There were so many times I reported him to the police, but abuse just wasn’t on their radar. A protective order is just a piece of paper, it’s not a shield. The question that always stayed with me was, ‘Why didn’t somebody come looking for me? Why didn’t anybody care that I didn’t show up for court?’
I was a victim before I was defendant. When I was seven, my stepfather’s friend started sexually abusing me. This continued until I was ten. When I was a teenager, I married a man named Eddy. Marriage didn’t work well for us, and I began going out more. The night before Valentine’s Day, I was out late. Eddy was waiting up for me. When I walked in, Eddy closed the front door and beat me. My dog came into the living room to try and stop him. He went after the dog.It was a mess.
As I lay on the floor bleeding, Eddy finally went into our bedroom. I stayed still on the floor and fell asleep. When I woke up, I was hurting all over. Eddy came out the next morning. I said this marriage is over. He said I know. I am leaving, you keep everything.
That April I met Darnell, and we were inseparable for 4 ½ years. When he proposed to me, the divorce had still not come through with Eddy, so I gave the ring back to Darnell. He called me ungrateful and unappreciative, and slapped me so hard my head bounced off the window.
But, this was not even close to the first serious incident of abuse. The first time the abuse became serious and dangerous, we had just come from a family gathering at Darnell’s cousin’s place. When we got into the car, Darnell accused me of checking out his cousin. I kept denying his accusations, trying to comfort him, but he refused to believe me. He started beating me, slapping me, shoving me against the car door. I was driving. I begged him to let me pull over so I could use the bathroom. I knew theGeneseeHospitalwas close, so I turned into the emergency room entrance.
Darnell told me, to park “where I can watch you. If I see you talk to anybody, I’m going to burn your car to the ground.” As I walked into the emergency room, I could feel my face swelling and tasted blood in my mouth. As soon as I saw a nurse, I just broke down and collapsed. I told the nurse, “He’s in the car. He’s going to kill me.” While the nurse tended to my face, a policeman showed up with a piece of paper, asking me to sign it. I kept trying to explain to them that Darnell was very dangerous. The only response they gave was, “settle down woman. We got this.”
Darnell emerged from the car completely calm and compliment. The police searched his pockets and found marijuana. The cops only response was “The high’s on you tonight.” They also found Darnell’s open beer can in the car, but he told the police it was mine.
Looking back, I wonder why the police never took a statement from me when I was sitting alone in the ER. All they had me do was sign a piece of paper. They never asked him any questions.
Another time he beat me outdoors in the middle of winter. Darnell was smashing me, and smashing me, and I already had broken ribs. He kicked my back, and continued beating me until I crumbled to the ground. I was on my hands and knees crawling over the snow and gravel to my car. And I swear, God unlocked my door, because I know I locked it. He ripped the necklaces off my neck as I scrambled into my car and got into the driver’s seat. He was right at my window, punching the glass. I slammed the car in reverse, and I hauled out of the parking lot. I drove straight to the police station.
When I got to the station, the cop asked about the location of the altercation. When I told him, he said, “Oh you go to room 23.” He wanted to just brush it off. I told him “No, you don’t understand. This guy is going to kill me.” I remember saying to the cop “He’s going to puncture my lung again.” The cop responded with “Oh please. Ma’am calm down.”
Eventually, two cops took me back to the scene, and as they looked for evidence, they were joking around. It was no big deal to them. They acted like nothing had happened until they found my necklaces in the snow. One cop picked it up, asking, “Is this yours?” I answered “Yes, those are mine.” After they took my statement, they said, “Oh it looks like there was a little scuffle here. He wasn’t trying to kill you. He was probably just upset.”
On another occasion, I picked him up from work. He had had a bad night, and said to me, “If you stop at the red light I am going to knock you out. We pulled up to a yellow light, so I stopped. He kept yelling, “Run the light!” We were low on gas, and he said if we run out of gas I will kill you. He kept threatening me, and I tried to jump out of the car. He grabbed a pair of scissors and stabbed me in the hip, as I held onto the wheel. When we got home, he took me into the garage. As I started walking, I started crying because of the pain my hip hits me. He then raped me over his car, and then took all of my money. Inside, he forced me to lie on the carpet while he lay down on the couch. He said, “Don’t get blood on the carpet.” I just laid there listening to him fall asleep. I slowly got up, quietly reached into his pocket to grab my car keys. I didn’t think to take my money and only took one dollar. One dollar was enough to get me to my mother’s house.
