Season Four, Episode 04 – A White Noise In Your Head, Part II

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KIM DADOU BROWN: He used to beat my ass if I did not do what he wanted me to do. If I took the same route. home every night, he would say that I was too predictable and that would start him on a tangent. If I made chicken three times that week, because that’s what we had left in the refrigerator, he would go on a tangent.

If he seen a prostitute standing on Lyle Avenue, which is a known hoe stroll in Rochester, all respect to whores though, I have to tell you them girls out there work hard for their money. Okay. All respect to them. It’s a dangerous job. I’m sorry that they have to do it. If he’s seen a whore on Lyle Avenue, he would say, “Oh, bitches ain’t shit.” And I’m like, “Oh, here we go.” I would think in my head, and he would say, “You ain’t shit either. You know what? My mama wasn’t shit either.”

To tell you a little backstory, I didn’t know this until later. I heard the rumor, but I didn’t know it was confirmed. Darnell’s mom was cheating with a married man when she got pregnant with Darnell. So Darnell’s dad, his name was Alfred. Alfred was cheating on his wife with Darnell’s mom. Okay. So here comes Darnell. 

So now Alfred is going to leave his wife to be with Darnell’s mom. She shot and killed him – and never did a day, never did a day in jail. So his dad died at the hands of his wife. That was jarring to me. I don’t know if they deemed it self defense. I don’t know if she was drunk, but I know that I met her. When I was with Darnell, she was a total drunk. Inebriated at 7 in the morning, 4 in the morning, 1 in the morning, 9pm, 5pm, didn’t matter.

And Darnell said that she couldn’t live with what she did, so she’s trying to kill herself with booze. And everybody knows she’s an alcoholic. I don’t remember her name, but I remember meeting her. And I asked him if it was hard for him to be around her because she killed his dad. And he always wanted his dad. You could tell he looked very much up to his dad the short time that he had him. He said it was hard to be around her, but she’s paying her own price. So he was okay with it. Probably not okay with it, but he dealt with it like that. He said, “Look at her. She’s a mess.”

I actually stayed home that night. My mom went to work. She worked nights. She came home from work at 7:30 in the morning. It seemed like just seconds later, there was knocking at the door. And we don’t usually use the front door in the wintertime, just the side door. But they were at the front door. So I went to the front door, and I was like, “Can I help you?” And they introduced themselves as detectives. And they were like, “Can you come outside? We just want to ask you a couple questions about your car.” I was like,” okay, sure.”

I go outside and all I had on was ski pants and a t- shirt, snow boots, no socks, no underwear, no bra, nothing, nothing. I went outside and they were like,”We just need you to go with us to identify the car that your boyfriend died in.” Because I had my car, he had his car, and then we had the 5th Avenue together, which is the one he had the accident in. I was like, well, let me go back inside. They were like, “No, no, no, no, no, no need to go back inside. Just come with us and we’ll bring you right back”. And I’m like,” But my sister is here alone. II can’t leave her alone. My mom is gone. They were like,”No, no, no.” It seemed like they knew all this. 

They put me in the back of the car with the detectives. We start driving towards downtown. And I’m like, “Where are we going?”  And they’re like,”Oh, you can cut the act. We know you did it.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” And they’re like, “We know you killed him. When his body thawed out, we found the bullet holes.” They’re being all graphic and mean and I’m like “What the fuck? What is going on?”  And now I’m crying. As soon as I say his name I start crying and I can’t believe he died in a car.

So this is just crazy after the fight we had, and not one time did I think I should have called the police, not one time did I think I should tell him we had a fight and there was a gun involved, not one time because we’ve been fighting like this for years. This was our norm, not me grabbing the gun and it going off, but just our fighting was our norm at that level. So I didn’t even think about it.

They had not arrested me. They had not told me I was under arrest. They had not read me my rights, nothing, nothing. They get me downtown. I’m hysterical crying because I’m scared. I wasn’t scared because I thought I had hurt him. I was just scared. I didn’t know what Darnell had done or if he had done something or because he had some kind of not legal dealings and stuff.

I wasn’t even scared about that. I never was. And I think now hindsight, I think that was crazy. I should have been thinking about that, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t even thinking about that because it was his gun. It was illegal. He didn’t have a gun permit. I’m still protecting him. I didn’t want him to get in trouble.

They start interrogating me. They’re doing good cop, bad cop. “We know you did it. We know you did it.” Badgering me, badgering me, badgering me. This went on for like, I don’t know, probably eight or nine hours. They were writing everything down. They were writing stuff as I was saying it. They were typing on it like a regular typewriter. This was in 1991. Computers weren’t as prevalent as they are today. 

And then the detective, I think his name was Griffith, he came in and he was like the good cop and he was like,”Llisten, we know about him beating you. We know about all the police reports”. And I’m like, “You do?”  I’m like, “I had him arrested five times.”

I went to the hospital, I have hospital records. I have a record at the local battered women’s shelter. I have proof. Everybody knows of the abuse that’s been going on. And then I started telling him about the past four and a half years and his alcoholism and his drinking and his drug use and his view on women.

I felt like they were listening. I felt like, you know, they were like, tell us what happened. My hand to God, this is what they said to me. “You will never do a day. There isn’t a judge that will convict you. We know he beats you. We know about the beatings. We’ve seen the police reports.” You know, does it matter at this point?

I hadn’t been charged with anything. This is probably like eight or nine hours in. Then they had me out in this office area with a whole bunch of desks and I was sitting at a desk and they just left me sitting there. And that’s when I heard my sister and my mom’s voice coming from a room just off the room I was in.

I said,”Is that my sister?” And they were like,”Tell us what we want to know. We know one of you did it. What happened? He was beating you and she came in to save you. She shot him in your defense. One of you shot him. One of the two of you did it. One of you isn’t going home today.”

