AUGUST 27, 1997
Letter to the Editor:
As the legal clerk, I feel it is my duty and responsibility to speak out for the battered women who sit in prison who won't speak out for themselves. I have seen the pain and despair they suffer as they sit here day in and day out wondering when and if they will be released from prison. I find it even more sad the judicial system cares nothing about them.
Now that Teresa Thomas has won a victory, what will happen for these who didn't have the Battered Woman's Syndrome or the Duty to Retreat ruling to help them? Nobody seems to care about these women. First, let me explain that I am not in prison for domestic violence, I do not hate men, I am not a lesbian, and I refer to the truly battered woman who kills, not the ones who kill for money.
What chance does a battered woman have in this judicial system? Teresa Thomas is the exception. Almost 98% of the time these factors play in their imprisonment and continued imprisonment: they each are beaten and abused by a man; they each have killed a man; they are arrested and questioned by men; they usually have a male attorney to represent them; the judge is usually a man and/or the makeup of the jury is predominantly men; and 9 out of 12 members of the parole board are men. What possible chance does she have of getting justice in a totally male-oriented judicial system?
This system believes that a man's life is worth more than a woman's as is relegated in the amount of time women are sentenced and continued by the parole board for the taking of a man's life. Men have killed women for years and served relatively minute amounts of time in prison compared to a woman taking a man's life. A man doesn't even have the excuse that he was a "battered" person; he just killed her, and that's it. Yet, he is given another chance to start his life over after serving his minimum term of imprisonment. Not women -- they are told they are continued for "the nature of the crime."
Does the parole board take into considertion they each were beaten within an inch of their life on many occasions until finally, the victim became the perpetrator and killed? How do the families of the victims who continually write letters and call the parole board telling them to keep these women in prison, knowing their relative was an abuser, justify their vindictive actions? It is cruel and inhuman to continue to make these women suffer the wrath of unforgiving relatives for a crime they could also be guilty of if placed in the same predicament as these women.
What plausible incentive does the parole board and the families have for keeping these "first time -- one time offenders" in prison? What else could it be but revenge for killing a "man?" 99% of these women are exemplary inmates who have taken advantage of every program and educational opportunity available to them. The only excuse the parole board can use to continue them is the "nature of the crime," which, unfortunately, will never change and they were sentenced for by the judge in court.
I would suggest to the families of the victims to place some of the blame on yourself, especially the women, for not coming to the aid of this woman when she was being abused by your relative. Why didn't you stop him? Why is it always the woman's fault because "she should have left?" It is not as simple as leaving and any knowledgeable person will tell you that. Why isn't he blamed because he didn't leave? Why is the man inculpable because he is dead?
I hope judges, prosecutors, and the parole board will re-evaluate many of the cases regarding battered women and take into consideration the vendettas many family members hold for these women. I am not saying that all of them are above reproach, but many of them are, and deserve another chance. Only a woman can understand the horror of being beaten and humiliated by a "man."