After a life full of pain, the accommodation that says ‘you deserve’

Perched on her Chesterfield couch, her electric wheelchair in hand, Rosemary Dyer surveys gleaming peacock sculptures on her first solo trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown since her release from prison, and dazzles with silk flowers in her new living room. Appreciated the tablecloth. .

A mischievous lady Dyer, accompanied by a mischievous lady, brought these and other prized possessions home free, a new complex of transitional apartments in San Francisco. It was designed for women who have been imprisoned for murdering their abusive partner or for being at a crime scene under pressure from an abusive spouse or lover. Dyer was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 1988 for the shooting of her eight-year-old husband in 1985. Domestic violence and its effects were not allowed in courts in most states.

The insidious viciousness that defined her life included repeated beatings and sexual abuse with a loaded handgun. Her husband had dug a grave in the backyard saying that he wanted to bury her alive.

Home Free – Where Dior’s 2020 Commutation of Governor Gavin Newsom hangs proudly on the wall – was created by Five Major Schools and Programs, a statewide nonprofit that provides education, vocational training, therapeutic programs, and housing for incarcerated people and newly released people. The complex of five two-bedroom apartments is the result of years of advocacy by intimate-partner violence survivors and the organizations that work with them. Their efforts have allowed women like Dyer to retroactively present evidence of their abuse through clemency or to state parole boards or the courts.

“Women against whom unspeakable violence was committed were not allowed to bring evidence of abuse, it is the quintessential injustice,” he said. Sunny Schwartz, Founder of Five Keys. “We were committed to creating a vibrant, dignified and safe home, a place that says ‘You deserve.’ “

Previous transitional housing options for women were largely limited to those seeking treatment for addiction. home free on treasure Island, a former naval base in San Francisco Bay, last year forged on a tight start-up budget of $750,000, including staff, during the pandemic. The formerly grim apartments were renovated with the help of about 100 volunteers – architects and landscape architects, floor and cabinetry installers, plumbers, hollers, electricians and city construction apprentices. They all gathered on this quaint island originally built for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.

interior design student from Academy of Arts University Dedicated a semester to the project in San Francisco, joining mini-charts on Zoom with Irving A. Gonzales G7 Architects. He also brainstormed with women whose wishes included full-length mirrors (they had been deprived of their shape for years in prison).

“We wanted color!” said Dyer, who had visited the construction site while she was still in temporary housing. He and others had a particular hatred of the color grey, a shade associated with metal prison bunks and lockers.

Cancer survivor Dyer, 69, suffering from congestive heart failure, has used a wheelchair since injuring her hip in prison. A giant pirate flag – for the Treasure Island theme – welcomes visitors upon arrival. Her accessible apartment is adjacent to a patio where she grows tomato and radish pots.

The landscape itself was designed by Hyunch Sung of the firm Gemini, who chose 10 different tree species. (Since Treasure Island’s soil is contaminated with industrial chemicals, the trees are planted in brightly colored containers.) Sung said she approaches her work there as if she were designing for high-end clients. “The idea of ​​beauty is underestimated for disadvantaged communities,” she said.

Nilda Palacios, 38, who lives upstairs, said it was “emotionally moving” to join the campus. She grew up with a history of abuse: She was molested as a child by an uncle and stepfather and then raped as a 15-year-old by a high school teacher. The teacher’s stressful trial led her to rely on drugs and alcohol (“I was trying to sleep my life away,” she said). Palacios became distraught and suicidal. When a panhandler surrounded her one day, she said, she thought he intended to attack her and “kicked out” by strangling her. He was convicted of second-degree murder. She said that her 17 years in prison benefited from a therapist in prison, who helped her understand “how the depth of my crime was connected to my history,” she said. “I confused someone who wasn’t a threat from someone who was.”

Palacios was released on parole. She has benefited from a more expansive approach to Home Free, which now welcomes women like her whose crimes were directly linked to her abuse.

