Fighting Abuse and the Criminal Injustice System

by Teresa Cruz, CIW
My name is Theresa Cruz, and I am a battered woman serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after seven years. I was convicted of attempted murder: my child’s father was shot in the legs five times by another male. He is not dead, crippled or maimed. His life continued and resumed to normal. I was not the perpetrator, but I am responsible for him being shot.
How long will society continue to ignore the incarceration of individuals that made decisions under duress as a result of domestic violence? Don’t misunderstand me. I accept ownership for my participation in a dysfunctional relationship, but like community property, I am only entitled to half.
Domestic violence first came into my life like an undetected disease. It started out slowly. The objective was control over the body and the mind. The end result was total control of one individual by another. When the objective was not met, or fell short of being met, the result was out of control behaviors.
Living in a domestic violence situation is one of the most painful situations one could live in. He beat me and stalked me. I moved five times in three years. He left cards in my mailbox signed “Black Friday the 13th,” signed “Your Ex – Carlos.”
His final threat was to take my child. For five straight years I sustained a lot of abuse, but this final threat pushed me over the edge. I had never been separated from my children, and I cannot even begin to describe the feeling and fear I felt. In reality it was a syndrome that built and built and then exploded. When it came to my children, I lost control of my mind and let my emotions take control. After he was shot the domestic court found him for what he truly was and refused to take custody away from me. I was out on bail for two years and was no threat to society but still had to answer for a crime I had committed.
In April 1995 my children went to Sacramento, California, to testify for a proposed law, AB231, today known as Penal Code Section 4801.* My children took police reports of varous break-ins, photographs of varous beatings and the original cards he’d leave in our mailbox. My children testified about the incidents that led up to my crime. In October 1995, Governor Pete Wilson signed the bill and it went into effect January 1, 1996. My case was a major factor in achieving the passage for this bill, but to this day I have been given no consideration under the new law.
On May 22, 1996, I went for my first consideration hearing for parole. I was commended for my G.E.D., my 18-month Vocational Data Processing Course, and all of my achievements. The parole board did state that my case was a very sad example of domestic violence, how it can get out of control and how this was a tragedy for me and my children. The records prove he stalked me and abused me. At the end I was denied parole and told to return in two years (May 1998).
I am not looking for excuses or for anyone to condone what has happened, for nothing justifies violence. I am asking for mercy, forgiveness and compassion. My children were ages 4 months, 6 1/2, 9 and 10 years old when I came to prison. If looking into your own children’s eyes every weekend and seeing the pain in their eyes and having to say good-bye over and over again for six years isn’t punishment, then I don’t know what is. To hear my child say “If I would have never been born, you wouldn’t be in prison, Mama” is a guilt that I can’t describe. To see the hurt and guilt and resentment he carries towards his father is a pain that can’t be described.
If you support my release, please write to Governor Pete Wilson and James W. Nielsen, Chairman of the Board of Prison Terms. God bless you and thank you.
Theresa Cruz, W-10058
Miller A 32L
Frontera, CA 91720
*AB231 states that the Board of Prison Terms (parole board) can consider evidence of the effects of physical, emotional or mental state abuse upon the beliefs, perception or behavior of victims of domestic violence where it appears that the crimnal behavior was a result of that victimization” when commuting or paroling women being held for violent crimes performed in retaliation for spousal abuse.
The Children of Theresa Cruz Write
Our mother is not a career criminal, she is an abused and battered woman who was pushed to the edge. Our mother’s abuser went to her parole hearing to say that if my mother was paroled his life would be in danger. For years this man abused our mother and now he is the so-called “victim” and has the right to say when my mother should be free. With all our hearts, we want to thank you for taking the time to write two letters.
Send letters to
James W. Nielsen, Chairman
Board of Prison Terms
428 J Street, 6th floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
Governor Pete Wilson
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Theresa’s family is trying to raise money to hire a lawyer to represent Theresa at her parole hearing. They are asking everyone who can to write a check for $10 to the Defense Fund for Theresa Cruz. The account number 6832 217806 must be written on the check and it should be mailed to Wells Fargo Bank, Bonita Office, 4180 Bonita Rd., Bonita, CA 91902.

