By Chris Levister
BUSTED FOR POSESSION OF ‘JOLLY RANCHERS’
Sandra Redmond shot and killed her abusive live-in boyfriend in 1982 during a confrontation in which she feared for her life. She was convicted of second-degree murder in 1983 and sentenced to 17 years to life.
Even as Redmond walked out of the California Institute for Women in Corona, the former Orange County resident's voice vibrates with outrage. "High hopes and crushing disappointment," she says of waiting to be paroled.
Redmond, 47 a soft spoken woman with a ready smile was released after testimony that Arthur Moore, 58 raped and abused her. Testimony not permitted at the time of her trial.
California law did not allow criminal defendants to introduce expert testimony on intimate partner battering and its effects, previously referred to as battered women's syndrome. A petition filed by the Habeas Project and Redmond's lawyer, Carrie Hempel argued that if such testimony had been allowed jurors would have heard evidence that Redmond had been physically, sexually and emotionally abused by Moore, as well as others, and that, on the day of the shooting, she had been raped.
Redmond was granted parole twice but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed it both times, most recently in March. It was only in 1992 that a law allowing such testimony took effect. In 2001, the law was allowed to be applied retroactively.
That California affords little sympathy for battered women who've killed is not surprising. What is remarkable is that after 24 years behind bars Redmond is not bitter.
"I'm looking up. You can never plan the future by the past." said Redmond gazing at a starry sky during a recent retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains. "Today I took my first bubble bath in 24 years." The time warp followed her to the toilet. "I was sitting there and all of a sudden I heard this loud swish of water. I jumped up and shouted oh my God, an automatic flush."
"We worked so hard to get her out - she's finally free." That's Kim Carter, accountant, prisoner advocate and founder of San Bernardino based Time for Change, a sober living re-entry facility where Redmond works as an office clerk.
"She's a walking textbook on a parole system that makes up its lines as it goes along." Carter should know.
"I met Sandra while cycling in and out of prison for drug use." The two women bonded immediately. "Over and over she'd see me get out on parole only to return through the revolving door. She'd say you're back! She would scold me and mentor me.
She told me self destruction never looks like self destruction when you are living through it," said Carter.
Carter remembers Redmond's simple advice. "What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"
"That day I walked out of prison. I never looked back," Redmond's endless optimism sent Carter on a journey toward relentless activism.
"Once you push the curtains back you see the system for what it is. Watching Sandra fester along with the thousands of other inmates needlessly imprisoned is not a pretty sight."
"The waiting process was excruciating." said Andrea Bible project coordinator for San Francisco-based Free Battered Women.
"You wait for your hearing. There's a gripping ache when you find out you've been rejected because you were caught with something as stupid as two ‘jolly rancher' candies in your pocket."
Referring to one of many ‘parole busting' infractions, Redmond, a veteran prison counselor, recalls minutes before she was to give a lecture to inmates.
"Out of no where several guards rushed me. They said empty your pockets. They found two cellophane wrapped jolly rancher candies. I used them to freshen my breath. They wrote me up: ‘possession of unauthorized contraband'. It knocked the wind out of my sails." Worst yet says Redmond "they used the infraction to suggest I was a risk to society. My parole was denied."
Redmond says despite a lengthy list of positive reports from prison officials on her behavior and mental health she was almost systemically denied parole.
"You can't get excited when it boils down to whether you are suitable for parole based solely on whether you are a risk to society," says Bible.
In June an Orange County judge in the case changed her conviction to voluntary manslaughter and released Redmond on time served.
Politics may propel the charge toward freedom for battered women. Free Battered Women is optimistic about Gov. Schwarzenegger's attitude and approach to battered women seeking release. They hope he will support measurable system wide reform.
"Even if he does so for self-serving reasons, battered women in prison and the people who care about them anticipate that his administration will be more receptive to their pleas," says Bible.
As for Redmond, she hopes eventually to work as an advocate for women and teenagers in abusive relationships - "I don't want to see them crushed by a system that ultimately must break before its captives can fly."
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