My sister is 15 years old and nine months pregnant. And I did not want her implicated in anything. And so I said, “Let her go.” They never read me my rights even up until this point. And I had been there with them under their control for like nine hours. They took my shoes. They claimed later that I was still free to go. And my lawyer argued in court, how was my client free to go on December 18th in Rochester after a snowstorm with no shoes and no jacket. They were like, “Yeah, well she was free to go at any time”. No, because they’re interrogating me and they have me locked in a room. I was locked in the room. I tried the door handle. I could not get out of that room. I said,” I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”

They went and got a typewriter and a pen and a stack of paper and they came in and they took my eight page statement. And in my eight page statement, I explained to them the fight from Thanksgiving leading all the way up to the night of the incident and what has happened since. In showing me the pictures of the car that they wanted me to identify, they accidentally, wink wink, threw in pictures of him dead for that jarring effect. Pictures of him dead in the snow, pictures of him dead in the morgue. And in combination with them saying they were going to blame my sister, then I realized that he was really dead and that he wasn’t, like, playing a joke on me and this was real. Even though I still had moments after that where I really didn’t even think he was dead because he was larger than life to me.

I never thought that he could be gone for me to be safe. They didn’t offer me a counselor or, uh, a social worker of any kind or any kind. They offered me nothing. They wanted a confession and that was it. So I gave him a confession. I only gave him a confession because I thought that telling them the truth would clear me and my sister of any wrongdoing. I gave him the eight page statement just recapping everything, all our fights, everything, the abuse, the hospital records, the police reports, the battered women’s shelter records.

Any witnesses I thought could corroborate my statements. He got all done taking the statement and they read it back to me. And then I was like, “No, that’s not right”. And he was like, “oh, okay, put your initial next to it.”  And then it would be another statement. “Oh, that’s not right”. And he would say, “Okay, initial it.” But in the end, he put it as though those statements were true because my initials were next to them. So that’s how my statement is not accurate. So just because I gave them an 8 page statement does not mean that it’s accurate because it wasn’t. Later on in court, they’re like, “But you initialed it.”  And I’m like, “I initialed it because it was incorrect.” We were making corrections. Because I think I’m doing something good telling them about all this abuse and all they’re doing is building their case against me. And when we get all done the guy is like, “So what are we going to do with her?” And I thought that meant they were going to let me go home. Right? And he was like “Fuck her, book her with murder in the second.” Those were his words. Just like that. And I’m like, “What does this mean? Wait a minute, what’s happening?”  And that’s when the female officers came in. They did a strip frisk. I’m just bawling. This is midnight. I’ve been there since 8:30 that morning.

After the strip frisk, they let me make a phone call. After I’ve been charged with murder. Actually, they let me make five phone calls. Might have been more. I called my mom. I called my aunt Martha, who’s a lawyer. She was like a real estate lawyer, but she was always the family’s lawyer. I called my boss, told her I was in some trouble, and she said she saw it on the news. And I said, “If I get out of this, do you think that I’ll still have my job?” She said,” Kim, I don’t think that this would be a good look for our company.” So my job was gone. I called Darnell’s mom. I called his mom, “I’m sorry, please forgive me. You know what was happening.”. And she said, because of her religion, she has to forgive me. And basically that was it. She didn’t say much more. That was the last time I ever talked to her.

PRODUCER: Did you have a good relationship? 

KIM DADOU BROWN: Yeah, I had a very good relationship. Like, my pictures were in their family photo albums. I was very close with his family. His family knew about the abuse. His brother Luther abused his wife, Cheryl. Yeah, it wasn’t like, boasted about it, family get togethers, but everybody knew what everybody did. Everybody knew. It was just common knowledge. The ignorant statements of, “Well, you know, that’s just how he is.”  Or “That’s how his father was.” I wanted to tell Ms. Turner, his mom, that I was sorry. They knew what was going on. She had told me before, “Baby, just pray.” I said, “What do I do when he’s jumping on me?”

And she said, “Baby, just pray, just pray. God will work it out. Just pray.” Look how God worked it out. Be careful what you pray for. I prayed for him to stop hurting me. I didn’t pray to kill him and go to prison for 17 years.

Back then there were newspapers, right? It came out in the newspaper the next day. My mom was mortified. The news showed her house. It was horrible for my mom. It was horrible for my family. I know Darnell’s family was grieving and everything. I get it. I get it. But I feel for what my family went through. I took them through hell.

The stuff that mattered to my mom, you know, like the neighbors talking and the people whispering behind her back at work and her having to show her face. The more people I called and told what was going on, the more weight I felt. The more I realized I wasn’t going home. What just happened to my whole life?

Because I have a dog, I have a job, I have my mom and my sisters, I have friends, I had Darnell, I had my relationship. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the fact that he was gone yet. I think it wasn’t until months later, I would stand and look out the windows in the jail and think I see his car. I’m like,”Is he playing a joke on me? Is he pretending to be dead? Is he really not dead?” Like, I was So broken, I couldn’t even wrap my mind around things.

Then we make the phone calls. They charge me with murder. They take me to a holding cell and the next morning I’m arraigned. I plead not guilty in front of Judge Johnson, a black woman. Did I shoot him? Yes, I did. But no one was listening to me. No one was listening to me. No one was listening to me as to why no one would listen to me. And so, no, I would not plead guilty. A couple months after I was in, they offered me a plea of 8 ⅓ to  25. I said, that’s not a plea, that’s a sentence. I’m not pleading guilty to manslaughter. Again, I had him arrested. I have a battered women’s shelter report. No one is listening to me. This can’t be right. And so I would not plead guilty and I would not take a plea.

Now I’m getting a crash course in the criminal justice system and how it works and how corrupt it is and how it’s all about the backroom meetings. The meetings at the bench that you’re not invited to, the lawyers getting together that you know nothing about, the DA doesn’t care, they get paid regardless.

And at that point, I wasn’t out on bail yet, and my thinking was, my public defender gets paid by the same people the DA gets paid by. He doesn’t give a fuck about me, so why am I trying so hard? I need to be focusing on just living, just breathing and just breathing was painful and hard. I did not know what was really happening.I had no way to wrap my mind around this trauma that was happening. I was simply in survival mode. That’s all it was.

