Friday, 1 July 2011

Brown should release Kruzan from prison

Every year, hundreds of prisoners ask for a pardon from the governor. This year, one case stands out as one of the most worthy in California's history.
Sara Kruzan was an 11-year-old child from a chaotic background when she was targeted by a sexual trafficker. By the age of 13, she had been forced into prostitution. When a rival of her pimp handed her a loaded gun and goaded her to kill her tormentor, pulling the trigger seemed the only way out of her living hell.
She was inexplicably tried as an adult, despite being a 16-year-old with no prior criminal record. She was even more inexplicably sentenced to life in prison, despite the extraordinary mitigating circumstances.
For those of us in social work or health care and familiar with these situations, we know that an abused woman leaving her abuser is almost always at a very real risk of death. In that extreme situation, any one of us could have been Sara Kruzan. We can only shake our heads and say to ourselves, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
She has now spent half of her life in prison, crammed with seven other women into a cell intended for four inmates. For 17 years, she has not set foot on free land, other than brief medical visits.
Heeding the immortal words of the poet Richard Lovelace – Stone walls do not a prison make/ Nor iron bars a cage – Sara has, against all odds, endeavored to make a contribution to the world through learning and scholarship. In prison, where being a high school dropout is the norm, Sara has earned a junior college degree and is on her way to being one of the few to receive a four-year college degree while behind bars. She is a thoughtful, caring, articulate person who was named "Woman of the Year" by the correctional officers of the Chowchilla facility.
As Mahatma Gandhi observed, "When your cause is just, people will come from out of nowhere to help you," and so it has been with Sara. All over the state, groups have formed to fight for Sara's freedom.
Shortly after her original conviction, the law was changed to mandate shorter prison terms for those who commit crimes while attempting to leave an abusive relationship. Had Sara been tried under the current law, she would long since have been released from prison.
In late 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted her sentence to 25 years to life, to allow her to be one day eligible for parole. But that still leaves Sara with long years in jail before she is eligible for freedom.
Gov. Jerry Brown's father, Gov. Edmund Brown, was faced with a similar choice with a death row convict who had clearly rehabilitated himself, Caryl Chessman. The case resulted in international publicity and appeals by Albert Schweitzer, Billy Graham, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Robert Frost. The senior Brown sent Chessman to the San Quentin gas chamber in 1960, fearing backlash from voters who demanded harsh punishment, even though historians believe that Brown personally wished he could commute Chessman's sentence.
But today's Gov. Jerry Brown faces no such dilemma. Nowhere in the state in these hard times are any taxpayers clamoring to spend $47,000 a year to keep Sara behind bars. And no one would fault him for pardoning someone who was far more a victim than a victimizer, and who poses no threat to anyone.
And the U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled that the California prison system must reduce its horribly overcrowded prison population by thousands. If anyone is to be released early, should not Sara be first?
No matter in what light one views her long-ago offense, Sara has paid her debt to society, and long since proved that she is worthy of returning to freedom, to live, to love, to have a family, to make a contribution, and to do all of the things that those of us living in freedom take for granted.
We call on Gov. Brown to pardon Sara Kruzan, harkening to the words of Shakespeare:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and (she) who takes.

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