In the fall of 2020, Helen Naslund was sentenced to 18 years in prison for killing her abusive husband Miles on their Alberta farm. The sentence angered people across Canada, and is a clear example of how an outdated justice system views women and treats domestic violence cases. Through interviews and letters from prison, Naslund opened up to journalist Jana G. Pruden about the decades of abuse she endured, the day of Miles’ death and the cover-up that followed, and her fight for freedom. Pruden’s portrait of Naslund is tragic but ultimately hopeful, and shines a harsh light on how we fail to protect, and even punish, victims of domestic abuse and violence.

From then on, Helen understood without question that if she left Miles, many people would die. She would die, the kids would die, and others – police or neighbours or whoever else Miles could take down – would die, too. Of that, she had absolutely no doubt.

Helen’s case was tough. She’d been charged with first-degree murder, and if a jury could be convinced the shooting was planned – even if that meant getting the gun and loading it moments before – she’d spend 25 years in prison before she could even apply for parole. Her conduct after the shooting, in disposing of Miles’s body and reporting him missing, wasn’t particularly sympathetic. And despite being a victim of severe physical and mental abuse for nearly 30 years, a psychologist who assessed Helen didn’t diagnose her as having battered woman syndrome. Her memory could be poor, and it was difficult – even impossible – for her to open up about the things she and her sons had endured.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.