When Darnell beat me, it was usually in the car, because I was alone. Most of the time, I was driving him somewhere. I always drove with my left hand, so I could block the blows with my right hand. Once we got somewhere, he would get out of the car, and I would just wait for him. I was so sick and beaten down. I had him arrested five times, we appeared in court four times, but he was never once incarcerated.
On the fourth appearance, the Judge said, “If you put your hands on her again you’re going to jail. Of course, there was another incident. The night before we were set to appear in court for a fifth time, Darnell came to my house and tried to make nice. I agreed, but I told him he couldn’t keep doing this. He promised to go to court the next day. We spent the night together. When I woke up, he was gone, as were my clothes, my car keys and purse. The phone had been ripped out of the wall, and I was alone. I was too embarrassed to go outside, and I sat in the room and missed my court appointment. When he finally returned with dinner and my clothes, the court was closed.
There were other times where I tried to go to court, and he would hold me hostage. I thought I was a very strong woman, but I just became hollow.
During Thanksgiving of 1991, we were on our way to Thanksgiving dinner, and his four kids were buckled in the car. They watched as he knocked me down and tried to force me into the car with them. I ran to my car and drove to my mother’s house.
When I got to my mother’s house, my face was bloody, my stockings were ripped and I put more makeup on to cover the bruises. I moved back to my mother’s house for safety, because if I screamed there, at least someone would hear me. My mother called the police on him a couple of times. They never arrested him but would just make him leave. Darnell and I both had good jobs and led a nice lifestyle. When I moved to my mother’s house, he would show up at my job, saying he missed me. Everyone thought he was this nice romantic guy. But, I didn’t go back.
On the night of December 17, 1991, he called saying he needed some of my car insurance papers. He pulled in front of my mother’s house, and I got into his car. He was smoking base joints, and began kissing me, telling me he missed me.
He then started demanding I perform oral sex. We were parked in front of my mother’s house, I said no. I told him if he really wanted to be with me, he would come inside. He yelled, “That’s my ass. I’ll take it when I want it.” Whenever he said this it meant he was going to rape me. I tried to calm him down, but the more I pleaded the more he exploded. “This is it. This is it. I’m through,” he yelled.
He grabbed me by the throat. He was squeezing my neck, choking me. He then let go of my neck and grabbed me by the face, saying “What the fuck did I tell you?”
I was in panic mode. I told him I would go inside and get the insurance papers for him. I went and got the papers, returning to the car thinking everything would be okay. But he just started again. Grabbing me by the throat, he asked, who I was sleeping with, and hit me again. As he was hitting me, he was shouting, saying that I was ugly and that no one would want to be with me because of the scars he put on me.
I started screaming. No one could hear me, because it was winter and we were alone outside. He kept yelling and shoved my head under the dashboard of the passenger seat. He was holding my head down, and I couldn’t see anything. I tried reaching for the door, trying to pull the handle, but the power locks were on.
I kept trying to push him off me. But he was too heavy. He punched me in the face while pushing my head down between my legs. I was screaming so hard, I couldn’t breath.
I knew he kept a gun under the passenger seat, because I was always scared it would go off and shoot me in the ankle. I reached for the gun. I had just wanted him to see. I thought if he saw the gun he would get off me. I grabbed the gun, and in one second, the gun was going off; bullets were bursting from the gun. He turned to his side and let go of me. I opened the door and fell out of the car. I heard him scream, “Bitch get back here.” I ran towards the house thinking he was coming after me.
I scrambled into the house falling into the doorway. My sister was sitting in the living room, and she said, “Oh no, not again.” They were so used to seeing me being beat up—the busted lip, the bruises, saying ‘hey you want to borrow my sunglasses.’ My sister said he was driving away.
When the investigators arrived at my house, they told me Darnell had been killed in a car accident. They asked me to come with them to identify the car. I was in shock, and I went with the officer. As soon I as I got in the car, the investigator said, “You can cut the act. We know you did it.” Since he yelled when I got out of the car, and my sister saw him drive away, I thought he was still out looking for me
At the station, the police said I would not be convicted if I confessed. With no lawyer present, I gave the police an eight-page statement outlining the altercation between Darnell and me. They never offered me a lawyer. My first public defender told me to take the plea being offered for manslaughter in the first degree. I thought the defender was trying to scare me into taking a plea, so I hired my own lawyer.
