I am Bresha Meadows, are you?

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Bresha Meadows killed her father in July of 2016, she was only 14 and she shot him with his own gun. The family of the man who was her father claims something is wrong with Bresha, and that her father had never harmed her or her family. I know he hurt her and her family, because I am Bresha. Growing up, I knew so many girls who are Bresha as well, we just did not value ourselves enough to take the necessary action to be free—we just went silent and our abusers went on to harm others. Bresha. Dear sweet Bresha. I believe you and telling would have never been enough, because our society does not value or believe children, especially little brown girls who whisper the truth when their fathers and/or mothers become their living nightmares.

My memory is my blessing and my curse. It is why I write dialogue so well, because memory will not free me. At age eight, I lost my tears in the middle of a beating, as my mother straddled me while several cousins and my siblings watched, including my stepsister.  My mother beat and slapped and punched me. I cried, “You hurtin’, me.” She did not hear me, because with each slap and punch and force of her body against my tiny frame on the floor beneath her she spat out words, “I can’t stand ya. You jus’ ain’t no good.” The crime? I had come home late with my stepsister from a puppet show at the library and made us late for church at the, “House of God, The Holy Church of the Living God”. Monique, my stepsister, was not to blame because it was I who had wanted to go see the show.

-“Ma, You hurtin’ me,” I screamed louder and felt tears slip inside my ears and down my neck.
-She stopped, “What? Whatchu say?”
-I struggled to lift my head and catch my breath, “You hurtin’ me Ma. It really hurt.”
-“It ‘sposed ta hurt,” she said.” Whatchu think?” Then laughter.

That beating has never ended. I feel it and the humiliation and shame right at this moment, because I saw her. I floated out and up and looked down on the little girl called “Cookie” and the woman named Claudia we called, “Ma”, and I watched my body go limp and all the fight and feeling leave me. I saw the pleasure in her eyes with each smack, punch and verbal insult. I came back inside of me as she pushed herself off of my body; I rolled over onto my stomach and pushed myself up. I straightened my church Whites—it had to be summer because we wore all white, or light blue or purple and white in the summer months for church—and walked to the bathroom. I threw-up in the toilet, bleached it as I had learned and then washed my face. I looked at myself and I was no longer a child that could feel. I whispered to the mirror, “She like it. She like it when I cry. I won’t cry. I won’t cry no mo’.” For 10 years I kept this promise, but I suffered.

At age nine almost 10, I started plotting to kill my mother and my stepfather, Warren Stanley Bouknight, Sr. It started when Claudia told me during a beating in which she could not make me cry or flinch or even blink. “If yo own mutha don’t love ya,” spittle hit my face as she stood close enough for me to smell her breath—the scent of coffee, poverty and hatred—she said, “No one will eva love ya. ‘N I don’t love ya.” She poked my chest with her forefinger as she finished and I stood motionless. I remember thinking that it would never get any better. Then my school assigned The Tell Tale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe, (they made the “gifted” children read bizarre things and watch films like, “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich”), and an idea began to form in my nine almost 10 year old brain. It festered.

One morning just before school, Marty, my older brother, by 11 months and 11 days (his birthday is 1/1/1969 and I am 12/12/ 1969), and I were poking fun at our neighbor Dee. We had been dancing and singing before we left for school; we were alone and felt free. Dee came over and told us to be quiet and she did not speak like any Black person we had ever met. After she left I sat down on the living room floor to put on my tights and Marty stood behind the beads that separated the hall from the living room that led to the front door. I was imitating Dee and he was cracking up. I barely had my tights up and standing when I noticed he and his belly had stopped moving and laughing. Then I saw Warren’s shadow. I froze. He pushed passed Marty and I remember the sound of the plastic beads clicking as he approached and removed his belt.

The belt was wide, leather and fastened with three metal prongs. Immediately, I put my left arm up to my face—I hated having bruising on my face, because it meant no school. I had not put on my sweater and so my arms were bare. He used the metal part of the belt and with each whip my skin was caught and ripped. I did not cry. I did not flinch. All I did was hold my breath and protect my face. I remember when he finished he went to the bedroom and I put on the rest of my clothes. I dialed zero for the operator and when she answered I hung up.

