of Domestic Violence. I want to work with organizations to help develop safe houses in our community with immediate contact for help. I was wrong because I stayed, I thought, I am not in a Domestic Violent Relationship my partner just has a temper, uneducated of the signs of Domestic Violence. Governor I survived a Domestic Violent Relationship and because I survived, I am being punished. I should have left at the beginning of my story. I want to help end the cycle of Domestic Violence. I want to help speak for that voice that has become silent in the middle of the story in a Domestic Violent Relationship.
Domestic violence is known all over the world, unfortunately, we don’t hear about the abuse until the end of the abusive relationship. I am asking that you please review my case in hopes of clemency. I hope that you will consider looking into my case as, well as others and find it in your heart to begin to right the wrong that has been done to us and grant us clemency. Governor; this is the end of my story.
Sincere Regards, with hopes for a response from you and your leadership team.
Dear Mr. Cuomo,
As I sit here struggling badly on even how to start a letter to a man of such power, I am stuck. My intimidation level has increased and I am at a loss for words. I need to say something catchy, something to get your attention, something that will assist me on my quest in gaining back my freedom. To help me start over from a horrible nightmare that was created 12+ years ago. I am now awake and very well aware and can hold myself accountable and ready for the reality of what my future can and will hold for me once I am released.
Back in September 201 my story was delivered to your office with a bunch of other women’s stories by a group of advocates from Survived & Punished. Do you remember? Did you even get a chance to read them? In case you didn’t, again my name is Jessica Paradiso. I am from, born and raised in Colonie NY (Albany County). I am currently incarcerated in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility serving 3 consecutive sentences of 2-4 years for attempted grand larceny and conspiracy (hate crime). A sentence that has forever changed my life. I am a mother to 3 children ages 10, 9 and 3 years old. One of which is a type-1 diabetic and the baby whom I do not even really know since we were separated when we was just 4 months old.
My part in this campaign is to hopefully catch your attention that Domestic Violence is real. For the first time in 12+ years, I am strong enough to talk and ask for help. Scary, but very true.
As of May 2019 I will be incarcerated for 4 years that will be half of my minimum term on my sentence. I am asking that with the power you have, read my story and assist me in whichever way you possibly ca. I want to go home, I am finally back in my family’s life and pray that continues. I have a lot of hope and have future goals that I want to meet. I want to be out before my abuser to start fresh without him and his threats. I am sorry for all my wrong doings and ready to be the woman I am meant to be.
Since my incarceration, a lot has happened. As of today, I have a clear behavior report. No tickets, no trouble. I am enrolled in the College Program they offer, provided by Marymount Manhattan College. I am also an employee for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Yes, you read that right, I am a phone operator, I assist people all over the world. It’s a great opportunity and from my experience, I have gained a lot of patience and awesome customer service skills. Also, I have completed all of my mandatory programs, the only one left is Phase 3, but you complete that a few months prior to your release data.
Before I met my abuser, a man I truly thought I loved and could help change to be a better man. My life was good. I had a great job working with mentally handicapped adults for a place called “New Visions” in Slingerlands, NY. I met this man, fell in love, and my life changed, drastically. He was in and out of prison a lot throughout our relationship and any time he was away, I did great. I was able to get on my feet, I even completed cosmetology school, I attended “The Orlo” in Albany.
As I sit here today on a bed provided by a state you represent thinking and praying for a miracle. Wishing I could say how sorry I am over and over again. I am maturing each new day both mentally and physically, I have goals and dreams. I’m ready to love myself and my children and go home and show that. I’m also ready to be an advocate for women like myself who were once scared and have found their voice.
I thank you in advance for taking the time to read my letter. I look forward to any assistance you can grant me. We all deserve the change, it’s what we do with it that counts the most. I am ready, miracles happen every day.
