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Criminalized Survival

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A woman in a hoodie looks towards the right with grim determination.

Activist Kim Dadou Brown. (Photo by Daniel A. Nelson, © Grit Pictures LLC.)

Journalist Natalie Pattillo and filmmaker Daniel A. Nelson created the documentary film And So I Stayed to raise awareness about criminalized survival, the criminal justice system’s long practice of imprisoning survivors of intimate partner violence when they fight back against their abusers. Pattillo, herself a survivor, followed the stories of Kim Dadou Brown, Tanisha Davis and Nikki Addimando, women imprisoned for killing their abusers in a struggle to survive. 


  • Natalie Pattillo, journalist and mother
  • Daniel A. Nelson, filmmaker and cinematographer 

Music Credits: via WFMU free music archive

  • Poddington Bear, Alsace
  • HoliznaCC0, Whatever 


Making Contact Team

  • Host: Amy Gastelum
  • Producers: Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani, Amy Gastelum, and Lucy Kang
  • Executive Director: Jina Chung
  • Interim Senior Producer: Jessica Partnow
  • Engineer: Jeff Emtman


More Information:



Show Opener: Making. Making contact, making, making contact, making, making, making, making contact.

 Amy Gastelum: This week/Today on Making Contact we’re going to talk with the creators of the documentary film And So I Stayed. This award winning  film tells the story of three women who survived intimate partner violence only to land in prison after defending themselves. This is known as criminalized survival.

Natalie Pattillo: And I was like, wait, like we are putting women and survivors in prison for fighting for their own lives? Um,  

Amy Gastelum: That’s Natalie Pattillo. She’s a journalist, an abuse survivor and co-producer of the film. 

Natalie Pattillo:  as, uh, filmmakers we’re out to tell this story in a way that, uh, it deserves to be told. 

Amy Gastelum: All that, coming up on Making  Contact

Before we start, I want to let you know that we will be talking about Intimate Partner Violence or IPV. We have taken care not to include anything graphic. If you or someone you know needs help, you are not alone. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at  1-800-799-7233  This resource and others are posted on our website, 

Okay, now to our interview with filmmakers Natalie Pattillo and Daniel Nelson

So good to see you guys, and thank you so much for making the time to sit and talk with me today. I’m really excited to talk about your, to talk about your film.

Daniel Nelson: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Natalie Pattillo: it’s a pleasure. 

Amy Gastelum: I just was able to watch it, um, last week and, um, when I was watching the film, something that struck me was that it starts out with Kim Dadoo Brown, and  she’s sort of the,  matriarch in the film it seems like. I mean, she has, she’s on the other side of a prison sentence and she has gone back essentially with her advocacy work to say, I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Um,  how did you all get involved with Kim?

Natalie Pattillo: That’s a great question. So back in 2015. Um, I was working on my master’s project at Columbia and, um, before like really knowing what I was gonna cover as an, I knew that I wanted it to be about domestic violence. Um, I had my own personal history and then, um, my sister was killed back in 2010 by her abuser.

So those two, um, very personal experience, kind of, uh, you know, were very formative to me as to why I wanted to pick domestic violence as an issue to cover. And that was pre me too. So I didn’t see a lot of like very nuanced and sensitive coverage. And so I told a professor at the Dart Center for Trauma Journalism, uh, about my personal history and sort of my drive, and he was like, have you ever considered, um, covering the issue of women or survivors, who are criminalized for fighting back or even being coerced by their abuser to commit a crime?

And like, I couldn’t, my mind couldn’t, like most people I think who aren’t familiar with, um, criminalized survival, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. And I was like, wait, like we are putting women and survivors in prison for fighting for their own lives? Um, When I had had that experience of my sister being killed, cuz that those to me, I was like, it’s very clear that’s what would’ve happened to the women had they not fought back. So, um, I was just reaching out to organizations that worked with survivors who had been criminalized and eventually one of the organizations that I reached out to put me in touch with Kim, um, and yeah, it was a phone call, um, she was, I like in a parking lot somewhere and I was doing laundry in the basement of my apartment building. And um, she asked me those questions like on the first call, like, why do you wanna do this? And that’s when I shared the personal history part and that I just wanted to give. Uh, the issue, the topic, uh, it’s due diligence,

Amy Gastelum: In 1991 Kim was in a car with her abuser when he physically attacked her, threatening her life. Kim reached below her seat where he kept a gun. She shot him to save her own life. Tanisha and Nikki, the other women in the film, were also charged for killing their abusers in a struggle to survive.

