(WOMENSENEWS)–In light of President Clinton’s eleventh-hour pardon of Marc Rich, the billionaire who fled to Switzerland to avoid tax evasion charges and whose ex-wife just happens to have donated over a million dollars to the Democratic party, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine.
Teresa Christine Paulinkonis, TC to her friends, is an amazing woman. She reads voraciously, writes copious articles and letters, conducts workshops on domestic violence, looks after her mother, maintains many friendships, advocates for political prisoners, takes classes, and counts her blessings every day.
What makes this amazing is that TC does it all from the largest women’s prison in the United States, in Chowchilla, Calif., where she will spend the rest of her life unless paroled.
We are pen pals. I met her through the International Women’s Writing Guild Prison Project and we have been corresponding for two years.
TC has been in prison for 12 years. So has her mother. When she was 26, TC finally tried to stop the stepfather who had been sexually abusing her since she was 7. She struck him with a piece of metal while he was trying to rape her. He died from the blow.
Her mother was nowhere near the scene but made a confusing attempt to cover for her daughter. The jury, which couldn’t decide which one of them had done it, put them both away for 25 years to life.
Until that last attack, TC’s mother never knew that like herself, her daughter was being sexually assaulted by the man she had married. Such is the nature of guilt and secrecy among the abused.
Woman Convicted Without Any Testimony About Sexual Abuse
During their trial, no psychological testing was ever conducted. Neither TC nor her mom was put on the stand. No one ever asked them during court proceedings if there had been abuse of any kind. They were convicted on the testimony of one person called by the state.
And if the California Board of Prison Terms chooses to deny them parole, there is a good chance they will live out the rest of their lives in prison.
President Clinton’s recent twilight pardons, some worthy, some egregiously wrong, must make TC and the dozens of other women incarcerated for self-defense sad, if not outraged.
Why, for example, should Dan Rostenkowski, a former Congressman convicted of abuse of office be pardoned? Convicted only four years ago, he spent a total of 451 days in a minimum security prison and a halfway house. Hardly a lock-down facility with 7,000 inmates where TC spends her interminable days.
Many others with less than sad tales but often with political connections or healthy bank accounts got off as well.
TC and her mother, both eligible for parole in four years, didn’t even seek a pardon or commutation. They received virtually no legal advice.
Politicos and Pals Were Pardoned, And A Few Ordinary Women
Not everyone among the more than 160 people pardoned was rich and famous.
Kemba Smith and Dorothy Gaines were ordinary women who got involved with the wrong guys and ended up with severe prison terms for standing by their drug dealing men–both of whose sentences were less severe than their girlfriends’.
Nevertheless, it does begin to appear that clemency is for those with connections in high places.
My friend TC committed a terrible, if inadvertent, crime. She killed a man and she has been willing to pay the price. But she has spent 12 years in prison and presents no threat to society.
Indeed, she has much to offer her peers and the community at large. Yet, without parole or a pardon, she will never be “outside” again. All that she might have contributed to society will remain locked away.
Rostenkowski, on hearing his good news, said he was “appreciative.” He vowed to go on with his life, teaching, writing and giving “advice and counsel to people that need counseling with respect to government.”
Surely TC, and women like her, deserve the same chance. Their advice and counsel, unlike the former congressman’s, could very well save someone’s life.
Elayne Clift is a writer in Saxtons River, Vt.