At the hearing before the court, the Judge said she would go along with the prosecution’s plea offer, but suggested it was too generous. After the hearing, my lawyer told me to take the eight-year plea to wrap it up. I refused. I did not want to plead guilty to the charges.
Before my trial, the lawyer advised me not to take the stand. He also insisted the prosecutor would rip me to shreds. The crime had not been premeditated so I didn’t understand what I would lose from testifying. But I followed his advise and decided not to testify. Since I did not testify, the judge refused to admit the police reports, hospital records or witness statements attesting to the abuse.
During my sentencing, hundreds of letters were written on my behalf. Protestors stood outside my courtroom with signs saying “Bring justice to battered women.” The Judge ignored the letters and protestors, claiming these people did not know me. The Judge also said, “Abattered woman does not have a good job, or money in the bank.” She looked at me said, “You Miss Dadou, have traveled, have a career.”
While my Judge allowed some evidence about battered woman’s syndrome, there was not enough evidence to convince the jury. They found me guilty of manslaughter in the first degree. I served seventeen years in prison. I was denied parole four times because of the nature of my crime. Because of my crime, when I was released from prison, they wanted to put me in a reform group for abusers. I told them I would rather go back to jail than participate in those meetings.
The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act is essential, so women don’t lose years of their lives like I did. The court system is supposed to protect you, and instead it was turned against me. The police never took my accusations seriously, and the more Darnell got away with beating me, the more beaten down I became. I was a broken shell of a person. I had nothing inside of me. We need the Domestic Violence Survivor’s Justice Act to educate judges, police officers, and lawyers, make them aware of domestic abuse. There were so many times I reported him to the police, but abuse just wasn’t on their radar. A protective order is just a piece of paper, it’s not a shield. The question that always stayed with me was, ‘Why didn’t somebody come looking for me? Why didn’t anybody care that I didn’t show up for court? This bill could force people to acknowledge the slow defeating process of abuse.
I did serve my time. When a battered woman goes to prison, she is a broken person. When I first got to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, I dropped a note to the mental health staff saying I needed help. As someone who had worked in the mental health field, I knew I needed help. But they just wanted to prescribe me drugs. I did not want drugs. I wanted someone to talk to. I kept trying to get help, but it just wasn’t available. I realized prison was like a shark-tank you either swim or sink. I chose to swim.
But, it was not easy. My breaking point came in 1997. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I told my mother this isn’t a cry for help, I just don’t want to do it anymore. I collected all these pill and took them. A correctional officer woke me up, and I was out of it. I remember being so angry that I hadn’t killed myself. I remember being at my prison job. I was the butcher in the mess hall. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and the officer asked me what was wrong. I just started crying, and the officer hugged me. After a few weeks, I slowly came out of my depression. My mother told me to find a reason to smile and laugh no matter where you are.
Battered women need a safe space, and positivity in their lives. When I was prison, many women came to talk with me. There was one woman, Gale, who fought back against her abuser too. She had been an incredible artist, and when we asked her why she hadn’t been discovered, she said he kept bars on the windows. He tried to kill her, and she defended herself by burning down her home. Her kids got out. But, she was almost disfigured from the burns. Her fingers were so badly burned they were webbed. Prison made Gale hard. Instead of reforming herself, she just kept getting harder. She would go through periods where she wouldn’t say anything. When she talked about her kids, she cried.
Although the current criminal justice system says they care about domestic violence, current practices don’t allow women to be properly treated. The system doesn’t look beneath the surface, and ask why would this woman who had six children burn her home down? Why would she want to go to prison? Every woman has a right to be safe. Instead of building more prisons, build a rehabilitative place for DV survivors. In my abusive relationship with Darnell, he was always disciplining me. I did not need discipline. I needed a safe place to restructure myself.
I took a life. I live with that everyday. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t think about him in some capacity. But the criminal justice system’s approach of an eye for an eye is sending the wrong message. It tells a woman its okay for him to hit you.
The Domestic Violence Survivor’s Justice Act can be a voice for women who have been abused, for the women who can’t speak out against their abusers. The two most important parts are re-sentencing and alternative sentencing. Prison is not a place for a woman who has been dehumanized by her abuser to rebuild herself.
I share my story in support of the Domestic Violence Survivor’s Justice Act, to help all of those women who remain locked up. To change the system that failed to protect me. This bill is an opportunity to prevent the cycle of domestic violence and give women a real opportunity to rebuild their lives.