 Natalie Pattillo: When I started building trust with Kim and learning more about her story,  of, you know, fighting back against her abusive boyfriend  I, I just kept wanting to uncover what went wrong. Um, so there was no data to show  how vastly, uh, prominent criminalized survival was. But once I started digging and reporting,  I immediately saw that it wasn’t just happening in New York State or in Rochester. It was happening, you know, um, everywhere. Um, and with great frequency.

Amy Gastelum: Hey, it’s Amy again.  I just want to jump in to give some context. First, In the US, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men are victims of intimate partner violence.  COVID lockdowns made it worse.   But what happens to victims when they fight back? A lot of times, they’re charged with violent crimes.

IPV survivors are usually charged for these four things: physically defending themselves, failing to protect their children from abusive spouses. They’re also charged for crimes they committed under coercion from abusors and if they’re undocumented, survivors are sometimes reported to immigration enforcement.

A convergence of racist systems disproportionately criminalizes Black and Brown survivors. Sometimes the legal system doesn’t even acknowledge that IPV exists in queer relationships. Go to our website for more information.

Okay, we’re going back to our interview with Natalie Patillo and Daniel Nelson. They made the documentary film And So I Stayed. The protagonist, Kim Dadou Brown helped write a bill that would take a history of domestic abuse into account when a judge sentences a criminalized survivor. The film documents Kim’s work on the bill.

Natalie Pattillo: I mean, you know, in the film you see she’s just this incredible, person, just like this compassionate powerhouse of, of a person who, um, has been through so much adversity and uh, you know, used her pain for purpose and, uh, I still, I, and the fact that she trusted me was kind of, I, I’m so grateful for, to this day because I was just this grad student like, I couldn’t promise her that this was gonna be in the New Yorker or the New York Times, or, you know, some big article

Amy Gastelum: Yeah,  and then Daniel, how did you get involved?

Daniel Nelson: Yeah, so, um, Natalie and I went to school together at Columbia.  And she had let me read a version of her written master’s thesis about Kim. And I just remember reading it and being so blown away, um, by not just the story and Natalie’s writing, but just Kim as a person and how compelling she was, and so I approached Natalie and I asked her if she had any interest in turning the written version of her story into a documentary.

Um, and I don’t think we knew what that meant necessarily at the time, all those years ago. Um, but Natalie just said, well, let me talk to Kim. Let me see what she thinks. Um, and if she’s on board, uh, yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m for it. And so, uh, she talked to Kim, and Kim was on board. And, and, and that was, yes, about six years ago. And, and here we are now with a documentary.

Amy Gastelum: And here we are now.  I was wondering if one of you could set up a clip That I’ve pulled of Kim, um, trying to gather signatures for the dvs j a at the Women’s March in New York. 

Natalie Pattillo: Yeah. The Women’s March, that was, 

Daniel Nelson: I think, I think that was January, 2018.

Natalie Pattillo: So, um, yeah, we just followed Kim who was gathering signatures. What a prime time, right? When people are all like fired up, ready to go, we want change, these issues matter to us. And she used that opportunity as a time to be like, do you know that women and survivors are being incarcerated for fighting for their lives?

And you know, uh, there’s some beautiful moments, especially of her just looking so happy and free and just, um, it was really special to watch. yes. Uh,

Film Clip, Kim Dadou Brown: Hi. Excuse me. I’m trying to get signatures for the dvs j a. It’s a bill we’re trying to get past.  It’s for domestic violence survivors to not be re-victimized by the criminal justice. System Bills a, it’s, it’s called the dbs, J A, the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.

And what it is is a bill we’re trying to get past in New York State that would give judges and das discretionary power when sentencing a woman convicted of a domestic violence crime. And this bill will give judges and das time to force them to take notice that there is such thing as domestic violence.

 We’ve been working on this for eight years, and I just don’t want any other woman to spend over half her life in prison for defending herself.

Daniel Nelson: There were so many little moments during that, that day that, really did a great job of just establishing who Kim is as a person. I mean, she is very passionate, um, and really just has no fear when it comes to talking about this.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah. That moment sets up who Kim is as a person, and it also sets up what the D V S J A is essentially, it gives you kind of an overview because she’s explaining it to the folks in the crowd, right?  Um, can you talk about the D V S J A?

Natalie Pattillo:  Sure. Yes.

Amy Gastelum: What is it?

Natalie Pattillo:  So it is New York’s Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act. Um, it’s a law that gives judges the discretion to,  take into consideration that intimate partner violence was a, uh, quote unquote significant contributing factor to the crime.

So, um, there are two ways the law can work,  it could work at trial when you’re being sentenced. And you can, um, ask for a D V S J A hearing, um, and the judge will decide whether or not, uh, they think the person is eligible. And it can also be used, I guess, retroactively as well for folks who are currently incarcerated.

And you know, um, Kim will tell you, and,  and even other experts were not very, um, optimistic about it ever becoming a law. Like they still fought for it.

I mean, this was 10 years in the making. This, uh, took a very long time. A lot of legislation does, but this, you know, it’s wonderful. It’s a great tool. It’s not like super ultra progressive. It, it, it still, um, criminalizes the survivor or acts as something that, you know, like. Has the notion that they should serve some amount of time.

Amy Gastelum:  You’re still playing ball with the criminal justice system as it

Natalie Pattillo: Exactly. So it’s kind of, you know, like they always say it was like, this is a get outta jail free card. And it’s like, what, what card is that? Uh, I don’t know. So it, it, it’s, um, it’s an incredible tool. We’ve seen it work. Um, we’ve seen it not work and create just utter devastation. I think there were times where we were filming, right? And we were like, what are we, what are we doing? Like, we’re following this,  like it was incredible to follow Kim and just see her pure resilience and like steadfast, um, hope that maybe even if she doubted it a lot, that it could happen. Um, it was incredible to document that, but  we were just like, where is this gonna go?

Daniel Nelson: None of us really thought,  that this bill would ever get signed into law. And, and then something really great happened in 2018 with the midterms and, and the New York State Senate went from Republican to Democrat for the first time in a really long time.

And so I think because of that, they were able to push through a lot of this kind of legislation. Um, and so a year after that, yeah, in 2019, they were finally able to, to sign this bill into law and, um, we kind of thought that at the time, like we finally like, have an ending to this film and, and, you know, advocacy works and, and, and all that. And, and I think Natalie was a huge champion of just,  we, we need to follow this up. We need to see what happens next. You know, like we need to see how this, how this law is gonna be implemented because the precedent is being set right now and it’s still being set even now in 2023. Um, and so we, we decided to sort of  stay on. And  find other, uh, survivors who were maybe seeking, uh, relief from this new law re re-sentencing. I, is there anyone that’s now gonna use this at the trial phase? And so that’s, that’s kind of how we pivoted and, and incorporated the stories of, of, uh, Nikki and Tanisha.

Lucy Kang: You are listening to Making Contact. Just jumping in here to remind you to visit us online. If you like today’s show or wanna leave us a comment, we have more And now back to the show.

Amy Gastelum: Welcome back to the show. Today we are talking to Natalie Pattillo and Daniel Nelson, creators of the documentary film And So I Stayed. It tells the story of three women incarcerated for fighting back against their abusers. We’ve learned  about Kim Dadou Brown’s story. In the second half, we’re going to hear about the other women in the film, Tanisha Davis and Nicole “Nikki” Addimando. 

Natalie Pattillo: The beautiful thing about both Nikki and Tanisha is that, um, Kim was already in contact with Tanisha through letter writing, and she was already in contact with, uh, Nikki’s family members. So, um, Kim, you know, kind of gave them a sense of what our values were and what we were about. And, um, I think obviously that helped so much, um, to have someone like Kim, uh, speak on our behalf as, uh, filmmakers who are not out to make a true crime, we’re out to tell this story in a way that, uh, it deserves to be told. Um, and yeah, you know, uh, damn it’s crazy to look back on all of that.

