When the doctor asked me again what had happened, I maintained my story. I was afraid of what he might do to me if I told the truth. He never took me to the same hospital twice, so doctors would not become suspicious.
I grew up in an abusive household. I was shuffled around a lot. I was 14 years old when I met my abuser, and he was 22. When I met him, I thought he was the best thing. Unlike the boys I knew, he had a job, an apartment and a car. I had this mentality that no matter what he did I would stick by his side. We were together for 8 years. The first time we were intimate, I became pregnant.
I want to emphasize that our relationship did not start out with him hitting me. It started with a long period of psychological abuse. I told him everything about my family. The abuse I suffered from my mother, sexual abuse from my cousins, and he knew my father had been incarcerated for most of my childhood. So, he was able to isolate me by saying that I had no where else to go. He was very controlling. He did not allow me to work. When I went to the grocery store, laundromat, or a doctor’s appointment, he went with me. Whatever he liked, I liked. But, it was not until the pregnancy that he became physically violent.
During the pregnancy, he slapped me because he didn’t like the response I gave. We were supposed to go to the movies. I was doing my hair with a curling iron in the bathroom. He kept saying, “Let’s go.” I finally responded, “Hold on.” He came into the bathroom and slapped me so hard that I fell into the bath tub and burned the side of my face with the curling iron. When I started crying, he apologized, and we went to the movies.
After my first son was born, the abuse became extreme. The abuse was more constant. During this period, I weighed 120 pounds, and he was 6’3 and 300 pounds. It was easy for him to intimidate me. He also began sleeping with more women. If I did not clean the apartment a certain way, he would hit me. In one particular instance, he gave me a black eye. I went to my mother’s house, and she said, “What do you want me to do?” I said, “Mommy I want you to help me.” She simply told me, “Go back to your man.” I did. I never again asked my mother for help.
I didn’t have any place to go. I was living with him. I wasn’t brought up to ask people for help. When things happened, I handled it. Or at least I thought I was handling it. Since I stopped talking to my family, I had it in my head that these people were not going to help me. Spiritually I was lost. I really did not know who I was, or what I was doing. I tried to leave him by staying at my grandmother’s apartment. When I moved into her apartment, every day he would drive around the apartment and circle the block. I called the police, but they said there was nothing they could do since he was not physically attacking me. They said he had a right to be there. I never called the police after that.
After he beat me, he would take me to the emergency room only after I begged him to go. I never used my real name, and he always came into the room with me. One time he fractured my rib and refused to take me to the hospital. He gave me Motrin and then forced me to have sex with him. He finally took me to the hospital, where I told the doctor that I was moving furniture and a wall unit fell on me. The doctor didn’t believe me and asked my abuser to leave the room. When the doctor asked me again what had happened, I maintained my story. I was afraid of what he might do to me if I told the truth. He never took me to the same hospital twice, so doctors would not become suspicious.
Basically my world revolved around him. He knew that because of my childhood, it was important to me to have a family. Whatever kind of day he was having, whatever mood he was in, that is what my day consisted of. I suffered a lot of abuse from him, including multiple miscarriages. He would often use that to get me to come back by saying, “C’mon let’s be a family.”
A lot of people have this assumption that if someone hits you, you leave. But you have to understand that abusers work on your mentality and spirituality so much, that by the time they hit you, you kind of think you deserve to be hit. I also didn’t have any family to stay with. Every time I tried to stay somewhere else, he would always come back and promise to be better. I never went to a shelter, because I had bad experiences with them as a child. The men who stayed there were bad, there were drugs, cockroaches and rats.
In March of 1998, we had been living separately. While I was no longer living with my abuser, we remained intimate. I found out I was pregnant again with his child, so I went to his work to tell him I was carrying his baby. I still really wanted us to be a family. I had this idea that if I told him it was his daughter, he would stop sleeping with other women and everything would work out. I thought if I learned to accept him, that we would be able to have a family. I did not think at that time that he should change his behavior.
But, before I could open my mouth to tell him I was carrying his child, he said, “Why are you here?” He started being nasty, and I saw he was with another woman. I tried to tell him I was pregnant, but it got physical. He slapped me, and I hit him back. When I fell to the ground, he kept beating me. I was able to escape to my car. As I sat in my driver’s seat, I thought I had a choice. I could either drive away or make him listen to me. I just wanted him to listen to me. I kept thinking, “He made me lose my second child, and he’s beating on me. He’s cheating on me, and no matter what I do, it’s not good enough.” Instead of turning the key in the ignition, I grabbed the rifle in the car, because I felt that with the rifle I could make him listen to me. He had so much power over me that in the moment I just wanted to show him the gun. I didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted him to listen.
When I got out of the car with the rifle, he did not seem fazed by the gun. This only made me more mad, because he knew how much control he had over me. He rushed towards me, and I pulled the trigger. He still kept coming at me and was beating me with the rifle. He started kicking me. All I could think was, “Oh my god he is going to kill me.” Someone called the cops. Once the cops arrived, they threw him on the ground and he shouted, “She shot me.” It was only after he yelled that I discovered I had shot him.
