A battered Oklahoma woman, who was serving 30 years in prison for allegedly failing to protect her children from abuse, has finally been set free this week. Tondalao Hall, 35, served 15 years while her children's abuser spent just two years in jail.
Hall’s case was investigated in 2014 by BuzzFeed News. The inquiry found 28 mothers in 11 states had been sentenced to 10 years or more for allegedly failing to protect their children from abuse. In each case, there was ample evidence that the mother had also been also a victim of the abuse. Hall was one of three mothers who received a longer sentence than the abuser.
In 2004, Hall, who was 19 at the time, was arrested after injuries were discovered on her two youngest children when she took them to the hospital for treatment. The children’s father, Robert Braxton, was sentenced to two years in prison for breaking their 3-month-old daughter’s ribs and femur. Meanwhile, Hall was incarcerated in McLoud, Oklahoma, until last Friday.
“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,” Hall said in a statement from the ACLU of Oklahoma. “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!”
Tondalao Hall was arrested after her boyfriend left her baby girl with broken ribs. She didn't hurt the child, but still served 15 years over the abuse.— CNN (@CNN) November 9, 2019
Hall, 35, was just released from the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Oklahoma. https://t.co/wikl7PLQKS
Hall received a unanimous recommendation from the state parole board last month for commutation. Gov. Kevin Stitt proceeded to approve the request on Thursday, according to the ACLU.
“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,” ACLU of Oklahoma staff attorney Megan Lambert said in a statement. “We look forward to the day that all the other women wrongfully imprisoned for the crimes of their abusers follow Hall to freedom.”
Lambert told BuzzFeed News reporter Alex Campbell, who reported on Hall's case, that his investigation "played a fundamental role in bringing Ms. Hall's case to our attention."
The ACLU of Oklahoma began handling Hall's case in 2016. After attempting several legal recourses to have Hall freed over the last several years, the ACLU filed a commutation application, which included the support of the local district attorney, in March. It was the third commutation application filed with the state parole board on her behalf.
Tondalao Hall was sentenced to 30 years for "failure to protect" her children from their abusive father. She will walk free today after spending 15 years in prison.— The Marshall Project (@MarshallProj) November 8, 2019
More at @nytimes: https://t.co/o8dWgrhgiL
"It was a huge relief and really fun and healing to get to see her interacting with her children and her family again. It was long overdue," Lambert told BuzzFeed News. "We were able to get her out of prison 15 years early, but it was also 15 years too late."
Lambert said the moment "bittersweet" since both she and Hall know "there are still far too many women still incarcerated" due to the state's failure-to-protect laws. Between 2009 and 2018, 48 people were convicted of failure to protect in 13 of Oklahoma's 77 counties, according to Lambert. In 14 cases, the women received longer sentences than the men who were actually found guilty of child abuse. Lambert said there are at least four other women currently imprisoned at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, where Hall did her time, for failure-to-protect convictions.
Hall hopes to return to the prison as a volunteer and work with other women to obtain their freedom. "I love all them ladies," Hall said outside the prison, where she was greeted by her family. "I'm coming back to help a lot of them."