In a week of heartache and tragedy, yesterday delivered one bright and beautiful spot for me. Cyntoia Brown, who spent 15 years in a Tennessee prison fighting for her freedom after being sentenced to two life sentences for defending herself from abuse, was finally released after securing clemency from Governor Haslam before he left office earlier this year. Cyntonia was 16 years old when she was convicted – a child. Her case captured the attention of the nation – attention that also shined a brighter light on a larger problem. Cyntoia is one of thousands of survivors, many of whom are black women, who have been incarcerated instead of protected.
Even as we celebrate her homecoming and thank the community of advocates who fought alongside Cyntoia for her freedom, we’re reminded that far too many women survivors are still trapped behind bars with years left to serve. Here are some action steps you can take to help bring more women who have experienced what Cyntoia has home:
- Learn more about the incarceration of women. There are more than 200,000 women incarcerated in the United States. This number is higher than ever before, and, in many states, this distressing trend is on the rise.
- Support the National State Clemency Campaign. The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, JustLeadershipUSA, and Survived and Punished have been highlighting the invisibility of women survivors across the country who are serving extraordinarily long sentences. Visit their Clemency Campaign website to donate or to find out how you can help put pressure on the Governor in your state to use his or her clemency powers.
- Read and share the story of Tondalao Hall, and then sign the petition here urging the Board to advance Tondalao’s commutation to the Governor. Tondalao has served 15 years of a 30 year sentence under Oklahoma’s harmful ”failure to protect” law. This law disproportionately punishes mothers who have suffered from intimate partner violence, and ignores the realities of the enormous barriers that survivors of abuse face in leaving their abusers.
Like Cyntoia, Tondalao is being punished because she is a survivor of abuse. In Tondalao’s case, instead of offering Tondalao and her children protection, prosecutors put her behind bars and separated her from her children. Tondalao has applied unsuccessfully for commutation before but, this year, the Oklahoma Board of Pardon and Parole advanced her application to the second round in a unanimous vote. She needs to make it through another vote from the Board in October and then Governor Stitt will review her case for commutation. After you sign the petition, follow Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform for updates on their legislative efforts to change the state’s unjust “failure to protect” law that sent Tondalao to prison and which has kept her there for so long.
I am so inspired by Cyntoia’s advocacy and the unrelenting advocacy from organizations and leaders across the country who would not stop fighting until Cyntoia walked out of the prison gates. Let’s now continue the fight for Tondalao and for the thousands of survivors who should be at home with their families.