This is a slightly edited version of a talk given at the webinar “Women and Oppressed Genders: Survival and Resistance” hosted by WWP’s Prisoners Solidarity Committee on Sept. 24.
By Wendy Howard
I’m facing charges of first degree murder, which will come with a 50-to-life sentence if I am convicted. And this was after years of abuse, restraining orders, ineffective policing, with very little to any help in those phone calls to police. The non-prosecution of this person, and him not being held accountable, ended up empowering him. And so things got worse.
When the unfortunate situation occurred in which I had to defend myself, I called the police seeking their assistance and help and ended up being the one taken to jail. I truly believed in the justice system up to a point that I was impacted by it.
At that point, when I went in there, I quickly learned exactly the tactics that they use, even in the county jail. And I wasn’t even convicted of anything, I was only charged with something. Some of the things that they do in even the jails are harmful. I had just experienced a traumatic attack, and they did not give me any kind of medical evaluation or attention, specifically a mental evaluation. They also denied me my medication for six weeks. I have to take a shot every week for rheumatoid arthritis; they denied me medication, and I ended up with permanent joint damage.
‘Brought us to have a connection and a deep respect’
I also met other ladies that were in there with similar charges as mine. When I first went in, I was not as close to the ladies as I could have been. But then I realized that a lot of the ladies in there were in there for things that really they didn’t have control over, such as [spouse/partner] abuse, early childhood abuse — some with stories as bad as mine, if not worse.
That brought us to have a connection and a deep respect for each other and helping one another while we were there.
I found a lot of discrepancies in the way that the system works. There’s one lady in particular that has charges that are very similar to mine. She’s been through two mistrials. And they’re now trying her for the third time. They have refused to give her bail reduction. And she has been in pretrial detention, not guilty of anything,
I have this kind of survivor’s guilt, I guess I would say, because I was given bail reduction in my hearing. I am now out on a $500,000 bail, while she is still being held on a $1.5 million bail. It’s kind of made me pretty angry to see those discrepancies and to see how they treat people in there. Because the only real difference that I can see between her case and my case is the color of our skin and how we’re perceived in that regard.
‘An eye-opening experience to be in the system’
So as soon as I got out on bail, I decided that it was time to hit the ground running and try to make as many changes as I possibly could until I was put in that trial room and tried. Which was another whole thing, the whole plea bargain thing [before the trial]. They really do try to intimidate people into taking those pleas, including things such as one of my friends still there was told that she would never see her kids again if she didn’t take this plea bargain. It was an unreasonable and overcharged plea bargain. She didn’t take it, and now her public defender isn’t really fighting for her. And because of COVID and the courts being closed, her family’s not there to hold him accountable either.
It’s a really eye opening experience to be in the system and impacted, especially at my age. Having once believed in the justice system — and not just believed in it, but I actually was in criminal law and was on the eligibility list to become a law enforcement officer and was also married to a sergeant.
So it was quite the eye opener. Definitely a rude awakening, when I found myself in this system and saw how things really worked.
My passion now is to try to bring that to light and bring people to realize that the people that are inside are really people who have suffered. And maybe there’s a different way that we can look at what healing and restoration to community might really look like in the future. That’s my goal.
Thank you for your time and for listening to my story.
Some actions you can take to support Wendy Howard: Contact Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer and Deputy Attorney Courtney Lewis to demand justice for Wendy: Email: [email protected] and [email protected] Call: (661) 868-2340. BCC: [email protected] so Wendy can use emails in court. Sign and share the petition: facebook.com/groups/JusticeForWendyHoward.
WW PHOTO: Judy Greenspan