I was not angry at the beating as much as I was that he did it before school. We never got beatings before school. I was rattled. When Marty and I got to the bus stop our sister Sha Vette, the eldest, was still there as her bus was late and I lied and said, “Warren beat me ‘n I called tha operator ‘n tha police gonna come.” Then her bus arrived and she just stared at me like I was really crazy. There is so much more to this story, (“What Happens When You Tell” future blog), but in the end that night I decided to kill my mother and stepfather. I was not quite ten and I had watched my mother beat my brother Marty bloody. I had tasted my own blood pouring from my lips that met her fist and the back of her hands one too many times. I had watched Warren beat Marty and my mother. I had watched this man trap my mother standing in the bathtub and punch her head over and over against the tile, until blood spurted from her eyes, ears and nose. At age almost 10 the Tell Tale Heart spoke to me.

Here was the plan: I would slip into my mother and Warren’s bedroom after everyone was asleep, and stab them. Then I would drag them to the bathtub and cut up their bodies and set the house on fire. Just before the apartment burned down I would wake my siblings and we would get out. I had even thought about taking the knife with me and burying it before I set the house on fire and washing my hands clean. I was absolutely done. No one could save us as, no one cared. I was just a little brown girl who showed up to school and day camp often in long sleeved shirts on hot days and at times had what looked like bags under my eyes. I told once and only once during that time period and it did not end well for me—that is another longer story.

What stopped me? My mother used to always say, “You ‘n Marty keep not actin’ right n’ Ima put bof y’all away.” It was always Cookie and Marty, never Sha Vette and/or Duke (the youngest) or Monique. We didn’t know what “put away,” meant, but it sounded really bad. I took a steak knife from the drawer, tipped toed to the door of their room and this thought hit me, “If I turn tha knob they gonna hear me ‘n I’m gonna have ta kill ‘em bof. If I don’t they gonna put me away.” So, I tipped toed back to my bed. I slipped the knife under my pillow and had this thought, “If he come botha me tonight Ima kill him.” He did not come, but I am still Bresha Meadows. I just never knew me and my family mattered enough to take care of what the community should have done long before thoughts of murdering my mother and stepfather entered my little girl brain from too much trauma.

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On January 19, 2017, the day before Bresha’s hearing for a bond consideration to get her out of the juvenile detention facility where she has been held since July of 2016 (“put away”), it was reported that, “Jonathan Meadows’ sister, Lena Cooper, became incensed at the possible move. ‘My niece needs help,’ she said.” ‘She shouldn’t be out walking around. I love her. But there is something wrong here. A child doesn’t just shoot her father. She has psychological problems.’” I wish I could have been there to look Lena Cooper in the face and say, “You’re damn right something is wrong and now he is gone. Had you done your job she would have far fewer psychological problems all of which have been inflicted by your brother. Why didn’t you get him help? Why didn’t you help Bresha?”

Bresha has been transferred to a treatment facility where she will have more freedom and this is what she told her mother’s sister when she found out, “I’ll be able to walk around outside. I’ll be able to lay in the grass.” Our “justice system” locked her up because she chose to survive and now all she craves is to be able to touch the grass knowing that she could be sent back for the next six years. This is the Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline right before our eyes and a little girl is asking for treatment not jail, because in the end her choice was freedom to live.

To this day, Claudia Anne Lowe Friend (aka Ma) will tell all who will listen that I am crazy. What she fails to acknowledge is that it started with the abuse and that she too is mentally ill. I wonder if Claudia is Bresha Meadows as well.

Asé
Taylar Nuevelle
Survivor, “By Grace there go I”

 

 

In Response to the Washington Post Article: In D.C., it’s about to be a crime for offenders to tamper with GPS tracking devices

Washington Post Article: In D.C., it’s about the be a crime for offenders to tamper with GPS tracking devices

I wrote this letter below last year and presented it in a live testimony to the DC City Council when Bowser tried to add the GPS “tampering” to her policing bill.  Although I was working for and representing University Legal Services (ULS) at the time, these are my words and my position has not changed. And I am appalled at the Council that they supported this emergency bill.

October 21, 2015
Council Member Kenyan R. McDuffie, Chairperson
Committee on the Judiciary
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Council Member McDuffie:

Thank you for giving University Legal Services (ULS) the opportunity to testify today in regards to the various proposed Bills regarding making our City a safer place.

