High praise to Lisa Brody for traveling to Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti to meet prisoners Nancy Seaman and Karen Kantzler face to face, both of whom are serving life sentences for killing their abusive husbands (Behind The Curtains/September).
One never knows how a story like hers might reach just the right person or persons who can help release them from their prison walls.
My husband Tom and I are long-time friends of retired trial judges Norman Lippitt and Jack McDonald. To see them both try every avenue to help these women is enough impetus for me, especially where Nancy is concerned, to do what I can to urge Governor Snyder and the Michigan Parole Board to commute their sentences.
It is Nancy with whom I can identify–a former teacher like myself, and a woman subjected to abuse, like my mother. I went to visit her primarily because of Jack, for who could forget the outcome of Nancy’s 2003 sensational trial and the great courage it took on his part to try to overturn her life imprisonment sentence? If Jack McDonald believed Nancy’s crime was not pre-meditated, then I felt compelled to do what I could to help her.
I understand spousal abuse. My mother was a willing victim. How she continued to live her life under the dominance of my stepfather never made any sense to me. Since childhood, I angrily blamed her for not leaving him, but I now understand how a life-time of abuse causes a woman to lose her self-confidence in her own abilities. With each passing year of financial dependence and intermittent abuse, my mother chose to put up with the abuse. Perhaps she found some relief in getting her punches in, too, physically or verbally, during a text book case of a love-hate relationship. Just like Bob Seaman – when my stepfather was good, he was very, very good – charming, humorous and sweet when things in his life were to his liking and exceedingly brutal when they were not.
Someone really needs to penetrate the psyche of abusers to reveal why they hurt their victims one day and love them the next. This thing called “Make-up Sex” is senseless to me, but it’s actually a factor in some abusive relationships. I know that Bob Seaman never once verbally apologized for his violence, but he would do nice things for Nancy – take her whole family out for dinner, lavish her with material goods, happy times on their boat and who knows what else. When his financial and health status truly spiraled, toward the end of his life, the beatings intensified, but with the college graduation of her youngest son imminent and money from her father to buy a condo, Nancy optimistically finally felt free to leave Bob Seaman.
In my mother’s case, there were no such plums to sweeten her sour life. She simply accepted her fate. As the two grew older, the physical wars metamorphosed to wars of bitter words, and when she died of natural causes, their house became a shrine. Her grieving husband placed photos of her everywhere, surrounded by votive candle and holy cards, replaying their Frank Sinatra love songs over and over, tears welling in his eyes during the ten years of his life without her. What wasted lives.
We all know there are many reasons women live with abusive husbands…economic dependence, religious convictions, welfare of the children, lack of a safe place to run, emotional and sexual neediness, loss of self esteem, embarrassment, guilt and fear. There, but for the Grace of God, my mother could have been a Nancy Seaman, finally fighting for her life, only to face another kind of imprisonment, if all the facts of her mental state were not brought to light.