Moving inside, she was “shocked” at the prospect of a private bedroom after sharing an 8-x-10-foot cell and cramming all of her belongings into a six-cubic-foot box, as a current inmate holds. , “Your panties are right in front of the noodles and peanut butter.”

“Not at all, is this my room?” Palacios remembered. “It felt like a real home to me.”

The idea for Home Free was born during a conversation between Schwartz, its founder, and the California State Treasurer. fiona mai, then a state assembly woman. Ma’s law, signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2012, allowed women who had suffered domestic abuse and been convicted of a violent felony related to their abuse, as a defense, with battered women’s syndrome (as in then called) were given the opportunity to hear their cases again. . The law also gave them the right to present evidence of abuse by intimate partners during the parole process. This applies to those convicted before August 1996.

The number of Rosemary Dyer still behind bars is unknown. About 12,000 women are currently imprisoned for homicide crimes nationally, said Debbie MukamaliExecutive Director and Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center at Stanford Law School regilla project, a three-year effort to study the frequency with which women in the United States are imprisoned for killing their abusers. Smaller studies, including a study in Canada, show that 65% of women serving life sentences for killing their intimate partners had abused them prior to the crime. The link between abuse and violent crime was underscored by grim statistics 1999 US Department of Justice report It shows that a quarter to a third of women were abused as teenagers and about a quarter to half as adults.

Despite increased public awareness, “there are still a large number of criminal lawyers who do not understand how intimate-partner violence makes context for a crime,” said Leigh Goodmark, Director of Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland School of Law.

in New York State, domestic violence survivor justice act, enacted in 2019, was put to trial in the much-publicized case of Nicole Ademando, a young mother of two in Poughkeepsie, after years of abuse with her live-in boyfriend and the father of her children in 2017 (case is) captured dramatically in documentary film”and so i stopped.”)

Sentenced to 19 years for second-degree murder, Ademando was entitled to a subsequent trial under the Act, where his abuse claims can be looked into at a lesser sentence. The county court judge dismissed those claims, believing she had “an opportunity to safely leave her abuser.” In July, the appellate division of the state Supreme Court reversed that decision, reducing Ms. Ademando’s time behind bars to seven and a half years.

To Kate Mogulescu, an associate professor at Brooklyn Law School and its director survivor justice project, this case shows that “we place an impossible burden on victims to prove their victimhood.” He said that women are examined in court in a way which is very different from men. “With women, they are a bad mother, or the majority. Women are troped and the punishment reflects that.” Still, 16 women have been offended in New York so far.

By far the most common reason women have been abused by intimate partners is so-called partner laws, in which a victim is forced to be at the scene of abused violence, such as driving a getaway car, said Colby Lenz, co-founder of escaped and punished, a national advocacy organization.

Such was the case with Tammy Cooper Garwin, who was sex trafficked at age 14 and sentenced to 28 years for being in a car while her pimp murdered a client. Her sentence was commuted and she was hired by Home Free as its residential coordinator.

Another advocate—and a guiding force behind the founding of Home Free—is a fellow survivor named Brenda Clubin, who started a weekly support group at the California Institution for Women. Some 72 women soon joined. Dyer was one of the original members, although she was so scared of life that she could hardly speak until Clubine encouraged her.

Clubin herself was abused for years by her husband, a former police detective, with fractures and stab wounds. He hit her on the head with a bottle of alcohol and she died of blunt force stroke. He served a sentence of 26 years of life imprisonment of 16 years. Her gruesome retelling of the stories of the women in prison group — which she sent to state legislators and governors — at public hearings and a 2009 documentary “sin by silence,” which in turn inspired the laws of California.

Clubine’s close friendship with Dior has continued and has been instrumental in boosting Dior’s confidence. At Home Free, Dyer now enjoys making homemade noodles with chicken from her grandmother’s recipe. Clubin, her BFF, noticed that it had been a long time since her “sisters” had arrived in a safe and fortified place. “I can’t say how full my heart feels that it’s available to them now,” she said.

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