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The story of the battle to free Debbie Peagler, an incarcerated survivor of brutal domestic violence. Over 26 years in prison cannot crush the spirit of this determined African-American woman, despite the injustices she has experienced, first at the hands of a duplicitous boyfriend who beat her and forced her into prostitution, and later by prosecutors who cornered her into a life behind bars for her connection to the murder of her abuser. Her story takes an unexpected turn two decades later when a pair of rookie land-use attorneys cut their teeth on her case -- and attract global attention to the troubled intersection of domestic violence and criminal justice. Written by
Greetings again from the darkness. 80% of women in US prisons are survivors of domestic violence, rape and/or abuse. This statistic is crucial to understanding not just the story in this documentary, but moreso, the underlying issue that is screaming for attention. Wrongful incarcerations have a disproportionate impact on poverty-stricken families and communities.
This film focuses on the story of Deborath Peagler. Her charismatic, drug-dealing boyfriend violently abused her, forced her into prostitution and abused her daughters. At her mother's suggestion, she asked a couple of crips' gang members to convince her boyfriend to leave her alone. The convincing got out of hand and Deborah was arrested.
The Los Angeles District Attorney office threatened Deborah with the death penalty if she didn't confess to planning the murder. See, there was a $17,000 life insurance on her boyfriend and they were sure they could pin a murder-for-profit scheme on her. Deborah believed the DA and chose not to die. Her confession got her a 25 year to life sentence. This was 1983.
While in prison, Deborah earned two associates degrees, held a top prison job and was a social leader amongst the women prisoners. A model prisoner by any standard. In 2002, California passed a law allowing courts to reconsider decisions when evidence of physical abuse had been withheld from the original trial. Enter two young pro-bono attorneys, Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa.
I won't go into detail with all of the corruption and cover-up and injustice that occurred over those next 7 years, but clearly it is a disheartening story that sheds light on the downside of a political office being responsible for justice. The Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve Cooley, is exposed for his power hungry ways and need to avoid scandal regarding poor law work from his office.
The film is both inspirational and motivational. Witnessing the spirit of Deborah Peagler over the years gives you hope for humanity, while also acting as expose' on a system that has many problems.
Look, I am no bleeding-heart liberal, but I do recognize injustice when it slaps me upside the head. I firmly believe justice is compromised given the politicized system we now have. District Attorneys campaign based on their conviction rate ... their ability to be tough on crime. Is it possible that corners are cut and poor judgement supersedes compassion and doing what's right - all for the sake of a high conviction rate?
After the film, there was a panel discussion that included attorney Alan Bean from friendsofjustice.net and Reverand Gerald Britt from CitySquare (CitySq.org). Both of these men, and their many associates are fighting daily for JUSTICE over procedure. I am not pushing any agenda or any specific organization, but I do believe more conversation and insight is needed to ensure our Justice system is actually providing justice, and not just a system to serve those running for office.
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