Bresha Meadows: Survived and Punished

Bresha Meadows learned to fear her father and fear for her life. Throughout her young life, she endured years of his relentless physical and verbal abuse. On countless occasions he threatened to kill her and her family. Years of faded bruises, police reports, orders of protection, stories from neighbors, and allegations of sexual violence attest to this brutal truth.

People who experience abuse and violence within families often find themselves isolated and living in heightened states of terror with few options to protect themselves and their loved ones. This is particularly true for women and girls of color, who face suspicion and outright contempt from social workers, school counselors, and police. As a young Black girl, Bresha repeatedly sought help from family members, school staff, and police, but the violence did not abate.

In July 2016 at age fourteen, Bresha killed her father, taking the gun he brandished to terrorize and abuse her family for so many years to kill him in his sleep. Police immediately arrested her and prosecutors refused to release her while she was on trial. At fourteen years old, she went from the isolation of domestic violence to the isolation of incarceration. For five months, the threat that she might be tried as an adult hung over her head until public pressure forced prosecutors to announce in December that she would be tried in juvenile court. During her months of detention Bresha was placed on suicide watch multiple times. Juvenile detention does not help people. The only thing that juvenile detention does is compound trauma.

The prosecution was relentless. In May, with limited options, Bresha submitted to a plea deal. Though she should be free, the deal keeps her in juvenile detention for a full year, which includes ten months of time served, and an additional six months of confinement in a mental health treatment facility. In July she was transferred. The mental health facility’s administration has the power to determine whether they will confine Bresha beyond the six months stated in the plea deal, which opens the door to a longer road of incarceration.

What’s more, Bresha’s family was forced to pay for her confinement in a private mental health facility, a financial burden her family could not afford. But just as Bresha’s community and supporters mobilized to pressure prosecutors to try her as a minor, supporters raised $40,000 to cover the costs of the treatment facility. All people should be free, and no one should have to pay for their own confinement, and most others in the criminal punishment system are not as fortunate to have the community support behind them.

While Bresha’s future remains uncertain, including whether she will be released from the facility in February, the support she has received has been vital and inspiring. Every person who petitioned the state, every person who wrote Bresha a letter, mailed her a book, or donated $5 to her defense campaign helped Bresha avoid spending even more brutal years behind bars, and helped her family avoid further punishment from carceral debt.

incarcerated girls statistics

Free Bresha, Free Them All

Bresha experienced the dehumanization and criminalization that people of color and survivors of violence routinely face within the criminal punishment system: No acknowledgement of her experience or status as a survivor, harsh and punitive prosecution, and the compounding trauma of incarceration.

Bresha Meadows is one of tens of thousands of girls and young women locked up behind bars across the United States and her experience is typical of the destructive treatment of children and youth, particularly those who are Black, in the criminal punishment system.

We know from the successful campaigns to free Joan Little in the 1970s to the more recent campaign to free Marissa Alexander that grassroots mass mobilizations work.

Visit the Survived and Punished website to learn about ongoing campaigns for freedom and to support the work. Download the Survived and Punished toolkit for resources on starting a defense campaign.

Free Bresha with signs

Take Action: Show Bresha You Have Her Back

Write Bresha a letter of support and encouragement. Writing letters and sharing your support is an integral way to reduce the isolation of incarceration. For tips on letter writing to people in prison, check out the letter writing section in the #SurvivedAndPunished toolkit or tips from the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

Bresha Meadows
c/o Ian Friedman
1360 E 9th St Suite 650
Cleveland, OH 44114

Free Bresha - Molly Crabapple

Video Credits

This video was conceived by Mariame Kaba and narrated by CeCe McDonald. Directed and produced by Dean Spade and Hope Dector. Audio editing by Lewis Wallace. Audio recording by S.O. O’Brien. Artwork and photographs by Sarah-Jane Rhee, Molly Crabapple, Monica Trinidad, Kara Rodriguez, Bria Royal, Viko Alvarez, Ari Levin, Molly Costello, and Kathy Liang. Created by the Barnard Center for Research on Women and Survived and Punished.

The Barnard Center for Research on Women engages our communities through programming, projects, and publications that advance intersectional social justice feminist analyses and generate concrete steps toward social transformation.

© 2017 Barnard Center for Research on Women | 101 Barnard Hall | 3009 Broadway | New York, NY 10027