3rd, I traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina. I was going to the funeral for
Ramona Brant, which was scheduled for the following day at St. Luke Missionary
Baptist Church, in Charlotte. Today, I am sharing Ramona’s story.
|Ramona Brant’s smile (image
courtesy of Ivy Woolf Turk)
Yet, that is exactly what happened to Ramona. She was involved in the illegal drug business, not out of choice, but because she was in an abusive relationship with a man, who turned out to be the kingpin of a large conspiracy that involved the sale of crack cocaine.
When he first met her, he swept her off her feet. He seemed almost too good to be true. In other words, he showed all of the signs of being an abuser. Usually people who become abuse victims will not recognize those signs. Here is something that I wrote about abusers and their victims after Mary Travers Murphy, executive director of Western New York’s Family Justice Center, spoke at the first Lenten luncheon. Her talk was titled “Justice for Victims of Domestic Violence”: Domestic abusers
are manipulative people who brainwash their victims into believing that they
are those romantic folks who conducted a whirlwind courtship. Once it is
obvious that they are violent abusers, they brainwash their victims into
believing that they are responsible for their own abuse. Oftentimes, Mary said,
“they can’t pinpoint the moment of the first kick or hit. They are
traumatized and their brains have been rewired.”
Ramona had two sons with the abusive boyfriend. Her sons were the only good things to come from a bad
forced her to accompany him on his drug runs and he made her make phone calls
on his behalf. He told her that she and the boys would die if she didn’t do
what he said. Eventually, he and his cohorts were
caught and they began naming names. She was arrested when she was in court,
trying to get an order of protection. I read an article on line that quoted the boyfriend as saying, after he refused a plea deal that would spare her any prison time, something to the effect of “if I can’t have her, then no one can.” She and her
boyfriend and probably others were sentenced to life in federal prison. She was
never caught with any drugs at all. She had no prior criminal convictions. In a conspiracy case, each person arrested for that conspiracy is charged with the total amount of drugs connected with that case. They do not have to be caught with drugs or even to have any knowledge of the extent of the conspiracy.
|Ramona and friends
at FCI Danbury (image
courtesy of Debra Horton)
Nkechi Taifi, Esq. of the Open Society Foundation: (Ramona served) 21 years of unjust and unnecessary incarceration. The drug conspiracy laws are injustice. Who will be the voice that will fight that injustice? Use the ballot box. Long live the spirit of Ramona Brant.
|Ramona was a mentor, friend, and
spiritual advisor to many at
In prison, Ramona stayed busy, doing such things as mentoring other women, taking classes, and directing the church choir. She made many friends in prison, who admired her deep faith and her optimistic belief that she would eventually go home.
Beatrice Codianni (editor, Reentry Central): I spent several
years in prison with Ramona. She was known for her deep sense of faith, which
helped her get through her time in prison. Talking with her, I could not believe
that such a gentle, religious, and caring person could be given such a harsh
sentence. In my mind’s eye, I see her scurrying to and from choir practice, and I
hear her teaching other women to lift up their voices to the Lord in song.
|Women who serve time in prison become sisters forever. Here are some of Ramona’s sisters.|
Denise McCreary said, after learning that Ramona had passed away: I can barely wrap
my mind around the fact that God has called my sister Ramona Brant home to
gain her wings and to truly be free. While on this earth, she worked to improve
and make differences in the lives of our sisters who are still incarcerated and
to improve the quality and dignity in the lives of our sisters who are
yet another freedom fighter……
|Topeka K. Sam has opened a house
in Bronx, N.Y., for women
returning home from
|Friends of Ramona are determined to continue Ramona’s vision and to share it with the rest of the country and the world. They are Foxxy and Tray and Tray’s son Ty.|
Ramona went home
to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she was determined to continue to help
people in prison and people released from prison. From her personal
experiences, she knew what it was like to be the victim
of a broken and racist justice system. While she was in the artificial world of federal prison, the world had changed. She had to adjust to a world in which her young sons had become adults and had made her a grandmother. She had to adjust to new technology.
She needed housing and she needed a job. She had told her job counselor that she needed to hold out for a job that would offer her the flexible hours that she needed so she could speak out for the Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. The job counselor, Melissa Murmeth, who spoke at the funeral, asked her if that was a realistic goal. “Ramona assured me that it was possible.” She managed to obtain a job with the City of Charlotte, helping formerly incarcerated persons obtain employment. Her boss, Antione Ensley, who hired her after seeing her in a television interview, gave her those flexible hours so she could speak.
She finally met a good man and was married last March. With a job, the opportunity to speak, and a good marriage, Ramona was able to pursue her dream. Ramona’s dream was
to open a house for people to come to after being released from prison. Housing
and employment are big obstacles facing formerly incarcerated people. “She was
so close to having it. She knew which house she wanted. She always called it
her house. She spoke about it as often as possible and she did a lot of public
speaking”, Melissa Murmeth said.
Ramona died on
February 25th, a week shy of her 55th birthday.
Many condolences came, from people in prison, as well as from President Obama.
Amy Povah: A man serving a life sentence said, ‘She sent me a birthday card with her picture.’ A woman said, ‘She used to harass me to go to choir.’
At her funeral, it was announced that a house for
returning prisoners would be dedicated and would be named Ramona’s House.
Melissa Murmeth: Ramona’s vision was a huge building welcoming people home from prison with safe and affordable housing and a living wage job. She said, ‘Thank you, God, for my building.’
Pastor Mitchel Blue: On Monday, we had the incredible privilege and honor of incorporating Ramona’s House.
Melissa Murmeth: Thank you, God, for Ramona’s place.
injustice that she experienced, Ramona was never anything but a kind and
generous person, who loved her community, her family, her friends, and her
Pastor Mitchel Blue: Ramona lived her life selflessly with a consideration of others first in a way that honored God. I have no question on where Ramona is. She has been welcomed into the arms of God.
I love you, Ramona. Fly free.