For the past week, Humans of New York (HONY) — a blog sweeping the nation for telling the stories of people around the world — has been sharing lives of inmates, from five different federal prisons across the Northeast; including Brooklyn. With each photo that Brandon Stanton, Founder of HONY, takes he offers the stories of each inmate, how they got to prison and how their life has changed because of it.
While each and every story is compelling and I urge you to take time to go through them all, the story of Ramona Brant has thus far been the most compelling. Brant was convicted back in 1995 of conspiracy to sell cocaine as part of a Charlotte, N.C., drug ring. Stanton shared her gut wrenching story better than we could ever tell it.
(1/4) “I met Donald when I was twenty-six. He pursued me relentlessly. He’d call me every day. He’d invite me to come to the Bahamas with him. He’d buy me all kinds of things. He would even loan me his vintage corvette for the weekend. I was just starting out in life. I wasn’t used to all that attention. He had his own landscaping company– with his own building and everything. He wooed my whole family. Even my mother liked him, and she isn’t easily persuaded. So I fell for him. The abuse didn’t start until I was pregnant with our first child. We were lying in bed one night and he asked me to get him a glass of water. When I told him ‘no,’ he punched me in the face. He said: ‘When I ask you to do something, I expect you to do it.’ I tried to leave right away. I ran back to my family in New York. But he followed me and begged me to forgive him. He said he didn’t want our child to grow up without a father.” (Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn)
(2/4) ” One day I walked into Donald’s office and saw him handing off a package of cocaine. I turned around and left immediately. He came out later and told me that he was just doing it to get his business off the ground. He said he needed to raise $25,000 to cover expenses. I was naive at that point. I even called my mother and asked her to help arrange a small business loan. But Donald started dealing more and more. He kept it from me. He started running a lot of errands. He started taking trips twice a month. The day I went into labor with our first child, he dropped me off at the hospital and went to park the car. He didn’t come back until the next day. The abuse got worse and worse. He’d throw water on me. He’d burn me with a lighter. When I was pregnant with our second child, Donald hit me in the head with a telephone. After I got to prison, we watched a movie one night about Tina Turner, called ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ There’s this one scene where Ike is dragging Tina down the hallway by her hair, and her sons are watching the whole thing and crying. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I was watching a movie about my life.” (Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn)
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(3/4) “One night it got so bad that I got a gun and pointed it at him. I didn’t know how to use it. I didn’t even know if the safety was on. My son walked into the room at the time and tried to stand between us. Donald jumped over him, grabbed the gun, and pistol-whipped me. After that I tried to run away again. While Donald was taking flying lessons, I packed everything into a U-Haul and drove away so fast that the trailer came apart on the highway. When Donald discovered I was gone, he sent some goons to my brother’s house and beat him up in front of his entire family. When they finished beating him, they told him that my mother was next. So I went back. After that Donald didn’t trust me anymore. He made me start traveling with him. He didn’t give me a choice. He’d say: ‘Pack your bags. We’ve got business.’ He involved me with everything. He made me stand there while he dealt the drugs. He made me call people and relay messages for him. He had me make deliveries. I did everything he told me to.” (Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn)
(4/4) “When Donald finally got caught, they offered him a plea deal so I wouldn’t have to go to jail. But he refused it. He told my cousin: ‘If I can’t have her, nobody will.’ They arrested me at the courthouse on the same day Donald refused his deal. The public defender told me to sign a plea bargain. He told me no jail time. But at the sentencing, I heard the judge mention jail and I panicked. When the judge asked me if I’d been promised anything in exchange for the deal, I said: ‘Yes!’ The prosecutor was so mad. She thought I made her look bad. She pushed for a life sentence at trial. The jury never heard about the abuse. They only heard about the drugs. They didn’t realize that the true victims were me, my children, and my brother. I’ve been in prison for twenty years now. But this has a happy ending. And I swear, when I agreed to this interview, I didn’t even know this yet. But President Obama just granted me clemency. And I’m going home.” (Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn)
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Over the 2015 holiday season, President Barack Obama pardoned 95 inmates and personally sent letters to each of the prisoners. The letters stated, “I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around,” he wrote. “Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.”
On Febuarary 2, 2016, after 21 years behind bars, Brant walked out of the Brooklyn detention center a free woman. Watch her release below: