October 6, 2003
Student finds her passion giving 'voice' to women
By Jennifer McNulty
Not many college seniors discover their passion and then get a chance
to talk about it on national television.
This article is part of Profiles in Excellence, an ongoing
series highlighting the outstanding educational opportunities
and achievements of UCSC students and graduates. Other profiles
are posted on the Profiles in Excellence web
|With a double major in community
studies and womens studies, Kolleen Duley first learned about
the needs of women in prison when she took a course called Womens
Health Activism. Photo: Jennifer
But thats what happened to Kolleen Duley, a senior at UCSC who
was recruited by producers of The Sharon Osbourne Show to discuss
her work with women survivors of domestic violence who are jailed for
crimes they commit related to their abuse.
Although media attention, including Osbournes, tends to focus
on the small number of women who kill their abusive husbands, domestic
violence is the top reason women commit crimes, according to advocates
for battered women.
Duley met Osbourne during a visit to the California Institution for
Women in Chino, where she meets regularly with members of the prisons
Battered Womens Support Group.
I dont watch TV, so I didnt really know who she
was, Duley recalled of the fateful encounter with Osbourne, the
wife of rocker Ozzy Osbourne who recently launched her own talk show.
But Duley recognized the potential opportunity to draw media attention
to the plight of battered women in prison, and she initiated a conversation
with one of the shows producers.
Osbourne was promptly drawn into the conversation, and a few days
later, Duley received a call inviting her to appear on the show.
I think thats what organizing is all about--making connections,
said Duley. They said they really appreciated my energy and wanted
to fly me down to Los Angeles.
Taping the show was an almost surreal departure from the world in which
Duley chooses to work. They even have a green room,
laughed Duley, as she recalled the studios lounge for guests,
the first-class flights, limousines, and makeup.
With a double major in community studies and womens studies,
first learned about the needs of women in prison during her junior year,
when she took a course called Womens Health Activism from
Nancy Stoller, a professor of community studies who is now Duleys
In April, Duley began a six-month field study with Free
Battered Women (FBW), a San Francisco-based nonprofit that focuses
on the needs of incarcerated survivors of domestic violence. FBW works
on multiple fronts to increase public understanding of how domestic
violence contributes to crime and to provide support to women in prison.
The groups Habeas Project lobbies for the release of incarcerated
women who had been abused but could not present the abuse as evidence
during their trial. FBW has helped four women gain their release since
legislation allowed women convicted of murder before 1992 to challenge
Duley had never visited a prison until last year.
Its a totally different world, she said. The
overwhelming feeling is the ultimate sense of guilt that you get to
leave. But Duley bears the guilt in exchange for the satisfaction
she gains from helping women whove been largely forgotten by the
rest of the world.
People dont understand domestic violence, said Duley.
They ask, Why didnt she just leave? And there
are 1,000 reasons why women dont leave. A lot of women dont
have the money to leave, or a place to go, or they actually dont
believe theyre battered women. They often still really love their
partners, and if they have children, they want to keep the family together.
Many women suffering domestic violence end up incarcerated for crimes
committed out of desperation, said Duley. Its not just women
who killed their partners, said Duley. Its women who
took drugs to escape the violence in their lives, who committed economic
crimes like writing a bad check, or women whose partners forced them
to transport drugs or participate in an armed robbery.
Cheryl Sellers served almost 20 years in prison for killing her abusive
husband, Norman. Asked why she didnt leave Norman, Sellers invoked
her marriage vows, saying, I could break a promise to a man, but
I couldnt break a promise to God.
Another woman was imprisoned for the death of her son because her husband,
whod beaten the child, consented to take him to the hospital only
if she took the blame.
Oh, the stories make your heart lurch, they make you want to
throw up, said Duley. But they also make you want to do
Duley is the lead organizer of an October 12 event at the Womens
Building in San Francisco. Our Voices Within: Healing from the
Inside Out will combine music, dance, poetry, and the personal
testimony of incarcerated women to celebrate the women whove been
released and to facilitate the healing of women who remain in prison.
She has worked closely with a planning committee of 11 incarcerated
women to create an event that honors their vision. Duley has made repeat
visits to each of Californias three womens prisons to record
testimonies and gather the artwork of nearly 100 women prisoners.
Many of these women killed the man who was trying to kill them,
or their child, said Duley. They killed the man they loved,
and theyre paying for it in guilt. They feel like theyre
awful people, even though they acted out of necessity. Theyre
just like you and me. Theyre not murderers.
Duley also contributed last spring to a UCSC teach-in about womens
prison issues. She wrote, produced, and performed in Prison Monologues,
a play about abused women based on research by Stoller and Sadie Reynolds,
a UCSC doctoral candidate in sociology. And she received the first Womens
Studies Community Service Award, which included a gift of $2,000.
A native of upstate New York, Duley credits UCSC with introducing her
to a different way of thinking.
Im from a conservative town, and I was ready for a big
change, said Duley. When I went away, it was like jumping
into my own skin. Going to Santa Cruz was the best thing I ever did
As Duleys academic adviser, Stoller is struck by Duleys
impressive creativity and energy. Kolleen stands out in every
class and situation Ive seen her in, with her commitment to creating
new, engaging forms of activism, said Stoller. She studies
hard to understand whats actually going on, and she has an infectious
enthusiasm that engages people, so that even hearing about these terrible
issues, they open their eyes instead of squeezing them shut.
Duley has already surpassed the six-month field-study component of
her community studies major, but she doesnt plan to reduce her
work with FBW. In fact, she hopes to produce a video documentary about
women in prison, and she hopes to remain involved with FBW indefinitely.
Ive always been intensely impassioned to end violence against
women, including state-mandated violence in the form of prisons and
interpersonal violence in the form of domestic violence and rape,
In the spring, Duley will teach a student-directed seminar on women
in prison, tentatively titled Unlocking Incarceration: A Feminist
Fight Back. I spent all summer working on the curriculum,
because I want to be totally present during the class, said Duley.
Im really proud of it.
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