Al Jazeera published a profile on Survived & Punished leader, Ny Nourn! Excerpt below:
The story of how Nourn, 41, first came to be imprisoned is the story of her emergence as an advocate. As the co-director of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee — and an organiser for the domestic violence advocacy group Survived and Punished — Nourn has rapidly gained a reputation as one of the most high-profile voices in the fight to end what activists in the United States call the “prison-to-deportation pipeline”.
But Nourn doesn’t just speak out about that pipeline. She has lived it herself. And in sharing her story again and again — on panels, in interviews, even for a TEDx Talk — Nourn often finds herself confronting the horrors of her past as she works to educate others about the US criminal justice system.
All around her [in prison], she met women with similar experiences, similar stories, similar backgrounds. Many were domestic violence survivors. It was eye-opening. Even her bunkmate was a survivor, incarcerated after pleading guilty to murdering an abusive boyfriend. An older Black woman, she offered Nourn a shower puff on her first day as a welcoming gift: it had a little animal face sewn into its centre. Nourn still smiles at the thought of it. Having just arrived, Nourn had little of her own, and the smiling shower puff was silly but practical.
Estimates vary as to how many incarcerated women in the US have experienced domestic or sexual violence in their past, but one 1999 study placed the rate as high as 94 percent.
In 2006, an appeals court in California reviewed Nourn’s case, citing the fact that her defence failed to investigate the role of “battered women’s syndrome” in justifying her actions on the night of the murder. Pioneered in the 1970s, concepts like “battered women’s syndrome” are increasingly used to explain the psychology of abuse survivors — particularly when they themselves are forced to participate in a crime, like lethal self-defence.
“She was denied her constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel,” the appeals court concluded. Nourn’s sentence was adjusted to a term of 15 years to life. Rather than spend the rest of her life in jail, she could be free by the time she reached her late 30s.
But Nourn hadn’t factored in one thing: her status as a refugee. “Coming to the United States as a permanent resident, with legal status, I thought I had the same rights as any other citizen,” she says with a shrug. It came as a shock to learn she might be deported upon release.
At first, Nourn was in denial. “No, that’s not true,” she insisted to a friend from Thailand she met in prison, who tried to warn her about the possibility of deportation. Nourn hadn’t realised she would be subject to the Criminal Alien Program, a system used by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to identify and deport non-citizens in the criminal justice system.
As of 2020, 90 percent of individuals targeted by ICE for “enforcement and removal” were non-citizens with criminal convictions or pending charges. In other words, Nourn’s case was not unusual. Anoop Prasad, a senior attorney at San Francisco’s Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, receives a dozen letters from individuals like her every week.
So when Nourn wrote to the law caucus in 2013, it seemed like just another letter in the pile.
Prasad responded with the truth: that her options were limited. There was little he could do to stop her eventual deportation.
“Up to that point, I think only one person who had been sentenced to LWOP [Life Without Parole] had left a California prison alive. And no one with an ICE hold that we knew with LWOP had beat deportation,” Prasad explains.
Read the article here.