A woman I’ll call Ana was tried for the murder of her 18-month-old son in Sacramento, California. A teddy bear should have been the least of her concerns, but it was always somewhere in the back of her mind.
Ana was the breadwinner of her household. She supported her infant son, the boy’s twin sister, their older sibling, and her boyfriend who was the children’s father. Ana worked in a restaurant in San Francisco where the minimum wage was higher. Because she didn’t own a car, commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco would have entailed a costly, twice-daily, six-hour ordeal involving the Sacramento light rail, a commuter bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and walking. Ana made the difficult decision to sleep on friends’ couches and commute home to Sacramento only when she had days off – two to three times per month.
The coroner determined that when he died, Ana’s infant son had pneumonia, sepsis, and broken ribs that had healed. The infant was also malnourished. Police investigated for almost one year before prosecutors charged Ana and her boyfriend with murder.
After Ana and her boyfriend were arrested, social workers from children’s protective services removed the two remaining children from the home. As often happened with abandoned units, Ana’s apartment became an easy target for break-ins.
At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ana and her boyfriend were negligent in failing to get their son medical care that would have prevented the malnutrition and infection that led to his death. Ana’s attorney presented evidence that Ana saw the baby for only a few days each month, pointing the finger of neglect toward Ana’s boyfriend as the primary caretaker.
There was also testimony from experts that Ana was a battered woman who was not psychologically capable of standing up to her boyfriend’s decisions regarding the care of their children. Like most battered women, Ana had unconsciously recreated her past; her boyfriend was not the first man to abuse her.
Ana and her boyfriend were ultimately acquitted of murder, but her boyfriend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. Ana was released from jail but would not be reunited with her two young children who were now living with a relative in another state.
Weeks later Ana was at a store and saw a man and a woman who were her neighbors at the apartment complex where she lived in Sacramento. She approached them and asked if they recognized her. Not only did they recognize her, they were excited to see her. “We have your bear!” they told her.
What this couple really had was the urn containing the ashes of Ana’s son. Knowing that the urn was inside the teddy bear, the couple had taken it from Ana’s abandoned apartment for safekeeping. These neighbors never visited Ana in jail and never took time off from work to attend her trial, but they managed to perform an important act of kindness that brought someone who had been through hell a needed dose of comfort and happiness.
Long after Ana’s pain, anguish, excitement, and joy have faded, she will need hope to rebuild her life. Whenever Ana looks at her teddy bear, she will think of her son. She will also be reminded that goodness and kindness endured as she went through hell. And she will remember to hope.
©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.