Can you share a little bit of background on Nikki’s story, and how you came to start The Nicole Addimando Community Defense Committee?
My sister Nikki suffered years of intimate partner violence. And one night in September 2017, after Child Protective Services opened an investigation into the abuse, and after several attempts to leave him, her partner pulled out his gun and threatened to kill her and then himself. Instead she got the gun and killed him first, saving her own life. She was also protecting her two children, ages 2 and 4 at the time, who were sleeping in the next room.
She thought the years of documented abuse — the domestic violence advocates she worked with, and the hospital and police records — would easily prove that it was self-defense. She was wrong. After she sought help from the police, she was arrested her and subsequently charged with murder.
Besides taking in her children and raising them along with my own, I helped start the Nicole Addimando Community Defense Committee to support Nikki’s legal battle and bring awareness to her story of criminalized survival — an issue that extends far beyond Nikki, and affects women of color at staggering rates. I quickly learned that women's prisons are filled with survivors of abuse, many of whom were punished with long sentences for choosing life over death. These women need advocates and support. With the help of the New York chapter of Survived & Punished — an organization dedicated to ending the criminalization of survival — we formed our own defense committee to raise funds, organize events, and support Nikki.
After a grueling public trial in which much of the evidence of abuse was omitted and a false narrative was spun by the prosecution (with no forensic evidence to back their claims), Nikki was convicted of the highest charges and sentenced to 19-years-to-life in prison— ripped from her rapidly growing children who desperately miss and need her.
The entire process opened my eyes to the rampant misogyny in our culture, and how uneducated our court system is about trauma and domestic violence. Caring for her traumatized children has become my life work.
What are your favorite things about Nikki as a sister, mother, and friend?
Nikki is a mother first and foremost. Her life orbited around the needs of her children — she was (and continues to be) one of the most attuned, emotionally available mothers I know. Even now, over a recorded prison line, she models parenting language and approaches to help me be a better mom.
Whether it's as a mom or sister or friend, Nikki is extraordinarily thoughtful and generous. She has the ability to connect with everyone she meets — to really SEE them and mirror back their goodness. Locking away someone like her — someone with so much to offer the world — is a severe disservice to society, especially to her children.
What are next steps in continuing to fight for justice and how can our community help?
The next step is an appeal. COVID-19 has thrown a serious wrench into the system, for so many reasons, but an appeal will be filed once the courts reopen.
Do you have any nail connection memories?
Every time I smell nail polish I’m transported back to being a middle schooler, collecting funky nail colors at Claire’s and swapping bottles with my sister. Our bedroom carpets were always stained from various spills, and we even went through a phase of ambitious nail art designs from a book we got at the library — lady bugs and paw prints and cow spots.
Now I have a special nail connection with Nikki’s daughter, Faye. I had one son before Nikki’s kids came into my life, so I eat up all of the girly girl play — spa nights and princess tea parties and, of course, doing our nails.
From where do you draw inspiration?
So much of the last three years has been sheer adrenaline-fueled survival, but I draw deeper inspiration from the incredible community of (mostly) women who have surrounded our family with love and support. I'm also continuously inspired by my spiritual teacher Tara Brach, whose meditation techniques have helped me navigate the stress and chaos around me.
How do you press reset and relax?
That’s a tough one right now. I'm a single mom quarantined with three kids, so it's hard to find the time to reset or the physical space to relax. I try to sink into my time with the kids, replenishing myself with their cuddles and laughs. When I need some space, I'll retreat to my room and savor however many minutes of quiet I can manage in a day.