Growing up in Clovis, New Mexico, Francesca Duran learned from he alcoholic mother to respond to problems not with dialogue, but with violence.
“My mom was a single mother and alcoholic and abusive,” Francesca said. “Instead of talking, she’d put hands on us when she wanted us to behave a certain way, and that included whipping. ”
When Francesca learned some girls had beaten up her older sister, she was ready to respond with physical abuse.
Francesca, her sister, and one of their cousins — all of whom were victims of ongoing childhood abuse — gathered to retaliate. During the ensuing fight, Francesca’s cousin pulled a knife and stabbed one of the other girls, killing her. Though Francesca didn’t know her cousin was going to bring a weapon, and had no intention of killing anyone, law enforcement authorities charged her with accessory to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy, and harboring a felon.
She was 13 years old.
During the next three years, one defendant after another pleaded guilty, but Francesca did not. She felt terrible about the victim, but refused to falsely admit she had planned to kill her. During that time, authorities placed her in solitary confinement in a juvenile detention facility, with no access to mental health services. Officials told Francesca they put her there because her case was high-profile.
Francesca’s father saw her mental health was declining while she was in solitary. He petitioned the court to release her on house arrest, and a judge did granted the request. While home awaiting trial, Francesca began dating a boyfriend and got pregnant at age 16.
The judge ruled that Francesca had violated the terms of her release because she had interacted with someone outside her family, and remanded her back to juvenile hall. She spent several more months there, and decided to resolve her case. “I was six months pregnant at that point, so I asked the DA for a plea bargain,” she said. “I wante4d to be able to be part of my child’s life.”
Francesca pleaded to lesser charges, including battery resulting in great bodily harm, and was sentenced to two years in juvenile detention. She gave birth to he son, Joedamien, while incarcerated. Francesca’s mother, who had received treatment for alcoholism, took care of the baby while Francesca served her time. She was released in 2003, when the boy was a year old.
While serving her time, Francesca met Susannah Burke, a social services casework who asked her, “What happened to you in your early life?” No one had ever asked Francesca about her formative years or expressed such interest in her well-being.
Francesca and Burke stayed in touch after Francesca’s release. In 2006, Burke hired Francesca to work at PB & J Family services, which provides social services to families in the Albuquerque area. Francesca started as a home visitor, conducting home visits to ensure that children were in healthy environments. She worked her way up, and today supervises six workers in that unit.
“All families matter, all parents are human beings who deserve respect, people are greater than their circumstances, people can change,” Francesca said. “It’s strong leaders like ICAN and CSFY that exemplify these values.”