Dear Governor Cuomo,
Congratulations! Sir, on October 27, 2018, I received a visit from members of “Steps To End Domestic Family Violence,” Gabby and Molly. They will be presenting my story to you through their: “Free Them New York Campaign: Survived and Punished.." I would like to point out, I am not trying to obtain advocacy of domestic violence' solely because it's in popular demand today. I am just as much a survivor who had no voice, twice, 46 years ago and again, 25 years ago. While attempting to condense as much as I can, please allow me to explain. My sister and I were sexually abused between the ages of six and seven, by our half-older-brother (Wilfredo Molina; see enclosed) and I had repressed this trauma. Nineteen years later I came face to face with my abuser and I remembered everything. A week prior to this recollection, I was hired to become a stock broker for Rosenkrantz down on Wall Street. Instead, I became a severe crack/drug/alcohol addict, I became a prostitute, a dominatrix, and 17 months later I was arrested for involvement in the murder of two men; one who had a fetish for child pornography and the other a sexual predator.
Sir, I grew my voice by 'accidentally' coming across a case on my abuser (enclosed) on July 20, 2018. I have yet to confirm if this in fact is my abuser. If not, then Wilfredo Molina with a D.O.B. of 11/01/58, needs to have his whereabouts noted so that he can be registered because my childhood trauma never went public, nor was ever used in court.
I am now about to become the ex-wife of the retired Canadian-diplomat who posted a video on Youtube, late 2014, emploring you to grant clemency. The video was titled: "Governor Cuomo, Show N.Y. Some Love This X-Mas & Grant Clemency." I am also one of the women Chris Cuomo interviewed last year at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, for a CNN documentary that aired 11/17/17, titled: “Behind Secret Places With Chris Cuomo."
As I sat across the table from Chris Cuomo, I was beyond a fruit-basket-of-nerves. I remember clearly the first thing I said out loud: “Wow! I almost feel like I'm getting ready to arm wrestle.” He (Chris Cuomo), immediately picked up on how nervous I was and cracked a joke, in hopes of making me feel more comfortable and/or to break the ice, to no avail. I never got to see the documentary, but I'm pretty sure I must have sounded like some babbling-bafoon. The whole time, in the back of my head, as I stared on and off into his eyes, I could not stop the rampid, running thoughts of: “Oh! My God! It's your brother who has the power to save my life,” “Oh God! Should I ask him: 'can you please talk to your brother for me.” These thoughts ran back and forth in my head during the entire interview, up until I shook his hand and said: “it was a pleasure," Chris Cuomo responded with: “I hope it all works out for you." But in the end, I could not grow the courage to say, nor ask anything.
For this CNN documentary, my husband and I both shared our 'pen-pal fairytale love story of which came to a halting end right after he received his American Citizenship in May of this year. On June 29, of this year and over the telephone, my husbands's exact words were: “I make up my mind very easily and very quickly, I will not be showing up tomorrow for our trailer (congical visits of 2 days/3 nights), and as a matter of fact, I won't ever be going back there again.” Click. He hung up on me and I got a dial tone. That was the last time I spoke to my husband.
After how my husband abandoned me, and coming across my abuser's case just a month later, I knew that I needed to stand up. How my husband left me was like “a death of a thousand little cuts” (author unknown) bleeding out my soul. But accidentally coming across my abuser's case, did something to me beyond a broken heart. The childhood sexual abuse my sister and I endured was never revealed to the proper authorities. Therefore, my abuser was left out there for the past 24 years. I knew my story needed to be told. I knew I had to embrace courage with bravery. Today, I can breathe and express that my life is worth fighting for, it is worth forgiveness.
Governor Cuomo, today I can share that I am worthy of deserving a second chance and that feeling continues to grow every single time I hear a story of a survivor coming forward. Equally, as my voice continues to grow, so does the desire to stand up and share my story. Sir, there have been far too many like 'METOO' that have come forward for me to ignore. I feel compelled to follow suit. To support their courage, bolster their strength, and join them in their advocacy to bring forth my own voice in hopes of finding resolution.
Sir, I was no career criminal. I made a big, huge and terrible mistake, but I was not all of me back then, and I have lived with that every single day for the past 24 years. I assure you, I will continue to for the rest of my life. I can also assure you, I am genuinely a woman who is worthy of a second chance. All I ask is for you to please read the enclosed in its entirety, before making a decision. There truly are some of us (inmates) that deserve another chance. My heart and soul, and who I am today, exhibit worthiness for forgiveness. I hope you deem me as one that falls under that category.
