By Michael Saltz
For Columbia-Greene Media
I am: a prisoner of love
I am: a prisoner of life
I am: a prisoner of the world
I am: a prisoner of sacrifice
I am: a prisoner of
Anne Marie Venne, 1963-1979
Part One of this series concerned the buzz of criminal-justice reform and the fact that some people are jailed because they can’t pay a fine for minor offenses or, as it has been called, the crime of being poor. It then continued with a story I became engrossed in, the story of Anne Marie Venne, a 16-year-old girl who hung herself six days before she was due to be released from the Albany County jail. I set out to find what I could about her life and death.
Anne Marie Venne was born on June 13th, 1963, and grew up in Lyon Mountain, NY, officially a hamlet within the larger town of Dannemora in Adirondack Park. As of 2010, the population was 423. It may have been a bit larger when she was born because of the iron ore that was mined there and which was used in building the Brooklyn, George Washington and Golden Gate bridges. The last big iron ore mine closed, I believe, in 1967.
Anne was the sixth and last of Albert and Theresa’s children and, by everybody’s account, was a happy child who loved nothing more than her horse, like many other girls. Things seem to have changed with the onset of puberty. Anne grew wilder, more volatile, more and more difficult to control either by others or by herself. It certainly became too much of a burden for Theresa and Albert, a drinker, who I think was out of work.
In 1977, Anne OD’d (she was 13 or 14) and Theresa asked the courts to declare Anne a PINS, a “person in need of supervision,” and to have the state take over the responsibility of caring for her. There followed a period of placement in six foster homes, two stays in the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Hospital in Ogdensburg, two suicide attempts, placement in George Jr. Republic, and a shelter for adolescent runaways one or two times. There were lots of drugs and lots of sex with several people. There was the possibility of a pregnancy and a miscarriage (it’s not clear if the pregnancy was real and, if so, how it was terminated). There were rumors (never confirmed) that Anne had occasionally earned money by prostituting herself in Albany. There was a boyfriend, Steve Lawrence, whom she had met in 1977 while still living at home. All this happened just in the three or four years before her suicide.
When Anne was arrested she had been with Steve in a car he was driving, a car in which she and Steve had been living. The car had different license plates on the front and back. Maybe Steve thought it was impossible for anyone to see or notice the difference, but the police did notice and stopped the car and asked Steve to get out. When he did so, Anne, who didn’t have a driver’s license, slid into the driver’s seat and sped off. The police gave chase and, having caught up with her, arrested her. Why did she do such a foolish thing? Maybe … well, who knows? She can’t tell us anymore.
On November 23rd, 1977, Anne pleaded guilty and the judge set her fine at $170. She didn’t have any money. Steve couldn’t or wouldn’t put up the money, nor could or would any of her friends. Her mother said that she hoped it would teach Anne a lesson, a lesson that she hadn’t managed to learn since becoming an adolescent, since, perhaps, writing to her mother, “I hate you, you bitch.” Nor would any of the social service agencies that were supposedly responsible for her, presuming the court had let them or any of the foster families she had stayed with know about her plight.
So, Anne was sentenced to 55 days in jail, originally in Clinton County where she was arrested. Because the jail was overcrowded, she was sent to the county jail in Albany to serve out her sentence. In her time there she had no visitors. She made no telephone calls. She was a well-behaved prisoner. She reportedly cried a lot. She was scheduled to be released early, on December 26th, the day after Christmas, as a reward for her good behavior. And on the night of the 21st, she killed herself.
Among her belongings was an undated note, perhaps written while she was in George Jr. Or perhaps the year before when she was in Ogdensburg.
“To Whom it May Concern
“Steve was the one who helped me first. I was on heavy drugs and always alone with my horse and all wanted from the outside world was booze and drugs. Then I met Steve and he changed my life by wanting to be with people. But then people started using me and I ended up getting hurt. Steve never hurt me and never would so then Steve was added to the list of crutches. 1. Drugs. 2. Beer, alcohol. 3. Steve. Then heavy drugs weren’t my crutch anymore. And then gradually it was just me and Steve. But when they sent me away I became dependent on people and when I did they used me again. Then I just didn’t want to live because I was just too weak to handle this world. So then I went back to drugs and I loved hurting people and instead of hurting people I was hurting myself. These are things that flash in my mind and they are jumping off bridge, cutting my wrist, taking pills (OD), trying to hang myself, my grandmother in her coffin, the blood pouring out, when I stabbed Tony, my arm bleeding, the car accident. Seeing Cindy. There’s more, getting a bit hysterical.”
[Written later but on the same page, the handwriting looks different]
“Steve please help me. I need you.”
In the next column we’ll learn more about Steve and Anne’s friends.