Breanna Simpson is serving 25 years for defending herself against a man who tried to kill her on numerous occasions. She is a survivor of a long struggle to be free of drugs and alcohol, the loss of custody of her children, and severe abuse at the hands of men in three successive relationships. Breanna feels tremendous remorse for the death of Henry, and in her own words, never stopped loving him. She is now 36, has spent five years incarcerated, and will be 56 when she comes home unless her sentence is commuted.
Breanna grew up in Southern California, and was introduced to drugs by her mother. She became involved with Jack and had a daughter at the age of 19, whom she doted on. In her words, Jack “didn’t hit her that much.” Her struggles with drugs and alcohol became paramount in her life, and during that time her maternal grandmother orchestrated Breanna’s daughter being taken away from her. Feeling that she had lost everything, she went to Las Vegas where she met Joey, with whom she had a son. Joey abused her severely, resulting in hospital visits and numerous attempts to leave. Eventually, she fled to New Mexico. It was a terribly difficult time for her and she ultimately gave up her son up for adoption, thinking that he would have a better life. She became involved with Henry, who initially, like the previous two relationships, was charming and wonderful. Despite the beatings, in Breanna’s words he was better than the other two “because he didn’t cheat on me.” They moved back to Henry’s hometown in upstate New York.
Breanna has scars from the time he tried to strangle her and stab her with a knife in 2012. Ultimately she grabbed the knife and swiped at him, grazing his shoulder. As a result of the incident, she pled guilty to assault and received three years of probation. The abuse continued — everyone in the small town knew that he beat her as she showed up to the hospital covered in bruises. Yet, she protected him from the police, not wanting him to be arrested. She was close to Henry’s family, who saw the beatings and the bruises. In an attempt to end the relationship, she moved into her own apartment, but continued to see him — because he still “treated me nicely when he wasn’t drinking.”
In June of 2013, she was in her apartment taking care of a friend’s young daughter. She let Henry, who was intoxicated, into the apartment and he quickly became abusive. She was in fear for her life and the life of the child with her. He attempted to stab her and she grabbed the knife. As she was holding it he pushed into her and the knife cut him near his ribs. After the incident, the police requested to discuss the incident with her – during questioning they initially did not tell her that he died. She was devastated when she found out.
She opted to go to trial after being offered a plea of 20 to life. She wanted everyone to know that she loved Henry and what had happened was an accident. She felt certain that the truth about the abuse she had suffered at his hands would come out and that she would be given a sentence which made sense given the circumstances. This was not the case. Very few of the witnesses available to testify on her behalf were allowed to do so. She wanted to take the stand, but her lawyer advised her not to. At trial, Henry was portrayed as an angel, while she was spoken of as a monster who had tried to kill him twice. This was just untrue — she continued to love Henry throughout, despite the abuse.
Since being in prison, in her words, she has become a different person. She reconnected with her father and her daughter, is free of drugs and alcohol, participates in courses on family violence and is working toward her associate degree in sociology. She is in therapy understanding more about abusive relationships and developing self-esteem. She works at reception in the prison store. She feels grounded and is now able to look at her past and understand more of what happened to her. When she is released, she plans to go back to Texas to be closer to her father. Keeping Breanna in prison for another twenty years serves no purpose, other than to deprive her of a life spent helping other young women stay away from abusive relationships, which is what she hopes to do.