I got arrested on December 17th. It’s funny. I remember those dates. So clear. I got out on bail June 15. They didn’t even want to give me bail. Of course, the DA high balled and my lawyer low balled because I had no money I could get to being in jail. I called my mom and I was like, “My bail is $15,000. We got it down to $15,000. Can you bail me out?”  My mother was very, very Catholic, very old school. She kind of checked off the Ten Commandments. And she was like, “Well, you broke another one.”  She said to me, I hate speaking ill of my mother and she’s not here. But she said to me, um,”If it was one of your other sisters, I would bail them out, but I think you will run.”  She said, “You’re my strong one. I think you would run.” And so she didn’t bail me out, but I had some friends and my friends bailed me out. They gave me a $15,000 bail that Friday. My friend Margie said,” Kimmy, it’s after five o’clock on a Friday. Monday morning when the banks open, we’re there.”

I got a public defender, his name was Larry Kasparik. Again, Larry gets paid by the same people that the DA does, and Larry had too many people on his caseload and didn’t give a crap about me, and came at me like, we should plead you out. Do you want to go home when you’re in your 40s, or do you want to go home when you’re 50? Do you want to go home when you’re still young enough to have a family? Or do you want to go home when you’re 50? Because murder in the second is 25 to life, and I was 25 at that time. I’m looking at spending my life in prison. It didn’t scare me. Because I feel like the only thing anyone can do to me now that they haven’t done is kill me and I’m still here, and if I died, I wouldn’t be suffering. So I’m good with whatever happens. And I said, fuck it. I’ll fight. 

No, I did not think Larry was on my side. Larry would go on with his day, whether I existed or not. He didn’t give a crap. And I knew it. I knew he didn’t care about me. He didn’t come when he was supposed to.He was lame in the courtroom. I felt like he wasn’t sticking up for me. I felt like he wasn’t fighting for me at all. And of course, why would he? I’m just a name on his docket. He kept telling me, “Stop being a martyr for women. You don’t need to be a martyr for women.” He told me that. “Why do you want to do 25 years to be a martyr for women?”

I wasn’t even sure what that meant at the time. I just know that this is wrong, what he did to me. I’m saying that things happen sometimes because there’s extenuating circumstances. The law wants to be cut and dry, but human life and human nature in real life is never just cut and dry. There should never have been a trial.

Take me out of the situation. If you don’t like the way I look, I’m sorry I’m not an 82 pound frail looking little woman. I’m Greek. I got Greek hips and Greek thighs and I’m a big girl and I’m outspoken and my voice carries. And I have a big smile and a big presence. I know that and I purposefully toned down my own light a lot, but now I have to turn it up to bring awareness to the fact that the system is broken. We need to figure out how to have a good trial or not re traumatize these people with a trial. You’ve already been violated in the worst way. You’ve already had to fight for your life. Until it came to this one crescendo where you had to fight for your life like never before and then you’re prosecuted. After all that, then you’re prosecuted for it. 

So there should never have been a trial. They need to backpedal that and find a better way of dealing with women in these situations. Men in these situations, anyone in this situation, there should never have been a trial. Even if you’re found guilty, not guilty. There is no perfect trial. The system is not equipped to give me that luxury of a perfect trial.

My trial lasted a week. It was from, I believe, September 14th to September 21st. None of the evidence I had concerning the abuse was allowed at my trial. None of it. They said that it was self supporting evidence and it could not be entered in unless I took the stand, and my lawyer didn’t want me to take the stand and I didn’t know anybody.

Do you want to take the stand? I don’t know what good and what harm can it do? And he was like,”Well if you take the stand, they’re gonna perjure you.” They threatened to charge me with perjury at the grand jury and they threatened to charge me with adultery. My lawyer said that they were mad because they only charged me with the murder and they didn’t want to get to trial and it was guilty or not guilty of premeditated murder because I could have walked and they didn’t want that.

The state was going to bring an adultery charge against me because I was legally married to Eddie. At the time I was with Darnell, but I didn’t have anything to do with my husband, nothing at all. We had separate lives, and he just wouldn’t give me a divorce. It was against his religion. And at that time, I had a new lawyer.I had a private lawyer named Louis Pilato, who my friend Margie retained. I switched lawyers when I was home on bail. Larry didn’t even know I was out. I walked right into the public defender’s office, right up to his desk. “Hi, Larry”. He’s like, “When’d you get out?” I said, “Two days ago. I have a new lawyer. Could you please forward all my paperwork over to Louis Pilato?” And I gave him the office number and address and I walked out.

The courtroom is packed. My mom didn’t come. She couldn’t handle it. You know, she had Asperger’s, so there were things that mom couldn’t handle. We didn’t understand why. She couldn’t handle it. I stand up, they read the verdict and I looked at Lou and the bailiffs came over behind me, and the DA said, “We moved to pull her bail at this time, blah, blah, blah, flight risk, mandatory state time.”

These are words I remember. And the judge said her bail is exonerated at this time. And I was like, “What the fuck does that mean?” I don’t know. And then when the bailiffs came over and started putting the cuffs on me, I was like, “Lou, what is going on? What is going on?” 

They simply convicted me based on my eight page statement because I admitted everything. And they took that and ran with it without including the battered women’s shelter reports, the hospital records, the police reports, all that. What the fuck? I felt like my soul was being just snatched out of me and I’m watching it happen. It was almost like an outer body experience. It was so horribly surreal.

They put the cuffs on me and took me away. Lou came in, and he said, “You knew what you were gonna get when they said man one. We talked about the max, so let’s talk about that.” And I said, “So the max for man one is 8 ⅓ to  25. You think that’s what I’m gonna get?”  He was like, “Well I’m gonna try to low ball her.” And I was like, “Okay. 8 ⅓ to 25, get out when I’m 33, 34, I’ll still have some life left. All right” And that did not happen. 

They keep you in 24 hour, like mental health watch, suicide watch. So they had me in my street clothes for 24 hours, like, stockings, dress, heels, everything. And then they came in and gave me my county maroons and took me to the new jail where they had moved the women to. My life was over. Now I’m going to prison.

The time period between trial and prison is dealing with the loss of your life. It’s like you’ve died, but you’re still alive. Wrapping up loose ends. Bring me my income tax check so I can sign it and you can cash it. Bring me the title to my car and I’ll sign it over to you, you can sell it. Save the money for my commissary. Let me know when you can’t take care of my dog anymore so I can find him a home. Never seeing him again had to have been one of the hardest things. Having visits that are gut wrenchingly excruciating. Cutting people off. Letting people go. Go live your life. Don’t promise me you’re gonna write me every week. Don’t promise me you’re gonna be there. Just go live your life. Watching people cry. Because of you, crying through strip frisks, not because you’re being strip frisked, but because your soul just walked out of the visiting room. My mother’s tears were the worst, holding her hand across the visiting room table, having her look at you and say, “Why?”

