Sara Kruzan makes sure her daughter Summer Reign-Justice never wants ice cream, because it was a triple dip of mint shavings and rocky road that led Kruzan to murder and jail.
But she also wants to make sure Summer has something more substantial to protect her future: a pardon for Kruzan from Governor Gavin Newsom so that Summer can grow up knowing that we Californians forgive her mother’s crimes and recognize indifference and racism. from us that allowed Kruzan to be treated like a disposable black girl.
Why she didn’t receive this forgiveness is a mystery to me.
Kruzan was 11 years old, poor and abused, driving home to a place known as Rubidoux, Riverside County, when a man pulled up next to her in a red Mustang and offered to ride her. buy him that ice cream. She had never seen a car like this, and the thought of the cool treat on this hot day was irresistible. Better than coming home and getting punched in the face by your mom, anyway.
By the time Kruzan was 13, 31-year-old Mustang man George Gilbert “GG” Howard was her violent pimp, forcing her to have sex with 11 men on her first night on the streets of Chicago. Hollywood and Orange County. . Over the next few years, he hurt her, sold her out, and left her feeling unable to inhabit her own body and unable to escape it.
Thinking she had found true love with a man named Johnny and fearing her estranged uncle, she agreed to help them rob Howard. But it all went wrong, and Kruzan ended up shooting and killing Howard in the honeymoon suite of a cheap motel, where Howard was about to sexually assault her with a painful massage tool he had been using. on her many times before. She was so scared and shocked after firing the gun that she ran away barefoot, leaving her purse behind.
Appalling? Yes. But what happened next could be worse – because it’s on us.
Within weeks, the police arrested her. Tried as an adult, she was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1995, for a crime she committed when she was 16. to exist.
And it wasn’t until 2017 that California stopped arresting children for prostitution. Prior to this law change, California often considered trafficked children to be consenting sex workers — especially black and brown girls who make up a high percentage of those forced to live on the streets. For decades, this state and this country ignored the prison pipeline that locks up girls for being abused and trafficked, and for having the audacity to fight back. Thus Kruzan was simply seen as a child prostitute and murderess who robbed and killed her trafficker.
Kruzan’s first pity came from the governor at the time. Arnold Schwarzenegger on his last Sunday in office in 2011, when he commuted his sentence to 25 years with the possibility of parole.
She was released two years later in 2013, after a Riverside County judge reduced her second-degree murder charges and reduced her sentence to approximately 16 years, which she had served.
After spending nearly 19 years in jail and prison, Kruzan was free at 35.
Well, sort of free. Because that belief hangs over his head like the sword of Damocles – making his life difficult and always, one way or another, bringing him more instability and pain, as well as to Summer.
This manifests in obvious ways, like when she tries to find an apartment or a job and the background check turns into a giant roadblock. She moved on anyway, becoming a national advocate for reforming laws that allow children to be treated as adults and ignore the abuse of sentencing trafficking. This month, her memoir, “I Cried to Dream Again,” was released, detailing with searing honesty what she’s been through.
But nothing she does seems to be enough to get over that night in the hotel room, she said. It is the psychic burden that weighs on her, another kind of prison, a poison for her ambition and her well-being.
“I feel like I’ve kind of built my life on this quicksand, repeating patterns, repeating traumas,” she told me. “Definitely, I don’t trust a lot of people.”
It is heartbreak and torment that Romarilyn Ralston understands. Like Kruzan, she was convicted of murder and served over two decades. She was released in 2011.
In January, sitting in her office at Cal State Fullerton where she is director of a program for formerly incarcerated people, she received a call she thought was a prank. The man on the phone said he was Newsom.
Of course, she said. No, really, he told her. He was calling her to let her know that he had signed his pardon.
Until that moment, she didn’t fully understand what it would mean for her, she said.
“I was able to help so many people, but I couldn’t help but overcome the burden of the crime I had committed, and the family [of the victim] that I have the impression of being separated, until the day when the governor called me”, she confided to me recently. “And I think that was the last piece I needed to really break free in my heart and in my soul. It didn’t change my life, it doesn’t absolve me of what I did , it doesn’t erase my record, but it did something for my soul, and I think Sara needs it too.
Ralston said she was surprised how much clemency also meant to her family, relieving them of a burden as well. She thinks Summer deserves the freedom to be pardoned as much as her mother. So we don’t pass on the trauma of our insensitivity to another generation.
“The message [now] your mother is a monster. And she’s not a monster, she’s a human. And human beings hurt people and we make mistakes and that’s terrible, but the beauty of being human is that we’re able to overcome it and transform our lives and allow our true human spirit to thrive.” Ralston said. “I think that without forgiveness, [Kruzan’s] the human spirit will suffer forever, because mine was.
I asked the governor’s office about Kruzan, but he won’t comment on the clemency process.
I will, however: it’s political. In an election season when one of the few issues that seems to weigh against Newsom or the Democrats is crime, pardoning murderers is probably not high on the governor’s to-do list.
Kurzan’s pro bono legal team is also asking Riverside County Dist. Atti. Michael Hestrin to review the case and possibly ask the court to overturn the conviction. A spokesperson for Hestrin said he could not comment on the request because the prosecutor’s conviction review committee is reviewing it. Hestrin is also up for re-election, in a county that loves tough-on-crime politicians.
Thus, the game is stacked against Kruzan again, as the system has bigger concerns than the fate of a formerly incarcerated woman and her first-year daughter. Or at least bigger for some.
But Kruzan is in trouble. If you asked me to describe her in one word, that would be vulnerable. She needs help and needs to know that we see her for the woman she has become. She doesn’t need it when the election is over, or when it’s convenient for us. She needs it now.
She tries to focus on making sure Summer knows “she’s got a home, mom’s gonna be there with her”, and she tries to keep her faith that the arc of the moral universe bends, if not at justice, to better days.
She requested that whatever I write, I include Jeremiah 29:11, a Bible quote that has kept her together since prison: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Summer is 7 years old and she will grow up knowing all the difficult details of her mother’s life – there is no shelter from Google. But a pardon reshapes that story, gives it a new ending, and offers a new beginning — for Kruzan and for California.
Summer Reign-Justice deserves nothing less.