The first time Jessica Paradiso’s partner hit her was when she picked him up from a stint in prison, where he’d been incarcerated on a drug conviction — he was angry at her for being late. Over the next ten years their relationship became only more abusive, both physically and emotionally. In addition to being abused, Jessica was coerced into participating unknowingly in a scheme her partner organized to defraud elderly people in upstate New York. She received the maximum sentence, seven to fifteen years, and has been incarcerated for three years.
Jessica met her abuser just out of high school. Her life was going well. She enjoyed a happy childhood, and had a good job and a car. Though their relationship first seemed promising, Jessica’s partner quickly became controlling. He isolated her so deeply from her friends and family that, eventually, he was the only support system Jessica had. She moved in with him and his mother. After a while her partner’s old addiction to crack cocaine resurfaced and, when police raided their house and found drugs, Jessica was arrested as an associate. Though soon released, she lost her job and car as a result of the incident.
Her partner cycled in and out of prison. Whenever he was away, Jessica felt an incredible sense of relief. She went to school for cosmetology, obtaining a degree while raising their two young children. But the abuse always continued when he was out. Jessica found herself accused of cheating; she was degraded constantly, and beaten in front of the children. When he told her that nobody else would love her, Jessica started to believe it. She became deeply depressed, finding it hard to get through each day. She felt that under his control, she could never be the mother she wanted to be; but at the same time she was threatened that if she left him, she would lose her children.
Jessica’s partner got by doing odd jobs. One day Jessica was questioned by the police after cashing $4,000 worth of fraudulent checks he told her he’d obtained legally — and then forced her to cash. The incident was enough to make Jessica’s partner want to run away — he took Jessica and their children to Virginia. Eventually federal agents caught up, and back in New York, Jessica and seven co-defendants faced two charges of attempted grand larceny and one hate crime charge related to the advanced age of the victims.
Jessica’s co-defendants, including her partner and her partner’s mother, had worked at the victims’ homes; Jessica hadn’t been at the work sites at all, but only cashed checks under threat of violence. She accepted a plea deal, but the judge gave Jessica the maximum sentence. While she hopes her time will be commuted, Jessica feels the painful irony of her situation: that her unjust prison sentence also means that, for the first time in her adult life, she’s free of her abusive partner. She’s started to wear makeup, and can finally feel beautiful. She’s been getting her Bachelor’s Degree from Marymount College while at Bedford Hills, and has been working with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
However, she knows that she deserves better. She worries about her children, whom she hasn’t seen in years. She can’t wait to get out and be their mother again. When she’s released, Jessica plans to finish her bachelor’s degree, get a job mobilizing the skill sets she’s developed while working with the DMV, spend her life fighting for women incarcerated for acts of self-defense against domestic violence.