That’s what the time between trial and sentencing is. Then your sentencing comes and you go to court and you get sentenced. Of course, I got sentenced to 8 ⅓  to 25. Lou came in and I’m like, “You’re going to go drive home in your Alfa Romeo. Shut the fuck up.” I was so angry.

And I was like, “You know what? I got eight and a third to twenty five. I think I should get at least eight thousand dollars back of the money Marge is giving you.” They took my bail money that they got back and just gave it right to the lawyer. Fifteen thousand cash. And he didn’t do shit. And later on, he said he didn’t have to do anything. The burden of proof was on the prosecution, not the defense. So he purposefully sold us a dream and took our money, Marge’s money.

They took me out to the new jail where the women were housed and they released me into the 400 pod and I seen a bunch of the girls, I call them the hoes. Cause a lot of them were prostitutes in there on cross charges and stuff like that. And there was this one girl, Tammy, who I knew I’d only been out on bail a couple months.

So I knew the girls that were in there and I walked in and they were like, “Kimmy, Kimmy, we seen you on the news.”

AUDIO CLIP: In December of 1991, Kim Dadou of Rochester confronted her abuser for the final time. 

She was like, “I know you want a cup of coffee. I said, “I do.” And so she made me a cup of coffee and then she was like,” I want to introduce you to some people”. I was like, “Okay.” I just want to get settled in and now I’m going to prison. And it’s hard to be social and nice when your life is ending. You know what I’m saying? My life is over. But here are people that are happy to see me being warm and supportive.

Of course I just want to be like, everybody just leave me the fuck alone, I’m in my dark hole. It’s not me, it’s not my personality. I walked over with Tammy, and there were a bunch of people playing cards. Tammy was like, “I just want you to meet some people.” And I walk over, there’s a couple of dykes. People think that’s a derogatory term –  in my world it’s not. And Tammy’s like, “Belle, this is Kimmy. Kimmy, this is Belle.” She looked me up and down. She was like, “You’re a cutie”. I was like, “Oh lord, you know, I don’t need this in my life.” I’m going to prison. I had taken a vow of celibacy, you know, like after I killed Darnell. I was like, “I’m done. I’m done. I don’t want to be with anyone else. I’m done.”

So I was like,”What y’all playing?” Because I don’t want to be that bitch. Because you can get labeled quick in jail. And I’m a chameleon. I learned to be a chameleon in my environment. So anyway, I was just like being social. I was like, “What y’all playing?” And she said, “Spades, can you play?” Oh Lord, she challenged me. Because I could play cards.

So I said,”Yeah, I could play spades”. And she was like, “We don’t play about spades”  And I said, “I don’t play.”. And she made the girl get up. She was playing with her.. And she was like, “Get up.”  And she was like, “What?” Instantly, everyone hated me because I just walked on the scene and here’s one of the top dykes in the pod telling some girl to get up. And in jail, the dynamic is dykes represent men to these girls. And of course the dykes want to be with these girls because they’re gay and they know the girls are what they call bi curious or, you know, they’re lonely. You’re alone. You’re lonely. The last thing I was thinking about was being with a woman or having a relationship or anything like that. I sat down and played cards with her that day. That’s how we met. And from then on, we were inseparable. And all you got there is time.

We would sit and watch movies together. We would sit and talk. We would play cards. We won spade tournaments together. We would do all that. Our friendship grew. I mean, I’m not going to lie. It was cute when I would be coming down from my cube in the morning for breakfast and she would hold a space in line for me. Or I would be running late and she’s already got my tray or I go get my tray and I go to sit down and she’d be like, “Get up. That’s Kimmy’s seat.” And the person would get up. Nobody challenged her. Nobody bucked up against her. And I felt safe for the very first time. I think in my whole life, I felt safe. I felt like as long as I was with her, I was like homebase safe. I had that feeling with her from the very first day. And that was new for me.

I literally felt like nothing could happen to me that hadn’t already happened. It wasn’t going into the jail. That wasn’t scary. Being with Darnell in the dark, late at night, in the car, by the lake, where he’s threatening to cut me up in little pieces was scary. The only thing left for me was to die.That’s the only thing that hadn’t been done. When I was going to get beat up, I’ve been beat up before. I was going to get hit. I’ve been hit before. You can handle the pain. It’s not that bad. I’ve been in car accidents that were scary. Going to the mall was scarier to me than actually walking into jail. Because he wasn’t there. I wasn’t afraid. What did I have left to be afraid of? He was gone. And I was starting to come to terms with, I’m safe. When I went to sleep, I had peace because I knew he couldn’t do anything to me. He couldn’t wake me up out of my sleep, grabbing my hair, dragging me out of the bed. He couldn’t rape me. He couldn’t make me do things I didn’t want to do. I was safe. 

PRODUCER: Were you and Belle going to end up in the same prison from the county jail? Or was there a chance that you would have been going to different places? 

KIM DADOU BROWN: Well, we did go to different places. I went upstate a few months before her. She wasn’t sentenced yet. We had friends in common now because I let my family know about her. And we couldn’t talk to each other. We didn’t talk to each other for months. We would call home, then we’d get messages from each other. She would call my house and leave a message. She went to court. This happened. That’s how we communicated.

She was a short timer. She had a 5 to 15. So Belle came through Bedford. She was only there for a couple weeks and then she went to Albion. That was 93, 94, 95. 95, I got transferred. I went to Albion, where she was, and I stayed in Albion from 1995 to 2008. I think I lost a lot of my femininity in there. Like, I don’t talk like my other friends talk. When I talk, my friends are like, “You’re so aggressive.”. And I’m like, “I’m really not.” But that’s just how fucking prison makes you. I’m not saying I’m big and bad, but that’s how you have to be in there. That’s how you have to be. You can’t be soft. 

