A Woman’s Story

by Danielle Metz, F.C.I., Dublin, Ca.
When I look in the mirror I do not see a criminal, a murderer, or a threat to society. But when the judge in New Orleans sentenced me five years ago, he said that I had forfeited my right to live in a humane society. Sometimes in the middle of the night I awaken to those very words.
At the age of 26, mother of two small children, I was sentenced along with my husband to three life sentences plus 20 years. It was my first offense and my first involvement with the law.
Our charge was conspiracy to distribute five kilograms of cocaine – cocaine that was never seen, never produced, never confiscated from any of the nine defendants in our case. No substantial evidence was presented at our trial, only hearsay. The government constructed their case on the testimony of people who were already in prison. Each of them received generous reductions in their sentences. Some are now free.
Before our trial, I had no idea what conspiracy was. At the time of my arrest, the agents told me I was not the one they were after. They told me I would go free if I “cooperated.” I just wouldn’t “cooperate” enough. I didn’t know enough to buy my freedom if I had been willing to.
I am now 31 years old, still in prison fighting for my freedom. I was the first woman in New Orleans ever to be sentenced to this type of time for drugs. This used to be shocking, unheard of, but now it’s becoming a fact of everyday life. I am sure almost everyone has heard of the nightmare of Kemba Smith. Well, there are about 15,000 similar nightmares that go unheard of–women locked up for 15, 20, 30 years or life, because of their relationship to a man. Kemba is fortunate because she has parents who are go-getters, dedicated to her freedom. Most of the women in prison don’t have anywhere near that kind of support. Most of us don’t even have any legal help.
The hardest part of all is the separation from my children. We need each other terribly. My heart aches to know that all the love I pour out to them may not be enough to convince them that I haven’t left them out of not caring for them. It’s a tragedy shared by women, children, families and communities across this country. The laws and the “legal” process that took me away from what the judge called “a humane society” are doing lasting damage to the humanity of that society.