My name is, Ivié DeMolina and I am presently incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (24 years now), with a sentence of 27/2 years to life, running consecutive with a 30 to life sentence in the State of New Jersey. This is my first arrest/first offense, of which all began with a bar fight. I will do my best to be as brief as possible.
I am a Puerto Rican native, born and raised in Brooklyn, East New York. By 21, I became known for developing telemarketing departments for numerous business/trade schools throughout the five boroughs, in my efforts to help the City's youth realize their potential. I would go in search of young people in schools, malls, clubs, and in the streets of the five boroughs. I would encourage them to participate in my 'earn and learn' program, where they would take a course at a school that would teach them valuable skills making them employable in the work field, thereby, getting them off the streets. I was recruiting as many as fifty students a week, handling financial aide, admissions, job placement and legally earning six-figures a year.
By 25, I obtained my real estate agent's license. By 26, I was well on my way to opening up my own boutique with my own line of fashion for women. I cut my first music-demo-tape with my own music lyrics and had a major brokerage firm (Rosenkrantz) on Wall Street hire me to become their first female stock broker (amongst its fifty male brokers), when my life took a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree-turn. That is when I came face to face with my abuser and had a memory-recollection of my childhood abuse. On my 28th birthday, I was arrested for involvement in the murder of two men.
I went to trial in the State of New York and lost. Today, I have learned that had I allowed my N.Y. trial attorney to disclose what happened to me, I may have received a lesser sentence; I would not allow for him (my attorney) to do so, due to my mother's courtroom presence. In the State of New Jersey, my attorney told me that if I went to trial I would lose and get 175 years to life; that I should take the plea and later I could get them to run concurrent. Approximately three times I changed my mind and told my N.J. attorney that we were going to trial because I already had 27/2 in N.Y. and had nothing to lose. And three times he showed up to the Bergen County Jail with CVA Consultants (see enclosed) to help convince me to listen to him. After seven months of going back and forth, I said okay and took the offer of 30 years to life running consecutive to New York.
I underwent a psychiatric evaluation in the State of New Jersey, performed by Dr. Jacob Steinberg. I shared with Dr. Steinberg of my childhood sexual abuse. The attorney failed to present this information, of which again, could have warranted me a lesser sentence in the State of New Jersey, but the attorney simply did not want to go to trial, knowing that I did.
I am obtaining affidavits (see enclosed) I drew up, showing various issues we can address, pointedly, to have a reduction in sentence in the State of New Jersey, and have concurrent sentences. Mable Acosta (a previous employee of CVA Consultants) was present the day I took the plea in the State of N.J., and her exact words to me that day were: “if you ever need for anyone to come forward with what took place here today, you have someone find me."
A couple of years ago, my husband hired an attorney, Roland Acevedo (see enclosed), to perfect and submit a motion on my behalf to a judge in the State of N.J.. Mr. Acevedo is now asking me for $35k - $50k to complete the motion.
Today I seek a pro-bono (perhaps on consignment) attorney to put together a motion, because I cannot on my own now raise the remaining fees for my attorney. This motion will be requesting for a judge, in the State of N.J., to run my cases concurrent, based on the mentioned factors here, of which did not surface because I took a plea. Governor Cuomo, Sir, perhaps you can assist me with addressing the proper authorities in New Jersey. I have attempted to reach out to my N.J. attorney, to no avail (see enclosed).
Sir, I fully accept my involvement and responsibility in both deaths, and as I continue attached to a profound sense of guilt and remorse, I would like to underline that in neither of these regrettable events was I the actual killer. However, I would like to strongly point out that what I have shared of my past and what happened to me, does not diminish my responsibility in any way and their passing should not have occurred as a consequence of it. Nothing reduces the degree of my participation in the two deaths and they should have never happened. But I do hope my sharing has shed some light on my state of mind at the time, which was seriously altered by the negative affects on the mixture of drugs and alcohol.
Governor Cuomo, today I have completed every single program there is here. I was with the Puppies Behind Bars Program for six years and successfully raised five puppies. I was the Chairperson/Clerk for the Grievance Department for 11 years. I have obtained my G.E.D., my A.A., and my B.A. and I am presently awaiting for the Master's Program to hopefully return. I presently work in the Gymnasium and the Law Library. I develop exercise/nutrition classes for the aging and I am working on reestablishing an adolescents/young adults program. I am now an HIV/STD/HCV Peer Facilitator for the facility's ACE (Aids Counseling Education) Program. I am the AVP (Alternatives to Violence Program) Coordinator/Facilitator. I am a member of RTA (Rehabilitation through the Arts) Program and also on the RTA Steering Committee. I am working on my second book (synopsis of the first enclosed) and I have become a member of PEN America.