I slapped her one time. I slapped Belle across the face. We were arguing. She didn’t even call me a bitch. She’s never called me a name to my face. Never. I don’t know what she says behind my back. That’s her business. We were in the butcher room in the mess hall. In Albion, and we were arguing, and she said, “Can we stop acting like such a bitch?” All I heard was bitch. And I turned around, and I slapped the shit out of her. Right across her face. And as soon as I did it, I felt like everything came crashing down around me. And I looked at her and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry.” I realized what I had done. And she said, “Can you get away from me?”  She was so hurt that I had hurt her.

It took us a long time to work through that. But I will cop to having been an abused woman to then trying to regain control of my life in prison and becoming abusive to someone who I love more than anyone in this world. We have worked through a lot and I hate even bringing that up because I feel lower than a slug’s belly, lower than under the earth to say that I actually struck her. I have never, ever put my hands on her again.

After I left the county jail, we had made a pact that we would save each other for each other. We had decided that we really wanted to be together. Come to find out, as soon as I left the county jail, she started messing with other women. Of course she did, and then I got a letter in the mail from a girl she was messing with. This girl was so bold to send me a letter.  I hope she doesn’t do to me what she did to you, meaning cheating. She was like, but I hope that when she comes upstate, you’ll be there for her. But me and her are going to be together and all this. Her name was Amy, Amy Norway. I’ll never forget it. So now my heart is broken.

You’re the first woman that I kissed. You’re the first woman that I let touch me. You’re the first woman that I have feelings for. And you’ve taught me a lot about the gay life. You know, I’m learning, but you didn’t teach me how you could break my heart. You didn’t tell me that part. I was hurt. I was fucking hurt. At my most vulnerable time. I opened myself up to you. And as soon as I leave, you’re with the next bitch.

I probably shouldn’t even tell you guys this. When she came to Bedford, I seen her name on the list coming in. And I said, “Oh, she’s here.” Okay. I got a job with the pharmacist. His name was Raj, almost like a trustee job. I walked around with a box cutter all day because we’re always cutting open boxes and stuff.

I’m already established in the facility. I’m living in my cell. I’m getting packages from home. I’m working with the pharmacist. And so anyway, she came in and she was sitting with another girl. I walked by, I walked through the room that the new people were sitting in on purpose, right? Cause I could go anywhere in the hospital. I walked through and she was like,“Hi, Kimmy.” And I ignored her. And it felt so good to not say anything to her. I walked by her and didn’t say a word. And the girl said, “Damn man, what’d you do to her?”  And Belle said nothing. She won’t get over it. I was super duper pissed. I was. pissed. I was like this motherfucker. She acts like my feelings are nothing. Like I was just so mad. 

I went over and I sat down next to her. I reached in my pocket and I pulled out the box cutter and I just came down like I wanted to cut her. I wanted to cut her leg. I was so mad at her. All I seen in my mind was her pants ripping, but it didn’t happen because she grabbed my hand and she said, “What are you doing?”

I think I got up and I just walked away. I was so hurt. I just wanted to hurt her. It probably is not a good story to tell because, you know, of my crime and everything. It’s like you’re not allowed to do anything violent in your life because you killed somebody, you know. But I was mad at her. I wouldn’t talk to her.

She used to follow me around on the walkway and try to smell my hair. Like, she was like, “Let me just smell your hair.” And I’m like, “Get away from me. You’re stupid. I hate you. Get away from me. You hurt me. Leave me alone.” And I would try to hit her and everything. And she would be like, “Hit me, hit me. I deserve it. And I’m like, “No, just leave me alone.”  And I said to her, “I wish you were on the next thing smoking up out of here. And she was. And the next week, she seen me on the walkway. And she said, “I’m on the draft.” And my heart broke. Because no longer would she be chasing me around the facility. Belle went home on work release in 97.

We would do three way calls, which is illegal. You can go to shoe for doing three way calls because you have people on your approved call list and you can’t call anybody else but who’s on your call list. And so I would call my friend, Margie, and Margie would call Belle and she set the phone down and me and Belle would talk on three way. You know how we make three way calls now, right? I call you, you call her and me and her talk. You set the phone down and go do dishes or something. I could hear Margie in the background with the kids and me and Belle talking. 

She got off parole in 2000 and came to visit me on New Year’s Day. Her parole officer came to her and told her you are off paper. And she said, “So I can go to the prison and visit somebody and they can’t stop me?”   And her parole officer said, “Yeah.” And the very next day, on New Year’s Day, she came to visit me for the very first time. And I didn’t even know she was coming. I wasn’t even ready for a visit. They called me, I was sleeping. I was like, “Don’t nobody I know is sober right now. It’s New Year’s day, they’re all sleeping it off. I’m not going to get a visit because on holidays, anybody can get a visit.” They called me for a visit. And I’m like, “Who the fuck is here?” And I wasn’t ready. My hair wasn’t, I wasn’t ready. So I just threw on clothes and I went and I seen my sister, Wendy.

And I was like, “Aw, fucking Wendy, okay.”  I don’t care how I look, right, it’s Wendy. And then I looked, and Belle was ducked down, she’s a big girl, she was ducked down behind a table of people. And I seen her. Belle just engulfed me in her arms and it was the most incredible, incredible feeling. She hugged me freely. She was free and she came back for me –  because people make a lot of promises there. That is a temporary place and you have to remember everything here is temporary and everything here will change.

She said “I told you I was coming”  She said “I got off paper yesterday.” And I just cried, and she said  “I can’t be nasty when Wendy’s here.” So she was like “ I’m gonna come see you by myself.” I was like, “Okay.”  After that she came on her own every other Saturday From 2000 to 2008. Every time Belle came, I would tell her, “Put a hickey on my neck.” So our kiss goodbye, she would give me a hickey and I was like, “Cause it tickles and it hurts and it’s, it’s like, all your senses are on overload and she’s sucking on your neck and you’re just, I just want to go home with you.” And I walk around with this big ass hickey on my neck. Fuck y’all. Fuck y’all. I got a life. I got a love. Somebody loves me. Somebody comes to see me. Someone cares about me. I’m going home to this person. 