The cops had us both on the ground, until they realized I was a female. When I was in custody, I told the cops everything. They were nice to me, because they wanted information. I told the cops the truth and gave them a written statement. I never believed that what I told them would be used against me. The moment I gave them a written statement everything changed, and they stopped being nice.
The cops never let me clean myself up, even though I had blood coming out of my nose and elsewhere on my face. They dismissed my claims of domestic abuse. They did take pictures of my face and took my coat, entering both into evidence. I did not see an attorney until after the cops interrogated me. I requested a lawyer that had worked with my cousin and was known for getting people off. He also dismissed the domestic abuse. I was charged during the arraignment with attempted murder in the 2nd degree and assault in the 2nd degree.
When I was taken to Riker’sIsland, I was subjected to the strip search, showered with everyone while prison guards watched, and given a sheet to cover myself. After everything I had been through, I cried through the entire process. I still had the bruises from when he had beaten me. Although I was pregnant, I was not given any medical care. I stayed at Riker’s for a year awaiting my trial. During my stay at Riker’s, I became so depressed. I lost the baby I was carrying. I attempted suicide, because it seemed like I would never get out.
At Riker’sIsland, I met STEPS to End Family Violence. STEPS was going to come to court and advocate for me, but since the judge did not want to hear about the abuse, STEPS was dismissed. The judge simply did not want to hear what had happened before the incident. The judge refused to hear witnesses who could speak to the abuse. I was evaluated after my arrest and diagnosed with battered women’s syndrome, but the judge refused to enter the diagnosis into evidence. As time passed, I knew I had to do something for myself. I joined a suicide prevention team that worked with other women, and worked some jobs to make money.
I never went before a grand jury, and I never went to trial. At first, my lawyer was optimistic. He told me I would only serve 7 years in prison, but then started telling me that I was going to serve 18 to life or 20 to life. The lawyer told me I should take the deal from the prosecution, which was 13 years flat, because the court was only going to see that I went to my abuser’s work and shot him. It never occurred to me that my lawyer was saying this so he could get onto his next case. Since I produced the written statement, he claimed that other evidence did not matter. I took a sentence of 13 years flat. I believed it was the best I could get.
When I got to prison, it was a real struggle to separate myself from my abuser mentally and emotionally. It was heartbreaking to realize that I didn’t like what I thought I liked. I didn’t know what my favorite color was. I was incarcerated at 4 of the 5 women’s prisons inNew York. The only one I did not stay at was Beacon. Because of my history as a survivor, moving from prison to prison was traumatizing. I would get used to one place and its policies, and each time I moved I would have to readjust to new correctional officers and a new set of rules. When I was sent to Bayview, it kicked up a lot of my anxiety, which caused me to get into a lot of trouble. Once I was transferred toAlbion I lived on the trauma unit.Albion was the only women’s prison that had a trauma unit at the time. I was suppose to be there for 6 months, but ended up living on the unit for 8. I was able to meet with groups and finally receive regular therapy. I had one therapist who I became close with, but during my time there she passed away from cancer. After her death, I became distraught. It was really difficult for me to cope with her death in prison and continue dealing with my past. Most of the therapists wanted to medicate, and I did not want medication.
Since I had a flat sentence, I thought I was not supposed to go in front of the parole board. I was notified that I was going to appear in front of the board in a month. I was a nervous wreck when I went in front of the board in January of 2009. They were all men and acted concerned about the case. They asked me about the domestic abuse and my children. Although they hit me to max my date, I came home in April of 2009, which was early, because of a Conditional Release date—as I did everything I was suppose to do during my time. I served 11 years of my 13 year sentence.
During my eight year relationship with my abuser, I did not know I was a victim of domestic violence. I truly believed the abuse was part of a normal relationship. We had our ups and our downs, and the abuse was part of the downs. I wish there had been something in place that would have allowed the judge to hear all the evidence. I had police reports. I had advocates. I had so many witnesses. None of this was allowed in. For my case in particular, I was threatened with even more time.
I really believe that if the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act had been passed at the time of my arrest that my lawyer would have been more knowledgeable about the circumstances and more eager to defend me because of the situation. Also, the judge could have been able to hear all the evidence and listen to witnesses before sentencing me. I still believe I would have served some time, but I don’t think I would have been given a 13 year flat sentence.
I have so many friends that are still incarcerated due to domestic violence situations, and I pray that the Domestic Violence Survivors Act gets passed, and they are able to utilize it. I know their stories, and their cases would be affected by this bill. They were reacting to an abusive and traumatizing situation. While Alternative to Incarceration programs are good, we only have one inNew York City. We need to develop other programs. When I think about the need for the bill to be passed, I think about my children. I have two children, and I worry about my daughter. I would never want either of them to be in a situation like mine. But, god forbid if they were in this situation, I would like to know that this bill was in place to help them.