Exciting news and a support request from the family of Patrice Smith:
After serving almost 22 years in prison, a new law in New York State called the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) allowed a Judge to reconsider the 25 years to life prison sentence of my aunt Patrice. The presiding Judge carefully considered the effects of the sexual abuse Patrice endured starting when she was just 15 years old. In 1998, when she was tried and convicted, no one believed that a pastor would abuse a young girl. Her trial and conviction took place when she was 16 years old in 1998. She just came home a few weeks ago, at the age of 38.
Patrice is one of the first people released under the DVSJA. In her decision resentencing Patrice Smith under the new law, the Judge wrote: “The ‘full picture’ here is one of a 16 year old girl who had been raped, abused and coerced by a man 55 years her senior, who had exploited and coerced her through escalating offers of money and gifts for sex and by threatening to expose the relationship to her father. The repeated abuse defendant endured cannot be compartmentalized or separated from her actions on the night of the crime. They are inextricably interlinked…What we have learned in the two decades since the defendant’s sentencing is that domestic violence should be viewed by our criminal justice system in a manner that recognizes not only their status as offenders but their status as survivors.”
It is under this umbrella that I am asking the community to help support Patrice’s reentry into society. As I am only twenty years old, my aunt has been incarcerated for my entire life. I along with my three sisters grew up visiting her in prison, spending the nights through the facility’s Family Reunion Program. She never once hinted at a traumatic past. She instead encouraged us, played with us, kept our secrets and most of all, loved us. It was not until I was an adult that I learned her real story, and even now when I speak to her I am amazed at how encouraging and optimistic she is and I am so proud of her. Our family is rejoicing together now that she is home with us.