I am Taylar Nuevelle, and I spent four and half years in custody—First at CCA/CTF while I awaited sentencing and then I was shipped to a Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia and then transferred to a higher security prison in West Virginia. I also am a survivor of severe trauma and struggle with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I now work for University Legal Service (ULS), with their Jail and Prison Advocacy Project. ULS is a Protection and Advocacy Organization that works with individuals with mental health, intellectual disabilities and co-occurring substance abuse issues. JPAP specifically works with individuals releasing from the Jail, Prisons and Halfway houses in DC who struggle with severe and persistent mental health issues.

The Mayor’s proposed Public Safety and Criminal Code Revisions Amendment Act of 2015 will negatively impact returning citizens and this is a gross violation of individual rights and a complete waste of the city’s resources. We completely reject the mayor’s bill and its police state approach. While others will testify in detail about all aspects of the bill, I will highlight a couple of the bill’s problems that are of particular concern to our clients, who have serious and persistent mental illness, co-occurring substance use disorders and intellectual disabilities.

Title II of the mayor’s bill would allow a 72-hour hold for violating a stay away or tampering with a GPS device. I want to address the GPS device. DC has the most antiquated GPS devices and they are often faulty. This is not like charging a cell phone, because a cell phone is not physically attached to your leg.

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This attachment that I have here with me today is what the device in the picture is attached to and is charged at night. The Mayor’s proposal to incarcerate citizens on release with the GPS tracker if they “tamper” with the device is tragically flawed. There were times when I thought I had charged the device and then it would begin to vibrate while I was out and send a signal to the agency that my device was low. However, I was unaware that it had failed to charge in the night. Imagine someone who is not as capable as I am. Someone with complex mental health issues or cognitive disabilities will struggle with this device. Many of our clients have trouble remembering to take their medication, not because they are non compliant, but because of their mental and developmental disabilities.

Yet, the Mayor wants to swoop in, arrest them for up to 72 hours for “tampering” with the device when there could be multiple reasons why the device is not charged, or sends wrong information about locations etc. While three days of incarceration may seem insignificant to someone with stable housing, a job and access to ongoing mental health, 72 hours of incarceration can ruin a returning citizen’s life. Three days could mean loss of employment and housing. Three days can mean serious deterioration in mental health because of lack of access to the proper medication. Let’s not forget that medications that are prescribed outside the jail are often not on the formulary and thus not available to those incarcerated—even for 72 hours.

Then there is Title III. This portion of the mayor’s bill would pay business owners and residents to place cameras everywhere. The people who are most likely to be affected are homeless people and as we know many of our returning citizens have no place to live. This portion of the proposed bill is a direct attack on homeless and/or people with mental illness. It is heartless and serves no purpose. All this will do is capture crimes of survival and the resources the mayor plans to dump into this project would be utilized much better through funding social service agencies instead of prosecution—which is just shy of persecution under this bill.

The Mayor and Chief Lanier continue to link the surge in violence in the city to returning citizens. These simplistic accusations paint all returning citizens with the same brush, casting us in a false light. When DC residents are released, 99% return home to our community with little more than a bus token, let alone the vital assistance they need. Instead of making such sweeping allegations, the Mayor and Chief Lanier would serve all DC residents by bridging the gap in services that come directly under the Mayor’s control: The Office on Returning Citizens Affairs (ORCA).

If the Mayor is truly committed to reducing recidivism, she must appoint new leadership at ORCA, develop an ambitious strategic plan, and commit sufficient resources to make the necessary changes. She must create an ORCA that will ultimately create opportunities for returning citizens to become emotionally, physically and financially whole and thus enable us to contribute positively to our families and communities.

Returning citizens need wrap-around services in place before they are released to the community –services that include housing, real employment training and job readiness opportunities and access to behavioral health services that address mental illness, trauma, and substance use issues. These needs are even more acute for DC’s citizens returning from far-flung federal prisons across the country, hundreds of miles from home and community resources they need to access.

We support a public health approach to violence prevention and intervention. ULS has been working to bring trauma informed practices to correctional settings and a step down unit to the jail. Returning citizens should leave the jail in better shape than when they entered, prepared to tackle the challenges of reentry. For that reason we also encourage DOC and the Council to end solitary confinement, particularly for individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Paraphrasing the late amazing Justice Marshall, “When a person walks through the prison gate they do not give up their most basic Constitutional Rights.” If we don’t give up our basic constitutional rights while in prison, then surely once free we have protection of the constitution to its fullest.

Thank you.

Taylar Nuevelle
Benefits Specialist
University Legal Services
Jail and Prison Advocacy Project