We are thrilled to share that Tondalao Hall is free after being released from Mabel Basset Correctional Facility yesterday afternoon! Last month, the Oklahoma Pardon & Parole Board unanimously voted in favor of a commutation of Tondalao’s 30 year sentence, a decision which was then approved by Governor Kevin Stitt.
We are extremely grateful to and moved by Project Blackbird and other #FreeTondalaoHall organizers and their powerful imagining of what freedom could look like for criminalized survivors like Tondalao, which they strenuously made come to life over the course of several years — without them, Tondalao’s freedom could not have been possible. Project Blackbird continues to fundraise to support Tondalao’s reentry as part of their vision for Tondalao’s freedom.
Please welcome Tondalao Hall home with a generous donation to her freedom fund: bit.ly/TondalaoHallGoFundMe
You can read Project Blackbird’s statement on Tondalao’s recent freedom here:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Candace Liger 405-882-1909
ProjectBlackbirdok@gmail.com | www.ProjectBlackbird.org
Tondalao Hall Freed Today After Serving 15 Years for her Abuser’s Crimes
Tondalao Hall is gaining her freedom after 15 years of incarceration in an Oklahoma prison. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison for failing to protect her children from the abuse of their father Robert Braxton.
The story of Tondalao Hall exemplifies the ways in which our legal system harshly and unfairly criminalizes domestic violence survivors. Barely over 19 years old when incarcerated, she was a young woman who had never even had so much as a speeding ticket until the day of her 30 year sentencing; she has been under the control of the Oklahoma prison system for the majority of her adult life. Tondalao was also a victim of Robert’s abuse and control exhibited throughout the course of their relationship.
Robert Braxton would later admit to breaking 12 ribs and the femur of their 20 month old child, in addition to 7 ribs, a femur, and the toe of their 2.5 month old child. He issued a guilty plea and was sentenced to a total of 10 years, 2 years credited as served before the sentencing and 8 years on suspended probation. He walked out of the courtroom that day a free man. Tondalao issued a blind plea and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, 15 years for each injured child. She did not abuse her children, yet her punishment was far harsher than that of the abuser.
Today, Tondalao was released from Mabel Bassett Correctional Facility with a new hope to be the mother she was not allowed to be. Her two children have been raised by a cousin and advocate Cynthia Wells, who is excited to reunite her with the family.
“Motherhood in our communities has historically been expansive. It is a blessing to have caregivers within our biological families and beyond who support our children when justice fails us,” said Candace Liger, founder of Project Blackbird, an organization founded 5 years ago to advocate for Tondalao’s release.
Tamika Carter, organizer with Project Blackbird and mental health counselor adds “The adverse effects of parental incarceration on children’s social and emotional health is well documented. Further, African-American children are 6 times more likely than white children to have a parent incarcerated, increasing their likelihood for depression, PTSD, drug abuse, and school problems (Economic Policy Institute 2016). It is a joy to see Tondalao reunited with her children, so that healing can come full circle to repair the trauma that was dealt them, and restore hope and balance in their lives.”
Tondalao Hall advanced through her second round of commutations on October 8th with the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board after a unanimous 5-0 vote. On November 1st, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt released over 500 inmates in what has been called the “largest, single-day commutation by a Governor” in our nation’s history. Reports stated Tondalao had some “technical difficulties” with her release, but promises were made she would be free before the holidays.
“The purposeful incarceration of black women under the illusion of justice was shattered by a long awaited and overdue moment of correction in our justice system. The release of Tondalao Hall is a sign of hope for many women who are separated from their family, friends and communities not for crimes they committed but due to the color of their skin and lack of access to capable legal representation,” stated Grace Franklin, CoFounder of OKC Artists for Justice.
Leading up to the 2nd commutation hearing, Project Blackbird launched an #ImaginingFreedom campaign to support fundraising efforts to support Tondalao upon her release. Part of this campaign was a gathering of local grassroots organizers and mothers who participated in a healing justice demonstration to magnify Tondalao’s achievement within cosmetology school while in prison. Local organizations Black Lives Matter OK, OKC Artists for Justice, and Yes All Daughters all released videos celebrating her advancement before the hearing.
“I’m overjoyed at Tondalao’s release. Her case has put institutionalized and codified victim blaming into the spotlight. I hope her release today marks a turning point for how we treat survivors going forward,” says Stacey Wright, Executive Director for Yes All Daughters.
In 2017, they organized and hosted over 30 letter writing campaigns with organizations, activists, and universities across Oklahoma urging David Prator to support her release. Since September 2019 Project Blackbird has raised over $11,500 to support Tondalao’s Imagining Freedom Fund. While they have suggested budget for the funds such as housing and transportation needs, 100% of the proceeds will be under Tondalao’s control.
“This time around, it was imperative for us as a grassroots organization to look beyond the politics and systems that hinder us from seeing freedom for so many folks behind bars, but especially black women who have been survivors of domestic violence,” Candace Liger said. “We imagined the Pardon and Parole had already approved her commutation, Stitt had already signed her papers, she was already walking in her freedom, and we were helping her fund her cosmetology business and supporting her transition.”
Moving forward, the work is just beginning. Project Blackbird hopes to raise $20,000 before 2020 through their Tondalao Hall Imagining Freedom GoFundMe page.
“We know the variety of challenges that formerly incarcerated folx face upon reintegration. We are fully committed to assist Tondalao as she transitions into a new life with her children with the necessary social and financial support she needs to live her best life with her newly found freedom,” said Cidnee Ray, digital strategist for Project Blackbird.
Lekeytha Dukes, local business owner of Back to My Roots attended Tondalao’s release at the prison.
“The moment she walked out all I could say was ‘freedom.’ When I drove off I saw many women behind the fence and realized we have so much more work to do.”
“I am overjoyed Tondalao is experiencing her freedom and reunification with her family, especially her children. I celebrate that. But I cannot ignore this entire situation was predicated on a flawed judicial system where another black woman was criminalized, traumatized, and punished for being a victim of domestic violence. Although Governor Stitt signed her commutation expeditiously, the state of Oklahoma and the judicial system has a debt that can never be repaid to Tondalao. I hope that the community will surround and support Tondalao and her family to help restore the part of life taken away,” Sheri Dickerson, Executive Director of Black Lives Matter Oklahoma.
You can support Tondalao Hall’s Reimagining Freedom Fund by donating to http://bit.ly/TondalaoHallGoFundMe.