Domestic violence victims in NY prisons may get some relief

Valerie Seeley has been behind bars since 2003. But her troubles started much earlier, in 1995, when she first met Oliver Williams and his 10-year-old daughter while visiting a friend in Brooklyn. “I thought it was a really cool thing that he had his child with him all the time,” she says in a conference room at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, New York state’s maximum-security prison for women.

Attracted to Williams, who seemed like a responsible, caring father, she began dating him and soon moved in with the pair. But Williams quickly changed — drinking heavily, passing out in the street, using drugs, accusing her of sleeping with other men, “all kinds of crazy things,” Seeley recalls. And then the violence began. The first time he hit her, she told him, “Don’t ever put your hands on me again.” But he did — again and again.

Seeley’s adult daughter, Iacha Moore, who only met her mother’s boyfriend after Seeley and Williams had moved in together, tried to help, but couldn’t. Seeley’s adult daughter, Iacha Moore, who only met her mother’s boyfriend after Seeley and Williams had moved in together, tried to help, but couldn’t. Moore remembers receiving calls from her mother when Williams was in a rage. “You’d hear him in the background calling her all sorts of names and she’d be crying,” Moore says. But her mother never admitted what was happening. “I was in denial for a long time,” explains Seeley. “I felt ashamed. My self-esteem was so low. I was afraid that people would blame me.”

In 1996, a year after they started living together, Williams tried to choke her. Seeley finally called the police, who arrested him and took him to jail. Williams’ daughter, who had been in the apartment the entire time, began crying when her father was handcuffed. The police told Seeley that the girl would be placed in foster care if no relative picked her up. “I didn’t want that,” Seeley says. “So I stayed to make sure she would be OK.” Thinking back, she says, “I should have left.” If she had, she might not be in prison today.

Two years later, Seeley was arrested for the murder of Oliver Williams, which she says was done in self-defense after he tried to choke her. Sentenced to 19 years to life, she has spent the last 11 of them at Bedford.  Read the rest of this article by Victoria Law here.

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“Trapped in the dark”: Marissa Alexander and how our twisted legal system re-victimizes domestic violence survivors

He assaulted me, shoving, strangling and holding me against my will, preventing me from fleeing all while I begged for him to leave. After a minute or two of trying to escape, I was able to make it to the garage where my truck was parked, but in my haste to leave I realized my keys were missing. I tried to open the garage but there was a mechanical failure. I was unable to leave, trapped in the dark with no way out. For protection against further assault I retrieved my weapon; which is registered and I have a concealed weapon permit. Trapped, no phone, I entered back into my home to either leave through another exit or obtain my cell phone.

– Marissa Alexander

“Why does she stay? Why doesn’t she leave?” These are the questions one hears when talking about people, particularly women, in abusive relationships. These same questions become key points when survivors of abuse defend themselves after years of violence and trauma. These may also be some of the key questions Marissa Alexander will face on Friday as she argues her right to invoke Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Alexander, a Florida mother of three, made headlines in 2012 when she was convicted of aggravated assault after firing a warning shot to stop her husband from attacking her. Alexander fired the shot into the ceiling, harming no one. She attempted to invoke Florida’s “stand your ground” law, but a pre-trial judge ruled that she could have escaped through the front or back doors of her own home. The prosecutor, Angela Corey, added Florida’s 10-20-Life sentencing enhancement, mandating a 20-year minimum sentence when a firearm is discharged. In September 2013, an appeals court reversed her conviction. Alexander’s trial is scheduled for July 28, 2014. Angela Corey is seeking consecutive sentences, meaning that Alexander faces 60 years in prison if convicted. Read the rest of this Salon article here.

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Bill would give judges more discretion when sentencing domestic violence survivors

Advocates for women in prison are pushing for passage of a bill that would allow judges to use their discretion when sentencing survivors of domestic violence for crimes they commit as a result of their abuse.

The Correctional Association of New York and the Coalition for Women in Prison were in Albany on June 5 to lobby the state Legislature to enact the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (A.4314-b/S.3337-b) sponsored by Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Corona.

The bill would allow judges to sentence domestic violence survivors convicted of crimes directly related to the abuse they suffered to shorter prison terms or community-based alternative-to-incarceration programs, and would allow currently incarcerated survivors to apply to the courts to be resentenced and to come home earlier.

Supporters of the bill say domestic violence and women’s incarceration are inextricably linked: nine of 10 incarcerated women have experienced severe physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, eight of 10 experienced serious physical or sexual violence during childhood; 75 percent suffered severe physical violence by an intimate partner during adulthood; and 37 percent were raped before their incarceration. Ninety-three percent of women convicted of killing an intimate partner were abused by an intimate partner in the past.  Read more of this article in The Legislative Gazette.

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