Debbie Peagler passed away Tuesday morning, June 8, 2010, after an 18-month bout with lung cancer, and after enjoying approximately 10 months of hard-won freedom.
She was 50 years old, and was at home with family and many friends nearby when she died.
I had the chance to visit with Debbie the night before she passed, and I know that she did not want us to be sad about her life coming to an end. While she did not have as much time with her family and loved ones, as we all wanted for her, she did receive what she and her family needed. She was at last able to share her love for her siblings, children, and grandchildren without the restrictions of prison rules and walls.
She was able to receive the embrace and forgiveness of Oliver Wilson’s mother, sisters, and brother, bringing closure to decades of anguish endured by two intertwined families.
While she was behind bars, Debbie helped many women find the path to a better life. One woman, Marilyn, who I just interviewed Monday night, told me how she had been a hard-core heroin addict when she met Debbie in prison, but that Debbie always mentored her and told her, “Someday you’re gonna be done with that stuff.”
Today, Marilyn has been clean and sober for nine years and is a certified drug counselor about to earn her bachelor’s degree. She said she couldn’t have done it without Debbie planting the seed and acting as what she called her “guardian angel.”
Despite her death, Debbie’s legacy will live on, and I look forward to sharing her story with the world through the film I am making on her life.
Donations to support the film can be made online at http://www.reelchanges.org/projects/crime.
With your help, we will finish the film this year and launch a national campaign on behalf of people who have been abused and wrongfully incarcerated. Debbie saw the rough cut of the film several times, and she told me that her favorite part was when my camera crew chased Deputy District Attorney Lael Rubin down the sidewalk, in an effort to get a comment from the agency that engaged in such a wide array of misconduct.
I feel that Debbie was with us again when we managed to interview L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley at his campaign party and ask him some pointed questions about Debbie’s case (Cooley was running for California Attorney General).
I am also in the process of establishing a fund in Debbie’s name that will directly benefit her favorite organizations, including the California Habeas Project, which paired her with the legal team that eventually won her freedom.
She and I agreed on the name: “The Debbie Peagler Fund for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Wrongful Incarceration,” and we will include information about donating to the fund in the film’s end credits.
Debbie Denise Peagler showed us all how to live a dignified, compassionate, and deeply meaningful life, no matter the limitations and wrongs we may suffer. Her grace will be missed and remembered. She was a woman of God and profoundly one of a kind.
Potash is a Colorado-based producer, who followed Debbie Peagler’s story until the very end.
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