Public demonstrations by New Hampshire NOW activists, including Seacoast NOW President Kris Moody, left, and attorney Susannah Colt, center, helped domestic violence survivor June Briand get an early release from prison. Photo by Beth Corbin.
by Kris Moody,
President, New Hampshire Seacoast NOW
With the support of Seacoast and New Hampshire NOW activists, a woman imprisoned since 1987 for the second-degree murder of her abusive husband received a conditional pardon in December. June Briand enters a halfway house in April to prepare for an early release from prison.
Following years of horrific abuse and in an effort to save her own life, Briand killed her husband, pled guilty and was sentenced to 15 years to life. The five-year reduction in the length of Briand's incarceration would most likely never have taken place had it not been for the grassroots organizing by NOW activists.
At 14, June Briand married a much older man to escape her own abusive family. They divorced, and she married a second time thinking she had found a protector -- only to be brutalized yet again. Without access to adequate domestic violence resources in her community, alone and fearing for her life, Briand killed her abusive husband.
In her 10 years of incarceration, Briand has evolved from a frightened 23-year-old woman unable to look you in the eye to an advocate for women within the prison system and for battered women everywhere.
June Briand didn't give up. She took advantage of the resources available to her and lobbied prison officials for more. She not only completed her high school education, but also went on to receive -- with honors -- an associate degree in business. Briand is an empowered woman NOW activists recognized would be a contributor to society. So they became committed to her plight.
The Seacoast chapter and other chapters in the state formed a network to assist Briand. Chapter and state members wrote to her, visited, spoke out for her and looked for all possible ways to help. They also helped to set up a bank account for her use when she is released from prison.
When Briand had a sentence reduction hearing in 1994 before her sentencing judge, Seacoast NOW was there -- testifying on her behalf and attempting to educate the judge about domestic violence. However, even with the testimony of a new eyewitness to the abuse Briand had experienced, the sentence reduction was denied. It became clear that her only hope for early release was by a pardon from the state's very conservative governor.
Activists persevered, circulating petitions, collecting postcards and enduring negative or pessimistic reactions. Just getting a signature on a petition sometimes entailed lengthy conversations about Briand and Battered Women's Syndrome.
Near the end of the struggle, with no legal representation, Briand and Seacoast NOW embarked on a search for an attorney who believed in Briand's cause and who would represent her pro bono. When Portsmouth attorney Susannah Colt decided she would help Briand, the chapter issued a great sigh of relief.
Seacoast NOW worked very closely with Colt and her legal intern, Kim Weibrecht. Chapter activists conducted massive mailings and reached out to potential supporters. Supporters set up a Web site and contacted the media.
June Briand won the support of domestic violence agencies, community and church leaders, prisoner advocates and elected officials, including the mayor of Portsmouth, where she hopes to live.
Dozens of NOW supporters turned out for the executive council meeting that would determine whether Briand would have a pardon hearing. A month later the hearing took place. A small hearing room was filled to capacity with news crews, supporters and spill-over spectators anxious to hear the hours of testimony. No decision was rendered at the close of the meeting.
Several weeks later, then-governor Merrill announced a spontaneous meeting of the executive council. Again the room was filled with press and NOW activists as the word was finally spoken: "pardoned."
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