We made dreams and plans and held hands and got in trouble for kissing. Things that I just can’t even say out loud, but just being with her on those visits and touching her and just holding hands and just planning your whole life across the visiting room table and hoping that it happens and then saying goodbye. And then the strip frisk, showing a stranger your asshole and having officers be rude to you. After every visit, I would cry. Walking down the walkway I would hope that it wasn’t movement time, so no one would be on the walkway and I could just freely cry as I walked back. The tears, it wasn’t like, it wasn’t like boo-hoo grabbing your face. It was just like you’re walking and the tears are just falling because you ache to go home with that person that just left.

Your entire existence is living for the day that you go to the parole board. Your entire existence depends on this day. September of 2000 was my first parole board. When you go in there, you’re going to get dogged out. You just know it. You’re thinking about the possibility that these people can let you go home.

I waited eight and a third years. To go to this parole board just for them to dog me out. Your stomach is in your ass. You feel like you have to throw up and shit at the same time. You’re sweating. Your hands are cold and clammy. You’re nervous. Like, the first board, I went in there with the pictures and ready and I practiced what I was going to say.

When you go in front of these people and they ask you about your crime and why you’re there and what you’ve done, and then they make the decision whether to release you or hold you. And if they hold you, it’s called a hit. So I got hit at my board five times. So, the parole board was saying I cannot remain at liberty without violating the law.

The parole board was saying my crime was overkill because I shot him so many times. The gun just went off. The parole board was saying that society would not be safe if I was released at this time. I have to tell you guys. That was the hardest phone call to make and the hardest letter to write.

My tears just kept running the ink. Belle, I had to call her and say I didn’t make my board again. I had to write her a letter and say, honey, I’m not coming home again. You hope for the best, but expect the worst. And that’s just how you do. I’m going to hope for the best. If I don’t make it, nothing changes. I’m still on the count. I still go to the program. I still go to the mess hall. I still go to the yard. 

If I make it, everything changes. Everything changes, but you know, the political climate and you know, everybody with violent crimes is getting hit at the board, but you might be that one that makes it. I wasn’t, I didn’t make it in 2000. I didn’t make it in 2002. I didn’t make it in 2004. I didn’t make it in 2006 and they hit me in 2008 with two years. I conditional released out two months later. 

I was in Albion 13 years. Nobody else stays in Albion that long, because it’s like a medium transitional facility, but because I had so much time on my back and they kept hitting me at my boards, I was there longer than any other inmate.

Darnell’s niece went to prison. Cassandra, she went to prison. I had an interaction with his niece in prison. She walked right up on me on the walkway. I didn’t even recognize her. She was wearing a kimara. Now she’s Muslim or something. She walked right up on me and was like,”Kimmy.” And if you call me Kimmy, you know, me from somewhere. We’ve known each other from somewhere, especially in prison. When my ID says Dadou. So she was like, “Kimmy.” And I was like, “I’m sorry.” And she was like, “It’s me, Cassandra.” And I was like, “Oh my God.” When she said it’s me, Cassandra, I took two steps back because I didn’t know if we were about to fight. You know, you’re in prison. You could fight at any time. And then she was like, “I really want to talk with you.” I said, “Okay, I’ll talk to you about everything but that night. Like, I’m not gonna indulge you.”

When she was walking with her other Muslim sisters, she would point me out. “That’s that bitch that killed my uncle.” And I’m like, “Cassandra, I’m right here. If you have something you want to say to me, say it. I don’t run from anything except spiders.” I’m like, “Cassandra, just say it.” And she was like, “Bitch, you killed my uncle.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I did. Because he was trying to kill me. Just like a lot of women are in here for defending themselves.” You know, I said things to her, like, “You need to open your eyes. He’s not a saint just because he’s dead.” Because as soon as someone dies, you’re not allowed to say anything bad about him?

He was an asshole. He was abusive, he was mean, he was nasty, he used drugs, he drank too much. His ass bled from hemorrhoids and hernias and ulcers because he used to drink gin with his scrambled eggs in the morning right out the bottle. And you want to tell me he was a great guy? He was not a great father, he was not a great human being. He was not a nice person. He was very charismatic and he used that to his advantage. Ask any woman that was with him.

Before coming home, these women came into Albion and did a prison monitoring visit from the Correctional Association of New York. It was just some lawyers that worked for the Correctional Association. They came around and asked us, you know, conditions, food, medical, recreation, self care, everything. They said, “Well, you know what, it’s crazy we’re drafting this bill to help women like you to be re-sentenced, and get out of prison, not go to prison.” We’re trying to do a sentencing reform because at that time, sentencing was like an umbrella and everyone fell under that umbrella. If you got convicted of man-one, the max is 8 ⅓ to 25, but there should be a special sentencing provision because it was a domestic violence crime.

And what they were trying to do is make the courts take notice of a domestic violence defense. I said, “When I come home, I really want to do this work.” And I was talking to a couple of women and they were like, “Okay, here’s our number. Call us, blah, blah, blah.” So I called the Correctional Association. They were like, “Yeah, we’d love to run ideas through you.” That was when my survivor advocacy started. And so I would call them on my lunch break. I’ll get back to the housing unit, I would call them before five o’clock when they got off work. They would say, “What do you think of this? Well, can you call us Wednesday? So and so will be on the phone too. We’ll talk about that.”

And they were drafting the DVSJA, the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. And like essentially what it does is it gives DAs and judges, it forces them to take a look at a domestic violence defense and it forces them to sentence differently. The bill being pushed by Democrats would give judges the discretion to lessen sentences for those who protect themselves in domestic abuse situations.

Right now, the laws don’t make any distinction when the crime is committed by a woman fighting back. This legislation would have it. And I was like, “Wow, we got these young people behind us, you know, us incarcerated people who care.” 

When I came home, I was so overwhelmed by everything. It was like sensory overload every time I walked out of the house. I’d go in the mall and have an anxiety attack. 

PRODUCER: So were you nervous to be like in the public eye or something? 

KIM DADOU BROWN: Oh, fuck yeah. I was scared to death. I’m back in Rochester. I thought that Darnell’s family was going to be hiding around the corner. They live five minutes from here. Five minutes from here. Remember when I asked you guys if you were going to reach out to his family? Because I won’t do an interview with somebody who’s going to reach out to his family. I don’t want them coming after me. I was afraid to go to public events. Will they recognize me? Will they look for me? They always said they would kill me if I ever came home.

