When I launched my blog a year ago today I wrote: My goal is to provide legal assistance to disenfranchised women and their families. This will benefit women who are leaving prison, and their children; it will also benefit me, the law student, who is learning how to advocate for them.
Women who have been incarcerated need advocates and I know what it's like to advocate for someone who doesn't have a voice. My experience as a parent, an academic, and as a law student will help me to bring these women's stories to a wider audience. The stories of these mothers have the potential to inspire law schools across the nation to open clinics similar to the one that I will participate in. Just as you have listened to my story, I can listen to their stories, and let you hear their voices. God gave Noah the Rainbow sign, my name is Duch, I'm ready this time.
I thought I was ready, but I don't know if anyone is ready for the work I've done this year. Films like Precious present the stories of the poor and there is almost always transformation, realization, redemption, accompanied by moving theme music. Lives are changed in the span of two hours, usually through the intervention of a teacher, a social worker, one person who believes they can make a difference. I wanted to be that person. But reality is a much grimmer affair. There's no easy solution for the crushing blows that come with poverty; drug abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, ignorance and mental illness. Not even Oprah, with all her billions, can wave a magic wand and fix it.
Here are just a few of the daunting statistics about women in prison:
* 57% have a history of physical or sexual abuse.
* 63% are non-white or minorities
* 64% have not finished high school
* 74% used drugs regularly before their incarceration
* Most women in prison are incarcerated for non-violent crimes. Women frequently engage in criminal activities with their romantic partners.
In the fall I met "Star," a 44-year-old Black woman incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee who could check all of the above. Her older sister's husband molested "Star" when she was 13. She had a baby when she was 19, another child at 21, married that child's father, and then had her third child at 28.
Her husband used to beat her and she had a restraining order against him. He eventually crossed state lines and committed several bank robberies, and is incarcerated in a penitentiary in Virginia. She shared that this was a huge relief, because he was violent and HIV positive. Her incarceration was for aiding and abetting her husband.
She arrived at Shakopee in December 2006. At the time, her youngest child was 12. She sent her daughter to live with the same brother-in-law who molested her. Her daughter was molested and eventually removed from their home. He was not prosecuted. Star was set to be released four days before Christmas, and at that point she'd regain custody of her 9th grade daughter who hadn't seen her in three years. There would be much work to do, to break the cycle of violence and poverty.
But that's where I came in. As a certified student attorney from William Mitchell College of Law, Star asked me to help her obtain a dissolution of marriage from her husband, who would not be eligible for parole until 2033. That was my legal assignment. When she was released, I was also responsible for helping her re-unite with her daughter, obtain housing, and employment. She had a history of drug abuse and claimed to have been clean for four years. But that didn't add up, because she also admitted that she missed her mother's 2006 funeral because she was strung out. I was to help Star with rehab as well.
She was the poor, drug addict and sexual abuse survivor. I was the privileged professor/law student who was there to make the difference, to, help her turn her life around. There was no theme music. There was no happy ending.
I worked on Star's divorce from September to December. I went to visit her a week before her release and assured her that I'd do everything in my power to help her re-enter society. When I called after the holiday to tell her that the divorce papers were drafted, I discovered that she and her daughter had left the state to return to her sister's home, to live with her and the brother in law that had molested Star, and Star's daughter.
In real life, it isn't precious.