saraICAN member

Sara Kruzan knows the power of both hope and hopelessness. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 1995 when she was 16, after she killed a person who had been abusing her for years. Sara served more than half of her life before earning a commuted sentence and eventual release in 2013. She is now 36. “I began to think that I deserved my sentence,” she said.  “I did not receive counseling for what I had done and I just thought there was no need to do anything. Why get an education? I’m going to die here. I thought that was just going to be my life.”

As she matured, Sara found ways to motivate herself. A former runner in school, she drew on the same power that helped her push forward when it felt like her lungs and legs would collapse. “Somehow, I took that and transformed it into a spiritual energy,” Sara described. “I discovered a strength while inside Chowchilla State Prison for Women that aided in redefining myself and helped me build a hope that inspired me to live my best life each day despite the confining circumstances.” She also became a model prisoner. She lived in the honor dorm, where she was recognized for her leadership. She also served as a mentor to other incarcerated women. She met with them regularly, taught them life skills and helped them set and meet goals, ranging from being kind to other people, to setting healthy boundaries, to maintaining a healthy diet. “I thought that it was my responsibility to give back to my peers and to be a part of the team because not much was offered for me when I came to prison,” she explained. “I just wanted to be a vessel for the other ladies.”

Watch Sara’s story of healing at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange here.

Sara’s case drew the attention of people throughout the country and the world, including those involved in the human trafficking movement. Advocates, fellow inmates, prison officials, and a bevy of other people wrote letters in support of her relief. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted her sentence to 25 years with the possibility of parole, and prosecutors last year agreed to reduce her conviction to second-degree murder, which made her immediately eligible for parole. Sara was released from prison in October 2013. Less than two weeks later, the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth honored her with the annual Healing & Hope Award during its annual awards reception. Sara accepted the award and offered comments electronically. “Having been in the position of serving a JLWOP sentence and now being an active member of society after serving 19 years plus, it is a wonderful feeling to live a life outside of a prison setting.”

Watch a Crime Watch special about Sara’s story here.