I was released November 20th, 2008. So I was in Albion 13 years in Bedford for just over three. The county, almost a year, that makes 17. I promised my mom I was coming home for 17 years. And I promised her she could give me my ride home. Belle wanted to pick me up. She wanted to pick me up so bad. We dreamed about it so much. And I just, I would have to say, “Nope.” All these years I promised my mom she could pick me up because she wanted to. And she said, “I want to pick you up and take you out to breakfast, something normal like McDonald’s.” And I thought that was the cutest thing. And so we did exactly that. She picked me up and we drove all the way back to Rochester and we went to McDonald’s, her McDonald’s, out near where she lived. My mom was disappointed with me because I wasn’t doing what she thought I should have been doing when I came home, which was I was just trying to survive, reacclimate, heal, grow.

It took me six months to get a job. They make you go get on DSS, which is demeaning. They made me get on social services, get on welfare. Because I had no discernible income and you can’t be on parole with no income because they think you’re going to go back to a life of crime, which I did not have to begin with. I had never been on any type of services prior to going to prison. I always worked. I’ve always been educated. I’m employable. It’s like this vicious cycle. I got parole breathing down my neck. I can’t find a job. I got people at job interviews saying to me things like, “So what do you do when you get angry?” I was like, “Um, cry. I’m a girl. I cry when I get mad when I get more mad because I’m crying because I’m mad.” It was a very ignoramus time. So anyway, I come home, my mom is disappointed in me instantly. “All you want to do is work and spend time with your girlfriend.” And I’m like, “I wanted to be with her for 17 years. Yeah, I want to be with her.”

I don’t know what my mom thought. We weren’t humping each other all the time. We were spending time together. That was my dream come true, you know, to be home with her. And I didn’t want to live with her until I had a job. So I said, “I want to be a commodity, not a liability.” And so I got a job and I was working eight at night to six in the morning at this coffee shop in one of the suburbs around here.

It was a long 10 hour night. My legs hurt. My feet swelled. I was so miserable, but I was happy I had a job and I was happy I was home and I was just, you know, dealing with it. It feels like when you go out into society right now, it’s like a recon mission to go out, get what you need and come back. I feel compromised because I’m not young. I’m not as physically strong or agile as I used to be. And so I feel like I have to be more careful. That’s why it’s like I can’t wait to get home every time I leave. Because everything I love and care about is right here, and I want to be there because out there is not safe. And I almost sound like my mom growing up with Asperger’s, but my mom was right about it all. It’s not safe. 

When I came home, they made me go see a therapist, right? They allowed me to do one on ones, and his name was Bill. I was like, “What the hell does this guy know about me? What can this man tell me about domestic violence and how to feel safe and how to feel good in my own skin?” And he did. He was amazing. He was compassionate, kind, soft, and understanding. And it was like he just knew. And I often wondered if he was a survivor of childhood violence or something because of his insight and his compassion. 

He diagnosed me with PTSD. And I was pissed. I walked out of his office. How fucking dare you diagnose me? I felt like he had put this scarlet letter on my forehead and now it’s in my paperwork. And I was livid. Like, I stormed out – “Fuck you. Fuck you, you got PTSD. I don’t got PTSD.” You know, I was like, seriously like that. He was like, “That is why you act the way you do. That is why you take the precautions that you do. That is why you think the way you think. That’s why you eat the way you eat. That’s why you do everything.” And he said severe PTSD. I think that’s what put me over the top. Why can’t I just have PTSD? Why it’s got to be severe. Why? I’d rather have you call me fat, ugly. I’d rather have you call me a whole bunch of other names. It was like he was calling me a bad name. It made me feel like I was less than, you know, like the less than, greater than sign. I was always over here, and now I’ve survived prison. 

I have a wonderful relationship. I have my Belle. We’re building a life together. And now, I’m less than again. I’m still less than? In time, when I came to accept the diagnosis and I was like, “I guess I am fucked up. But that’s okay. Because knowing is half the battle. And now I can go forward with more knowledge. knowledge of why I’m doing this, why I’m feeling this way, why do I want to cry right now? Why am I gripping the steering wheel so hard? Why did I just pull up to this store and I feel like I just can’t get out of the car?”

 I think the psychology degree helped me learn more coping mechanisms because there’s no therapy in prison. I tried to see a psychiatrist in prison. All they want to do is prescribe you medication and I didn’t want that. Everything I obtained to grow and heal and deal with all this stuff in prison and after, I got from the surviving women around me and my own work on myself. And a lot of it was through getting my bachelors in psychology and just learning about the mind and how it works. That was actually my excuse for getting into college.

I want to know why he did what he did to me after he said he loved me. Like I look back now and I thought in such layman’s terms. Like, I really did. I was so simple and so broken, not realizing that I should have said, “I want to get this degree so I can learn to heal and grow.” But I said it the other way. “I want to know why he did this to me, I wanna know why he did these things to me. Why did he rape me? Why? Why did he cut me? Why did he stab me rape me? Why did he hurt me? Why did he choke me? Why did he threaten me with his gun? Why did he put me in harm’s way?”  But it turned around to me saving myself.

I was just trying to survive, reacclimate, you know, heal, grow. And at the same time, the DVSJA was taking off. It was getting some notice and then the ladies were like, “Do you want to come work with us on this law? You’ve been working with us. You’re home now. How do you feel? Are you ready? Do you want to come to a lobby day? We’re having our first lobby day.” And I was like, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know.” I was nervous as hell and I didn’t even want to go. And my therapist called my parole officer and said, “I think Kim needs to go.” Bill was like, “You need to go to this lobby day.” Because I told him everything and he was like “You should go.” And I’m Like, “I don’t know if I want to go.” I said “I’m scared I haven’t been that far away by myself, Albany is three and a half hours all by myself.”  And he said “Sometimes the mommy bird has to push the baby bird out of the nest to make it fly.” He said “Kim you need to fly.” And I cried. I thought about how grounded I had been for so long, and I said, “Okay, I’ll go.”

