By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019) — After serving 2 years in jail and 13 years in prison, domestic violence survivor and mother, Tondalao Hall will be released along with other inmates discharging at 11 a.m. Friday (Nov. 8) from Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud.
Hall, now 33, took her two children to the hospital and was subsequently charged with failure to protect them. She was sentenced to prison in 2006 after pleading guilty. At the time she was 19, living with Robert Braxton, her then-boyfriend and the children’s father and their abuser.
Hall signed a blind plea and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Her ex-boyfriend, 35-year-old Robert Braxton Jr., pleaded guilty to abusing the children and was released on a plea deal of 10 years probation, having been given credit for the two years he had already spent in jail.
Hall had been the victim of Braxton’s verbal, physical, emotional, financial, and sexual abuse for years.
After years of grassroots advocacy and legal representation from the ACLU of Oklahoma, last month, on October 8, Hall received a unanimous vote by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to recommend her for commutation to Governor Stitt.
“My mom and dad told me I was getting a little sister when I was 7,” said Jeffery Hall, Tondalao Hall’s brother. “Growing up, Toni followed me around everywhere. She tried to do everything that I did. She named her first son after me, which touched my heart.
“But going through the times when she was incarcerated has been hard,” Jeffrey added. “Ever since the commutation hearing when the Board voted in her favor, I feel like that 7-year-old who just can’t wait for when this sister of mine is coming home.”
Cynthia Wells, Tondalao Hall’s cousin and guardian of her children stated, “The kids and I are extremely excited to have Toni back at home where she belongs. I can’t wait to see her relationship with her children blossom. I am excited to pick up family traditions that we started before she went to prison. She has missed so many holidays and important family events that I just want her children to experience having both their mothers home.”
Hall’s children have remained in contact over the years and played a vital role in advocating for the release of their mother. Letters from the children were included in Hall’s commutation packet and sent directly to Gov. Stitt.
“First and foremost, I want to thank God for making a way and for keeping me safe and sane during this season of my life,” said Hall. “Secondly, for all the people God has placed in my life, my children and my family for sticking by me. Time and space cannot accommodate the list of people who have loved, helped, and supported me through all of this, so, to everyone who has, thank you and God bless you.”
Like many states, Oklahoma’s “failure to protect” law is often imposed on women in households with an abusive partner. Statistics show, the likelihood of a domestic violence victim being murdered by their partner jumps to about 75 percent higher than if they choose to remain in the relationship. Leaving an abusive partner is dangerous and often emotionally difficult.
These laws disregard the risk and difficulties of ending an abusive relationship, stated ACLU-OK press release.
On Sept. 29, 2018, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform board member, Danielle Ezell, told AP reporter Tim Talley, “Failure-to-protect laws, like child neglect and endangerment statutes, are designed to protect vulnerable children from abuse and harm but have unintended consequences,”
At that time, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform planned to ask the Legislature to amend state laws to prevent abused women from being penalized for being unable to protect their children from abusers.
“Women are being sentenced to two times, three times, four times the amount that the abuser was,” said Ezell, adding that these lengthy sentences break up families and force taxpayers to support the inmate and their children. Maybe we’re doing more harm than good,” she said.
According to the New York Times, the disparity of the sentences outraged women’s rights groups and brought further attention to Oklahoma’s high rate of incarceration, particularly of women.
“While we rejoice in Hall’s freedom as she exits the prison gates, we are haunted by the knowledge of all the other women who remain incarcerated for failing to stop the crimes of their abusers and recognize the countless other families torn apart by Oklahoma’s failure to protect laws,” said Megan Lambert, ACLU of Oklahoma staff attorney.
“This is just the first step toward addressing the injustices of the failure to protect statute. We look forward to the day that all the other women wrongfully imprisoned for the crimes of their abusers follow Hall to freedom.
“As we celebrate Toni’s homecoming, we hope Governor Stitt, members of the Pardon and Parole Board, and the elected officials who have helped advocate for her release will join us in making sure Oklahoma never again rips a mother away from her children to spend time in prison for the crimes of her abuser,” Lambert added.