I am hardworking, dedicated and I persevere through adversity. I stive to serve as a role model to my peers and have demonstrated this in my personal and professional growth. It is my desire to leave prison, one day, a different and better person than as the one I entered as. Today, I am a woman with a broad scope of knowledge, of impeccable moral standards and values. I indeed carry genuine remorse and regrets over what I was involved in. Today I carry respect for human life equally with respect for having my own voice back.
I honestly do not represent a threat to society and I would act in the outside world as I do here, as a composed and balanced force that would change things for the better. I am more than ready to productively contribute back to society and the economy as a law abiding and hardworking citizen, with enough positive options and support to stay on the right path. If you believe, from your personal and professional opinion, that in your years over the course of your career you have maintained the capacity to judge a person's character and view me as a woman who deserves a second chance, please step forward to help me. I hope you find me worthy of your forgiveness.
When it comes to forgiving myself Sir, “til this very day it remains the one sole entity in life that I don't ever, ever see myself coming to terms with. Sir, forgiveness that you give to yourself, can be dangerous and a cowardly way out, as in, don't be cheap with: “oh, I forgive myself,” just to be able to accept and live on. Regardless, once you begin to accept something, then you can begin to make peace with it. One has to learn to carry the weight, and own the responsibility and so, it may be a cheap trick. Some may diminish the consequences, and the importance of what they did was bad and will always be bad. It is a question of awareness in knowing what one did was wrong. It's almost kind of useless if you don't use it to grow and move on.
God's forgiveness, for those who carry religious views (I was born and raised Catholic and I'm a very spiritual person); so, if God made us this way, He understands our nature. We are no strangers in the eyes of the Creator. He wants peace on earth. He knows we are all struggling with desires, all human flaws, such as; envy, greed, anger, violence, ambition and so forth.
"God's truth is that He loves you... The Bible is supposed to be a book of love, about the relationship between God and humanity. People think that God is in control. God is not always in control. God has given us free will, for us to do either good or evil. Bad things do happen, but the lesson is what will you take from that and teach the next person. He is a free will God that loves all people" -Joshua Stovall
Now, if God forgives you, it does not mean the past is erased. But, He always forgives because He understands human nature, however, now what. It does not change what you have done. So, what has taken place for me, I make peace more than I forgive. I grow from my mistakes, I own them, and I make peace with my demons and with what I have done. I cannot change it, but I can acknowledge and understand that what I did was wrong and I can attest to it never repeating itself.
Sir, to forgive oneself is kind of an indulgence, perhaps it helps some people sleep better. When I think about my victims, which is on a daily basis, still, I indeed have remorse, and still, I feel the core guilt. I don't entertain it, I painfully and strongly regret it and have learned to live with it, and move on. I have also learned to love myself again, I had to, because I was really a good person and I really liked that person a lot. So, 1 assume the consequences, I am aware of the circumstances, and I know I was wrong, but it's more of a tool to move on. We learn to live with our mistakes, we're human, but we have to be aware of the wrong things that we do, because we value life and humanistic values of compassion, generosity, protection, love of all humans, etc., etc., and yes, forgiveness. Please forgive me Sir.
I am fully aware of the value of time and so, I appreciate you for giving me some of yours; I hope and pray you can help me with the remainder of mine. I hope I have reached you and the core of your soul that wants to help. I hope I have opened your eyes to be that someone that wants to help me.
Governor Cuomo, I am pleading with you, please, in your power, please do whatever you can on my behalf. Before you make any decisions, please read the remaining enclosed material. I hope I have encouraged you to do so at the door, with my music sheet composed of your words. I am earnestly asking you Sir, to please read my entire story. Again, I hope and pray in the end you find me deserving of your help. I swear to you, you won't ever, ever, regret it. I thank you deeply for your time. Happy Holidays Sir.
Ivié De Molina