Tell Governor Newsom to Release Patricia Wright, A Blind Grandmother with Terminal Cancer
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Patricia Wright is a 68-year-old Black mother and grandmother and a survivor of domestic violence who is serving Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP). She has been incarcerated for 23 years and is currently at the California Institution for Women (CIW) where she lives in the “Honor Unit”. Patricia is battling a recurrence of Stage III ovarian cancer and is at extremely high risk for infection and death from Covid-19 as she undergoes chemotherapy. Her doctor says she has 6-12 months to live, even if she is not infected by Covid-19. We call on Governor Newsom to show mercy and compassion to Patricia by granting her request for commutation and immediate release, allowing her to spend her remaining months with her loving family.
Patricia’s conviction is evidence of a broken criminal justice system that punishes rather than serves survivors of violence and abuse. Patricia survived emotional, verbal, and physical abuse by her husband over the course of their marriage. In 1979, he shot her while she was three months pregnant. She later lost the baby. Her husband was killed in 1981 after Patricia told her father and a family friend about the ongoing abuse. Patricia was not charged with the murder until 16 years later, and only because her own brother was angry with her and decided to tell police she confessed to the crime -- a claim he later recanted. The family friend, Lawrence Slaughter, confessed to the murder and was also convicted. He later recanted his original claim that Patricia was involved. There were no eyewitnesses and no forensic evidence that implicated her. To add to the travesty of Patricia’s conviction, her commutation and release are made more difficult because of two prior felony convictions: one for the theft of bath towels and the other for two toy cars from a model home while she was trying to survive homelessness with her children in 1989. Under today’s law, these charges would be misdemeanors. Under state law, Patricia’s prior felonies mean that her commutation request requires additional review. We urge Governor Newsom to expedite the review of Patricia’s application to ensure that she has a chance to be reviewed for compassionate release.
Although Patricia has already survived multiple bouts of brain, breast, and ovarian cancer while in prison, she is now facing a recurrence of ovarian cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy. Patricia is also legally blind and suffers from asthma, chronic kidney disease, and other serious ailments. She uses a walker or wheelchair to get around the prison. Patricia’s doctor believes she has six to twelve months or less to live, and acknowledges that as long as she is being treated in prison, the chemotherapy necessary to prolong her life also puts her at higher risk for infection and death from Covid-19. In addition, visiting restrictions related to the ongoing pandemic mean that her family cannot visit her at all during what might be the last months of her life.
Patricia is a warm and positive person. While in prison, she has maintained a near perfect disciplinary record and has participated in numerous self-help and wellness groups including mindfulness, restorative justice, and healing from trauma. Patricia has spent a third of her life in prison, and she wishes not to die there.
We urge Governor Newsom to commute Patricia’s sentence to time served and grant her immediate release in order to protect her from extreme vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic. Patricia has the full support of her sisters, five children, and many grandchildren. As Patricia’s sister, I humbly ask that you join me, my family, and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners in supporting Patricia so that she may spend her remaining time on Earth with dignity and surrounded by her loving family.
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