This is a tale of three women. Liz, Veronica and Adrienne.
And it has a lot of bravery in it, but it starts out with tragedy.
Liz, who is 44 today, would be typified by her friends as very kind, which is maybe unusual given the horrific start to her life.
Growing up in Bakersfield, she was in a house with domestic violence and child abuse. Like many people from that background, she gravitated to that type of relationship.
At the age of 19, she was involved in a robbery where a murder was committed. And her boyfriend pulled the trigger. The night before the robbery, her boyfriend held the gun to her head, told her what she was going to be doing the next day, and then put the gun to her head and raped her.
She was charged with first-degree murder, and in those days you could not introduce “spousal violence” in your defense. She was convicted, and she was sent to prison with no possibility of parole.
The second woman in the story is Veronica.
Veronica is 27 years old today. And much like Liz, she grew up in an abusive household, in San Francisco, and much like Liz, she gravitated to a violent relationship herself, with a gang member in San Francisco. When Veronica was 16, her boyfriend jumped a rival gang member with a knife, and Veronica had lured that victim to the scene. Now, fortunately, these wounds were not fatal, not bad at all in the long run, but the D.A. chose to try Veronica as an adult, for attempted murder and aggravated mayhem, and asked for a sentence of 25 years to life.
Now, Veronica was successful at forestalling that trial, as an adult. The Catch 22 was that when she turned 18, should couldn’t be tried as a juvenile anymore. So she was transferred from city jail to the prison system, where she languished in limbo, without a trial, for years.
My story gets a little more uplifting after this.
The third woman in the story is Adrienne, and she is our daughter.
We have a picture of Adrienne at the age of three, with my wife Renee and I. But you can’t see much of Adrienne because she’s hiding behind Renee’s leg. You can see her face, and she’s holding onto Renee’s pant leg. Well, Adrienne came out from behind that leg, and fortunately she had better influences in her life than Liz and Veronica.
Like, my mother, who was a first wave feminist. And us as parents.
We tried to be good role models. I don’t know that our Wiccan faiths gave Adrienne much, except embarrassment. I’m not going to tell you about the Spiral Dance episode. But she took what she thought was valuable from the people in her life, and she became her own person.
She grew up, became an artist, and then an activist, and in 2010 she started working on her own volunteer time for CCWP, California Coalition for Women Prisoners. And this is where she began to touch Liz’s life, and Veronica’s life.
That same year, she started visiting Veronica in prison, and before long she was working with Veronica’s lawyer and a private investigator. They sent briefs to the court to illustrate the influences on Veronica’s life at the age of 16, when the crime was committed, and before that when she was even younger. And they crafted a plea bargain.
WEST SIDE STORIES
This true story by Rick Roberts was recorded live on Aug. 1 at Sonoma Portworks, as part of West Side Stories, Petaluma’s monthly showcase of spoken word performances. Each month, storytellers are randomly selected to tell a tale based on a theme – this month’s theme: “Brave” – and the audience selects its favorite. The next West Side Stories show will be held on Sept. 5, with the theme “Kicked Out.” For tickets and information, visit WestSideStoriesPetaluma.com.