Compassionate Clemency for Claudia Reddy: Justice for a Battered Woman

by Judy Greenspan
Claudia Reddy, a 42-year-old Dominican woman, is dying of lung cancer at the California Institution for Women, in Frontera, California. She is serving a 15-year to life sentence on a second degree murder charge. Claudia has already been in prison for over 14 years. Claudia’s crime was defending herself against and killing her abusive husband. She describes in her own words, the brutality that she suffered:
“His jealous possessiveness exploded into physical abuse of me behind closed doors – a shameful secret that hovered like a cloud over our marriage. A heavy drinker, my husband hit me so hard that the retina of one eye was knocked loose – resulting in partial blindness in the eye. A swift kick to my stomach while I was pregnant resulted in a tragic miscarriage. Subsequent miscarriages resulted from other brutalities. An impression of his teeth remain in a semicircular sore on my forearm… Terrified and fearing for my life during one of his attacks, I grabbed his gun to defend myself. I was arrested and convicted of second degree murder.”
I had the opportunity to visit with Claudia this past May prior to her last compassionate release hearing. Claudia, her new husband, Jerry, and I sat together in the uncomfortable visiting room at CIW and talked. Claudia is an extremely articulate, intelligent and caring woman. It is clearly her inner strength, her desire to die outside of prison and be united with her husband (if only for a short time) that is keeping her alive.
Claudia is currently confined to either her bed or a wheelchair. A thin, slight woman, she explained to me that she has trouble swallowing the food that is prepared for her because the cancer has spread to her esophagus. While she was at the outside hospital, medical staff would puree her meals. Now that she is back at the prison, CIW staff has continued her “special diet” but they won’t puree her food. Thus, she has great trouble eating.
She struggles to breathe at night and is routinely given oxygen. She is in tremendous pain. She has been given a prognosis by prison doctors and specialists from the outside hospital of less than a few months to live. Claudia married a very kind gentle man while in prison. Her husband would like to take care of her during this last period of her life.
Neither Governor Wilson nor the Board of Prison Terms has shown any degree of compassion toward Claudia Reddy. In both April and May 1997, Claudia was turned down for compassionate release. Her clemency petition has been gathering dust on the governor’s desk for several years. Claudia asked me to get people involved in her release campaign.
We ask that you write to the governor in her support today. Address your letters to Governor Pete Wilson, State Captol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814.
The message is simple:
Dear Governor Wilson:
Claudia Reddy was convicted of second degree murder over 14 years ago for defending herself against a violent and abusive husband. She has developed lung cancer and been given a prognosis of only a few weeks to live. Though her condition worsens daily, she was turned down for compassionate release by the parole board in both April and May. You have the power to grant Ms. Reddy a compassionate release by signing her clemency papers, which have been before you for over four years. I urge you to do so immediately and allow Claudia Reddy to spend her last remainining days near her family and friends in a community-based hospice.
If you cannot sign her clemency papers then please direct the Board of Prison Terms to grant her compassionate release. I am sure that Ms. Reddy will abide by any terms of parole.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Sincerely,

Abused Before Entering, Battered While Waiting for a Death Sentence not Ordered by Judge

by Charisse Shumate, CCWF
There is a cycle theory of violence. Phase I, tension builds. Phase II, explosion. Phase III, honeymoon.
There is also a cycle theory of abuse by our medical department at CCWF. Phase I, sick. Phase II, sick call, hurry up and wait, sorry no doctor or RN. Phase III, go out to medical, none of what was recommended is done, which can lead to death.
Before I was convicted of the crime, for which I am now serving 17 years to life, I was battered. I told no one until it was too late. I made excuses for the violence. I expected that having family could give my one son what I could not on welfare. It took my coming to prison to find each place where I went wrong. All of what I should or could have done to not be here. But I am here.
I was born with sickle cell (SS) disease. It did not happen after incarceration. Now I am being battered monthly by the medical department, as well as being subjected to verbal abuse to which each woman here is subject on a daily basis.
“Don’t like it here, don’t come to prison.” “You are nothing and no one listens to an inmate.” “You are a liar, a thief, a drug addict.” You are always faking when you are sick. Officers throw tampons and kotex at you like you are dogs.
The tension builds behind these walls like a wild fire. Everything is done to discourage your family from visiting. If you call home for the entire 15 minutes, the call is interrupted with “this is an inmate from a state prison.” No one must forget that for one second.
What has been forgotten by most, inside and out, is that we are human. Mothers, sisters, daughters.
Behind these walls of CCWF we are being forced to buy food and hygiene items from the canteen. If it is sold on canteen, you cannot receive it in a quarterly package. It does not matter if your account is frozen, or you are indigent. Not to mention the $5 co-payment that you pay to see an MTA who will put you on a list to see a doctor and you pay another $5 co-payment to see a doctor whether the doctor shows up or cancels.
You start all over again. When, where will the abuse stop?

Welcome Back, Geronimo!

by Diana Block
On August 16, CCWP was part of a crowd of 2,500 people who welcomed Geronimo Ji Jaga to the Bay Area as a free man. Geronimo, a former Black Panther, was held in California prisons for 27 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He was finally released on bail this June after a judge ruled that his original trial was not fair. The state is still deciding whether to retry him on the same charges.
The event was also a fund raiser for Mumia Abu-Jamal, another former Black Panther. Mumia has been on Pensylvania’s death row for 16 years, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. The speakers, who included Alice Walker, Leonard Weinglass and Angela Davis, spoke of the many injustices in the prison system and urged everyone to intensify the fight to save Mumia’s life. A major mobilization for Mumia is planned for December 6. CCWP was proud to participate in such a historic event!