Intangibles! They can’t be held in your hand but can be felt deeply in your heart. Gratitude is one of my daily reflections. I have learned to lean into life instead of letting life lean into me and I am so very grateful for my awakening towards the spoken and unspoken vessels. All of the various challenges and trying traumas along with spectacular splendors and precious prosperities, with each I get to share with my friend Tamara. I have a gratitude for our friendship that will live with me always! Thank you for a platform to convey one of the many things that I am grateful for.
I Killed the Man who Tried to Kill my Unborn Child and then sexually assaulted me.
I am a mother. A survivor of domestic violence. I am a renowned international artist. And along with countless others I’m serving life without parole because of Michigan’s inhumane sentencing laws.
The story of how I got here is deeply painful. Years ago, I was married to a man who was mercilessly verbally and mentally abusive to me and my children. I wanted to press through the anguish to keep our family together, but then, his behavior escalated. When the unthinkable happened, I had no choice but to leave to protect our child.
A year later, I had moved on and was 30 weeks pregnant with another man’s child. My estranged husband was enraged and in a volatile verbal exchange he stabbed me in my stomach and proceeded to rape me. During this altercation we fought and as a result his death ensued. I never intended to kill him. Initially, I was unaware of his passing due to the emergency premature birth of my child and the nature of my own injuries.
After two trials, first ending in a mistrial due to a conflicted verdict, then, proceeded a second trial of vastly altered testimony, contradictory witnesses and denial of defense witnesses I was found guilty of 1st degree murder, and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In prison, I have learned to heal my pain and manage conflict. I have come to address my dysfunctional thinking that aided in my poor choices that lead to that dreadful day. I also now understand how important communicating my needs are and found I am worthy of speaking my truth. I could not do that before because I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe in myself because I didn’t understand myself but now, I do. I have done everything allowable to be better than who I entered prison as. It is my merciful plea, in which, I request an opportunity to return to society. In hopes to show my transformation as a successful accomplished commissioned artist, mother and daughter.
Michigan’s criminal justice is incredibly abusive. By law, judges are required to hand out extreme sentences for certain crimes. And there is no chance to reconsider and change those sentences over time. As a result, one in seven incarcerated people in the state is serving a life sentence. Many of these people are fellow mothers and survivors.
A large number of incarcerated people are paying for mistakes made at an incredibly young age. Indeed, roughly 40 percent of incarcerated Michiganders were under 26 years old at the time of their offense. That’s despite an abundance of research that shows the human brain is not fully developed until age 25. Our prisons are also full of older people who bear no risk to public safety. Indeed, nearly four in ten of the people serving life in Michigan are 55 or older – one of the highest rates in the entire country.
State legislators need to give people — many whom have experienced unthinkable trauma — a chance at the freedom and healing we deserve as human beings. Fortunately, some lawmakers, like Senators Irwin, Chang and Geiss have advocated for “Second Look” legislation. Second Look allows the courts to reevaluate incarcerated people’s sentences after they have served a certain amount of time in prison, providing an opportunity for another chance. It’s gaining momentum nationwide. Michigan should be next in line.
Let me be clear: our criminal justice system is anything but just. I had to endure and try to comprehend a system that did not allow me to share the entirety of my story, let alone present any evidence of the abuse I survived. I was a mother with postpartum depression attempting to work through frustration, fear and crushing emotions to fight against my assumed guilt. Put simple, that is not what justice looks like. Like so many others, I was railroaded by a broken antiquated criminal justice system that should be helping people such as myself.
In prison, I have found my purpose in creating an unusual kind of art. I take materials most view as insignificant, useless, and discarded and transform them into unique forms of beauty. For me, the practice is deeply spiritual and symbolic. Just as these supposedly insignificant, useless, and discarded materials can be shaped into something beautiful, so too should incarcerated people have a chance to reform their lives.
We can’t afford to be complacent about outdated harmful sentencing laws. We’re simply asking for dignity and humanity. Give us a second chance.
Prior to prison I never had any negative interaction with law enforcement. I was a positive light in my community just as I strive for barbwire. I volunteer, mentor many of the youth, and assist the elderly as much as I can. Pre-covid I facilitated communication, conflict resolution and mediation groups. I do my best to be available to anyone in need. I believe these are positive attributes that will yield even greater if given the opportunity.
Susan Brown is an artist and had been incarcerated at Women’s Huron Valley Facility since 2003. More about Susan and her work can be found by visiting: