“We wanted color, never wanting to see prison gray again”
An apartment complex in San Francisco is now home to formerly incarcerated women who were released from prison after having killed their abusers.
HomeFree is a transitional housing reentry program started by Five Keys Schools and Programs, on the former Naval base of Treasure Island. The nonprofit organization provides education, vocational training, therapeutic programs and housing for newly released women.
“We are committed to making a vibrant, dignified and safe home, a place that says you’re worthy,” said Sunny Schwartz, the founder of Five Keys.
Five Keys also helps abused women retroactively introduce evidence of their abuse to state parole boards or to the courts.
Rosemary Dyer, 69, is one of the fortunate formerly incarcerated people who found housing at HomeFree after her release. It was thanks to the effort of Five Keys that Gov. Gavin Newsom commuted Dyer’s sentence in 2020.
In 1998, Dyer was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Dyer’s husband of eight years was the victim. He had abused and tortured her.
Dyer is a cancer survivor with congestive heart failure and now uses a wheelchair after injuring her hip. In an interview, she talked about why she now lived in such colorful surroundings.
“We wanted color, never wanting to see prison gray again.”
Brenda Clubine, an advocate for HomeFree, is a survivor of spousal abuse and was a former police detective. Clubine’s intense retelling of her story led to a prison group that got passed on to legislators and governors and then led to public hearings and a 2009 documentary “Sin by silence,” which motivated a change in California laws, according to the NY Times.
Clubine and Dyer continue a friendship they started at California Women’s Prison.
California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, a former member of the state Assembly, co-founded HomeFree. It was Ma’s legislation, signed by then Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012, that allowed women convicted of violent crimes to have their cases reheard.
The legislation allowed women who suffered past abuse by husbands to present the defense of battered Women’s Syndrome at trial. It also paved the way for evidence of “intimate partner battering” to be presented to the parole board. The law applies to cases before August 1996, according to the article.
“The exact number nationally of ‘Rosemary Dyers’ still in prison is unknown,” said Debbie Mukamal, the executive director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center at Stanford Law School. The number is estimated to be at least 12,000.
A 1999 report by the U.S. Department of Justice showed that a quarter to a third of imprisoned women had been abused as juveniles and a quarter to half of women had been abused as adults.
Colby Lenz survived abuse and said she was punished for it.
“By far the most common reason women who have been abused by intimate partners wind up in prison is the so-called accomplice laws, a victim is coerced into being at the scene of an abuser’s violence, driving the getaway car,” she said.
Tammy Cooper Garvin is an example of the accomplice laws. She was imprisoned for 28 years for being in a car while her pimp murdered a client, according to the Oct. 8, 2021 article. She is now a residential coordinator for HomeFree, after having her sentence commuted by the governor.