These days when we talk about injustice in the legal system, the conversation is usually centered around race. But if stories like the ones about Marissa Alexander, Shanesha Taylor and now Tondalo Hall, tell us anything, it’s that the courts also suffer from victim blaming and misogyny. Particularly, when it comes to Black women.
Unfortunately, Tondalo Hall is experiencing this right now. In 2006, her then boyfriend Robert Braxton Jr. pled guilty to breaking the ribs and femur of the couple’s 3-month-old daughter. Braxton served two years in prison.
There was no evidence that Hall had caused any harm or injury to her children, but for failing to protect them from Braxton she was sentenced for 30 years in prison.
The American justice system at work.
In 2004, Hall noticed that her 20-month-old son’s leg was swollen. Braxton, her then-boyfriend and farther of two of her children, told her he didn’t know what happened. For days the swelling wouldn’t go down. So Hall took him to the hospital. Doctors determined that he had a fractured femur and other broken bones. After examining him, they found similar injuries in his 3-month-old sister. Both Hall and Braxton were arrested.
Hall is still in jail while Braxton has been free since 2006, for time served.
Sadly, the children weren’t the only people Braxton was terrorizing in the home.
Hall has alleged, on more than one occasion that Braxton physically abused her as well. In court documents, obtained by BuzzFeed, she stated:
“Robert regularly choked me, blackened my eyes, threw objects at me and verbally assaulted me while my children were in the home. I did not escape the relationship out of fear that Robert would file for custody of our children and I would never be allowed to see them again.”
Braxton continued threatening Hall during their court proceedings.
Hall frustrated prosecutors who believe that she did not provide enough details on the witness stand about how Braxton abused both she and the children. The judge faulted her for being “less than candid” about Braxton’s actions though he did note that she seemed afraid of him.
Hall, who has been in prison for ten years now and still has 20 more years to serve, has tried to get appeal but she lost. She has requested that her sentence be modified but it was denied.
And earlier this week, a request for clemency, a process that would release her from prison, while not absolving her of her crime, was denied.
According to BuzzFeed, an Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 5-0 against her application for a commuted sentence.
Hall is set to remain behind bars until 2030, when she will be eligible for parole. Board members provided no rationale for their decision but during the hearing, where Hall appeared through a video-conference, Vice Chair Patricia High “grilled” the 31-year-old, asking her if she knew about her children’s injuries and when.
Hall was often choking back tears as she responded.
When High asked her how she could have not noticed the child’s leg was bothering her, Hall said, “She cried but I didn’t– I thought it was because she needed to be changed or fed, you know.”
“So as soon as you were finished changing her or feeding her, she just calmed right back down?”
“Um, yes ma’am.”
When asked if the day at the hospital was the first time she’d noticed her children had been hurt, she said, “No.” She claimed that by then Braxton was already hitting both she and the children.
One other person spoke during the hearing. It was Marsha Travis, the chaplain at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, where Hall is in prison. She pleaded with board members to commute her sentence, saying she has heard remorse in Hall’s voice.
Hall herself said: “I know I failed as a mother, and I’m just asking for a second chance.”
Women’s Rights Advocates have been following this case closely and assert that this is another way in which survivors of domestic violence are victimized all over again in the court system. There is a lack of understanding when it comes to the mental, emotional and psychological turmoil an abuse victim endures. Particularly in Hall’s case where Braxton’s threats of taking the children while she was in jail, came to pass.
Instead of offering counseling and services to get women out of these dangerous and dysfunctional situations, they merely throw them in jail, separate them from their children and take away opportunities for them to find freedom and independence in a real world setting. It’s anything but justice.