Amy Gastelum: Tanisha was serving a 14 year sentence when the DVSJA became a New York State law in 2019. Tanisha’s lawyers asked Natalie and Daniel if they could use their footage of interviews with Tanisha’s family. They hoped it would give the judge in her appeal a sense of who Tanisha was. So, Natalie and Daniel put together a short film for them.

Natalie Pattillo: We really didn’t know what we were doing. We’re just hoping to help.  And then we get a call from her lawyer, uh, and very excited call. It was like four FaceTimes. She’s never FaceTimed us, And we learned that, you know, the judge watched the video and like they wanna release her under the DVSJA.

Amy Gastelum: After 8 years in prison, Tanisha was released for time served. She was the first domestic violence survivor to be resentenced under the DVSJA in her county.

Natalie Pattillo: So it was kind of wild. Like we didn’t really know what our ultimate film would look like. We just wanted to keep to our North star, which was to like, help free survivors who were unjustly incarcerated.

Amy Gastelum: You know, you guys are talking about the way that Tanisha and Kim and  Nicole are sort of linked together. And I was really struck by, uh, one particular scene in the film where Kim actually goes when Tanisha is released from prison.  So can, can one of you maybe just set up that scene for us?

Natalie Pattillo: I think we were all running very high and couldn’t believe on emotions. Like we couldn’t believe, you know, like this person that we knew, um, was finally gonna be able to reunite with her son and her mom and her sister and her community. And,   And we like waited forever and it just like, I will never forget, uh, the moment that, you know, she walked out 

Film Clip:

Tanisha’s mother: Come on Come on, I see somebody standing there.

There she is!

Kim Dadou Brown: Tell me about seeing Nikki

Tanisha Davis: Um, Nikki?

Kim Dadou Brown: Yeah. Tell me about,

Tanisha Davis: oh, she cried. She was so like, happy for me, but I’m definitely gonna try to think whatever I can.

Kim Dadou Brown: What did she say to you?

Tanisha Davis: She just. She wanna come home. Right. She’s just,

Kim Dadou Brown: we’re work. We’re gonna work on this.

Tanisha Davis: Yes. I told her, I said, I’m not giving up on her.

Natalie Pattillo: It was kind of incredible that, you know, Tanisha, um, And Kim have that moment at the end where they talk about Nikki and you see how it all ties together.

Amy Gastelum: Well, I was gonna tell you that when I was watching it, and I realized in that moment, Kim is there, Tanisha is there, she’s just been released from prison. And Kim turns to Tanisha and is like, hows Nikki? And I’m like, boom. Oh my God. Tanisha and Nikki were in prison together.  They knew each other there and they knew each other’s cases.  It was just a hugely impactful moment in the film for me watching. Um, Nikki is still in prison. Right?

Natalie Pattillo: Yeah. It’s,

Daniel Nelson: Yeah.

Natalie Pattillo: It’s. Yeah. Yeah. She is, she is.  I mean the, the fact that the judge didn’t think she was eligible right.  To be considered under this law that had been passed was heartbreaking. Doesn’t even capture that. Right. It was kind of wild to see that despite. Truly mountains of evidence. I, I know cuz I’ve printed it all out and it is mountains. It’s undeniable, um, that the abuse was a significant contributing factor, um, to the quote unquote crime.  And  uh, you know, even processing with Kim sometimes  you know, she’s like, I feel like I failed Nikki. I’m like, no, Kim, you did, you didn’t fail her. That’s the legal system. Did, uh, the bigger system did. Um, and you know, seeing her separated from her kids learning about other survivors who are in similar situations, it’s really hard to process.

Amy Gastelum: In the film, Nikki’s sister holds a candle light vigil outside of Bedford Hills prison to raise awareness about criminalized survival and Nikki’s case. Natalie and Daniel filmed it.

Nicole’s sister, Michelle Horton: I am standing here as someone who has been deeply affected by this issue. I am the one who has had to pick up the pieces for our family who is caring for her. Two young children who have been traumatized first by. The domestic violence they witnessed in their home, and then further by the sudden loss of both of their parents overnight. They’re both so innately in tune with their mother as children with strong maternal bonds often are, and all of Nikki’s fear and anxiety was and continues to be felt through them. They are the ones who are hurt most from this separation. Nikki is not the only woman in this building behind us. Or in this country who have survived horrific abuse and are now criminalized in a system that can often mirror the coercive control of an abuser. Thank you for using your voices to speak for those women who are silenced for using your power to join in collective action. Thank you for being here for Nikki.

Amy Gastelum: Nikki is still in prison, but in 2021, her lawyers used the DVSJA in an appeal. Her 19 year sentence was reduced to seven and a half. Her family and supporters are expecting her to be released in 2024.

What’s the impact been of the D V S J A, if you guys had to sum it up some kind of way, like is this, are there sentencing laws like this in other states? Like what does it really do? I hear you saying you’re still playing ball with a, with a messed up criminal justice system, so it’s not like a golden ticket. It’s not the solution. But if you had to sum up what the impact has been, what would you say?

Natalie Pattillo:  So far, you know, on at least the re-sentencing for folks who are currently incarcerated, um, as opposed to using it at trial,  we’ve seen some incredible things. We really have. We’ve seen some people who are released under the D V S J A that spent, over 20 years in prison, like all of their adult life. It’s hard to, I think, cuz the data is ….they had to catch up because there wasn’t any data.

Um, the Survivors Justice Project, uh, which is housed in Brooklyn Law School, like Kate Mogulescu is a lawyer, uh, there, who we’ve worked with and been in touch with over the years. Just seeing her take, like her and so many other legal teams like take, um, really important risks, uh, with just putting, um, these applications together. Uh, you know, really taking a trauma-informed, sensitive approach to these cases, I think is very healing to the survivors in a way where the legal system just does not allow for that. Um, and Tanisha’s, like I interview that we did only for the purpose of that. Um, Application. She said the DVSJA is a chance for us to tell our story. And I think that to me, sums up the impact. It’s a way out potentially, but it’s a way to be heard and seen and hopefully believed.

Amy Gastelum: New York’s Survivor’s Justice Project published a report in April this year. It’s a legislative blueprint for other states to follow. The reports says that so far, 40 people have used the DVSJA to get sentencing relief through appeals. 80% are people of color.  A growing number of states are considering similar bills. Efforts are underway in Louisiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Oregon.

Well, tell me, tell me this, what’s next for the film?  How can people be involved? Tell me about the impact campaign.

Natalie Pattillo: Oh man. Impact Campaign. So we released, in, 2021. Since then, we’ve been hitting the ground running with  a lot of screenings in, uh, various communities. But  our, our goal right now is to get the film inside of, uh, prisons.  Just so that survivors on the inside know that people are working   to support, um, you know, their freedom and to validate their experiences, um, and so our hope is that, you know, people in states that don’t have something pending like the D V S J A, that it sort of ignites them to put together,  some sort of advocacy at the grassroots level  and maybe, you know, spearhead something like the DVSJA in their own state. And yeah, like if you’re listening and you are not sure whether your community has something like the DVSJA,  get in touch with the public defender’s office. They probably know exactly what you’re talking about in terms of  you know, if you ask, do we put survivors in prison for, uh, fighting back or for being coerced by their abuser to commit a crime? I’m sure the public defender would be able to tell you what is available,  legally in terms of relief for folks and, and maybe there can be a conversation had with other community members,  working with,  incarcerated folks  on what they need, um, to feel supported.

Amy Gastelum: Thank you both so much and, um, for, for your time and for sharing your experience with me and for sharing the film with all of us. Um, is there anything else that you think that I should know or that our listeners should know?

Natalie Pattillo: We have a take action section in our website, so  if they wanted to, you know, know more about, how they could help the survivors, there’s a whole list of ways.

Amy Gastelum: Awesome. All right, y’all, thank you so much 

Daniel Nelson: yeah. Thank you. Thanks

Natalie Pattillo: Yeah. Thanks so much, Amy.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah. Good to see you. Take care.  I’m Amy Gastelum. You’ve been listening to Making Contact.  If you want to know more about the film or criminalized survival, go to our website, Until next week.

Author: Jessica Partnow

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