Betsy, pictured in middle, at an ACJP meeting in the early days.
On June 6th, 2017, our friend, comrade, and inspiration, Betsy Wolfe-Graves transitioned to the next life. For well over a decade, Betsy was with us at our rallies against injustice, at our weekly meetings to support families whose loved ones were facing the criminal justice system, and really at every significant community moment we had. We were, and are, stronger because Betsy is our family.
And Betsy was also our teacher — just by exampling, everyday, in every action, how to live a life committed to justice. She was the constant at our weekly Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project meetings. Her gift was being able to understand the emotion of injustice — to see the feelings in the room and speak to them. Because of that spirit, we all gravitated to her. She was our community empath. The youngster who was targeted by the criminal justice system because of his race and neighborhood, felt heard by her. The man who wrongfully did 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, felt believed by her.
But as soft as her voice and demeanor could be, when she needed to cut down the institutions that mistreated and oppressed our people, she was a samurai — with an ability to slice through to the truth with precision and power. And she was crafty. One time we were doing an independent investigation about a case we were all working on. One of the key things we needed was to better understand the layout of a home. We all assumed we would simply drive through the neighborhood and just get an outside view of the homes. But Betsy wanted to see inside the home. The case was years old, so there were new occupants. Long story short, Betsy, through her calculated charm, ended up being invited into the house by informing them exactly what she wanted to see and why, then delivered her analysis. Only Betsy could have done that, and made everyone, including those in the home, feel appreciated.
As she handled her health challenges with grace, she also did not let them slow her down either. At our meetings we would hear a rustling at the door as her partner Spencer would be dropping her off. De-Bug folks would rush to open the door for her, anxious to have her energy fill the room. She would arrive with a walker, and often times, even with an oxygen tank and mask. If anyone needed evidence that being a fighter for justice was not based on one’s physical form, it was Betsy. And she wasn’t just at the meetings to be there — she was all in. She was helping families challenge police, prosecutors, and the prison system. She often took on the hardest cases, and employed both her sharp analytical mind along with her nurturing heart. Because of that, she was often the only source of hope for those on the inside, some who thought they would never come home.
One man that developed a special bond with Betsy was Arthur, who was doing a life sentence. Arthur’s dad had been coming to meetings, and Betsy went through and dissected every single piece of paperwork for Arthur’s case, searching for some pathway home. At the same time she developed a correspondence with Arthur, who also had severe health issues in the prison. She was the dependable lifeline for Arthur, echoing his calls for medical attention in the prison, and someone to let him know he and his family were not alone in their quest for freedom. She was that letter of hope for many in fact.
Through the work of Betsy, her family, and her public defender Arthur got out two years ago — and one of the most De-Bug moments we have ever seen was witnessing the two of them embrace. Here is a video of that moment:
Betsy meeting with Arthur, after his home coming from 18 years.
We are sending Betsy to the next life with all of our love. And we know she will be cared for, as she joins our other angels who look over us.
Love you Betsy!
De-Bug crew with Betsy at her party when she went to Kansas. With you with every journey Betsy!