Guest Post by The OpEd Project NYC Public Seminar Participant, Chandra Bozelko
“They’ll hear my voice and know I didn’t do it,” is exactly what I told my trial attorney.
I was facing almost twenty felonies and a myriad of misdemeanors. The prosecutor claimed to have a videotape showing me as I signed for a package that contained merchandise purchased on a stolen credit card and sent to my home, but, when the lights dimmed, the tape did not show me doing anything but putting my hands up. Then, the postal inspector testified about the attempted sting on me. I remembered exactly what I had asked him: “Who are you looking for? Chandra Bozelko? Does it say Chandra Bozelko?” Except his testimony was that I had identified myself as someone else. So I waited for the audio portion of the tape to be played, knowing it would exculpate me.
The audio of the sting was never played at my trial. The reason for this, testified the postal servant, was that “…it was unclear, so we just deleted it.” The state had deleted my voice.
The state deleted my voice that day at trial in 2007 and for the next six years at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut, the state’s only women’s prison. The powerlessness of the female prisoner left me feeling not only deleted, but depleted, as I spent so much energy writing to explain the faults in the criminal justice system in opinion pieces I mailed to publications around the country with little success.
Probably mid-way through my sentence, my father sent me an article about The OpEd Project. I almost lost my balance with relief at knowing that someone – the amazing Katie Orenstein – was championing deleted voices. I continued to write, but to Katie, asking her for assistance and thanking her for what she was doing. We exchanged letters and she advised me. She wanted to run The OpEd Project’s core seminar within the prison, but, ultimately, the warden disallowed it. I had to wait until I was released to benefit completely from all the work that Katie and her staff at The Oped Project were doing.
I ended my incarceration on March 18, 2014. My mother underwent lung cancer surgery soon after my release, so caring for her occupied my attention for a while.
As she mended, though, and I had more time to start my new life, I completed one of my first orders of business: attending that OpEd Project Seminar. I did not have a job at the time, so I applied for a scholarship and was lucky enough to receive one. I attended the core seminar in Manhattan on July 19, 2014 and met Orenstein, who told me, “I still have your letters.” Even if it were just that one trailblazing woman, someone heard what I had been saying all along.
If you have ever felt like your voice has been deleted, The OpEd Project can help you press “Undo” and get it back. The core seminar I attended was half-psychotherapy, half pinpointed instruction on how to find that voice, whether it has been deleted or not, but especially if it has suffered deletion.
Immediately upon coming home to Connecticut, I sharpened a draft of an opinion piece I had started. I sent it in for assignment to a Mentor-Editor less than 24 hours after the seminar ended.
I cannot predict which publication will publish my op-eds, if at all. But, because of The OpEd Project, I know my voice will not be deleted again.