(Photo Credit: Sin by Silence)
Brenda Clubine endured broken bones. Skull fractures. Her face bruised and battered. By the time Brenda was put behind bars, for killing her husband in 1983, she felt worthless. She received a sentence of second-degree murder, for 16 years to life, and thought she was the only one in her situation. But, Brenda soon discovered that she shared common experiences of love turning violent with many of her fellow inmates.
After years of meeting on the yard and telling each other their whispered stories, an inmate-initiated and led group was born inside the prison in 1989, called Convicted Women Against Abuse (CWAA). Brenda’s revelation inspired this support group, the first of it’s kind in the entire US prison system, to help women inside prison break the silence about abuse and learn more about what they needed to do to help others stop the cycle of violence.
In the early 1990s, Brenda and the CWAA women played an active role in a statewide effort to gain clemency for battered women in prison. In 1992, Battered Women’s Syndrome had just become legally defined to recognize the psychological condition that describes someone who has been the victim of consistent and/or severe domestic violence. This defense become widely used in the cases of battered women who kill because it helps explain to a jury the possibilities that might lead to their crime. Yet, there was cause for protest from the women of CWAA since the majority were convicted prior to the availability of the Battered Women’s Syndrome defense being given it’s proper weight in court. The women of CWAA took a stand for what could be their improper convictions since battered women who kill would now be receiving, on average, a 6 to 8 year sentence of involuntary manslaughter.
The CWAA women’s efforts have resulted in some of their fellow inmates being released. Their clemency movement created enough progress to see cases re-tried and convictions overturned.
In October 2008, Brenda Clubine became the 20th CWAA member to be released from prison and can now continue her advocacy efforts on behalf of domestic violence survivors beyond prison walls. Her story is featured in the documentary Sin by Silence.
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