So I went to the first lobby day and there were busloads of people, and we met at a church, and I got there first, and I was nervous as hell. After the first lobby day I started getting bookings. I spoke in front of the Junior League in Westchester. 

AUDIO CLIP: My name is Kim Dadu, and I served 17 years in prison for fighting back against my user.

KIM DADOU BROWN: Which is a whole bunch of people with a whole lot of money in that room. And we were trying to get support for our bill. Um, I spoke in front of the Junior League in Rochester, all over New York, Hudson Valley. At the time they were going for the muckety-mucks. They were going for the people with money, with political power, to get support for us.

We would piggyback with other people’s lobby days. I didn’t even realize I’m rubbing elbows with these people that are heads of organizations. These aren’t just worker bees. And now I’m dealing with people on that upper echelon level. I didn’t even realize it. Like, I really didn’t. Because I’m just talking to them like I’m talking to you, and I’m telling them my story, and I’m saying I don’t want anyone else to go to prison like I did. Help us. And they’re like, “Oh my gosh. Yes. Can I give you a hug? Where do we donate? What do we do?” I don’t know about the money part. That was the organization taking care of that. I was just a front face for the DVSJA. I spoke at senatorial conferences, legislative breakfasts, just meetings. They’d be like, “Kimmy, there’s this thing with Sojourner House. Do you want to come and speak?” There’s this thing with Sister Grace.” But what I did was, I did everything away from Rochester. Talking to the junior league in Rochester, I felt safe. Because it was a whole bunch of rich white women out in the suburbs, real hoity-toity. So I felt safe that Darnell’s family wouldn’t be there.

I go away and I’m like this rock star advocate with my face in the camera and people interviewing me and telling my story of woe in prison to get this law passed so nobody else goes to prison like I did and so many others. And then I come home and nobody knows me and I like it.

In 2019 I went to the Women’s Justice Agenda meeting in New York City with Kathy Hochul. She sponsored it. I still have the sign for my seat because it was so official. I saved my sign. I was like, “Oh my God, this is so official.” So I spoke with Kathy after the meeting. I said, “Do you support the DVSJA?” And she said, “I do.” I said, “You think we’ll get it passed this year?” She said, “I do.” And then a couple months later Governor Cuomo signed it into law, and then it went into effect. We are not now bound under mandated sentencing guidelines. So, they can actually give you little or no time. It’s up to the DA and the judge’s discretion. And we’re saying, “You have to look at this, you have to look at all the evidence, and you have to use this discretion. You have to.”

I think the last count is around 30, might be just under, might be just over, people that we have gotten out or resentenced under the law. There’s more to come. I know there’s some amendments being worked on.

I know that there’s more cases being heard. We brought our own Tanisha Davis home. Tanisha is a woman who lives in Rochester. She stabbed and killed her boyfriend on the next street over. We got her out. And our DA, they didn’t contest it. They supported it. And we brought her home. I drove her mother, her son, up to Bedford to go get her. That’s gotta be one of the happiest, happiest days of my life, watching her get out because of all the hard work we did.

I don’t take credit for the DVSJA alone. We had over 200 organizations supporting us. We had thousands of people supporting us all over New York. Coalitions came together for this collaboration. I don’t even think we could fit all those people in one space that helped support us. And we got it passed, and now it’s all about implementation, education, teaching the judges how to implement it, teaching the DAs how to implement it. We need to educate them.

So Belle came to visit me from 2000 to 2008, every other Saturday. And then I came home November 20th, 2008. We got married in 2015. People say that marriage doesn’t change anything. It changes everything, because now I don’t feel like I can just walk away from this. I feel like I know that it’s not just me I think about every day. I joke with Belle and I tell her, “I only married you because you can’t testify against me.” She’s like, “You can’t testify against me either, you know. It changed everything for us. And it was my ultimate dream come true moment. Even though I have dream come true moments every day, this is a dream come true moment. A person like me, this is shit I dreamt about in prison. I’m the girl that used to make 12 cents an hour mopping floors in prison. And now I’m working a full time job plus my other two part time jobs, and my voice is being heard. I’m validated. I can speak for other women who are currently incarcerated for the same thing and say these women don’t need to be in prison.

The first 10 years I was in prison I walked around with a couple of Polaroids that were taken at the battered women’s shelter. I had those pictures in my Bible. The pictures were proof that he grabbed me by my throat and dragged me over the front seat into the back seat and started choking me to death and pummeling me afterwards. It was a picture of my thigh, right at the top of my thigh where my thigh hit the steering wheel. I’m a big girl. If you pull me over the front seat by my throat into the back seat, I’m going to get hurt. And I did. I had a big ass bruise across my thigh and I had choke marks on my neck. I saved those pictures for the parole board to prove, because no one listened to me, no one cared what he did to me, no one cared. And I could not wrap my mind around that. I said, one day, somebody is going to give a shit what these guys are doing to us because it wasn’t just me. Then I was in there with other women that had been through worse, worse scars all over their bodies from being set on fire. And they were doing time for defending themselves and their children. And so I said, I have to hold on to these pictures because my bruises are gone. I still have my scars all over me but my bruises are gone and he’s not here. So I have to show you, and I carried these pictures faithfully with me from facility to facility, housing unit to housing unit because it was my proof.

Like I said, no one listened until after I came home. No one listened until we got the DVSJA passed. This was 17 years of my life. It’s almost like being abducted by aliens, I swear. It’s like that abstract. When you try to explain to people, because people are so stuck on, you’re bad, you did something bad, you had to go there. The court said that the criminal justice system is, you know, that’s how that is.

But to bring it to people,I want people to know the atrocities that happen there. I want them to know. I want people to be held accountable because I’m held accountable. I’m held accountable for everything I say. And I know that everything I say as a felon, as a woman in this society has to be corroborated 50 times before I’m believed, and I’m tired of living in a world like that. So I’m going to bring my world to you and let you see it, and hopefully open your eyes.

After you guys leave, I’m exhausted mentally. I don’t want to talk. My mouth is tired. I’m just tired. And I might just want to sit and play candy crush. Go sit outside, smoke a blunt. I just have to tell myself and remind myself it’s not only yours to shoulder anymore.