Sybil Brand Dead at the Age of 104
A belated tribute to a woman who deserves more recognition than she received
by Rachel Worth, Worth-a-Million Productions
TORRANCE, CA – (May 30, 2004) – In the song "Abraham, Martin, and John" there is the line that states "the good they die young." Fortunately, that is not always the case. On February 17, 2004, Sybil Brand died of natural causes at her home in Beverly Hills. Although the Los Angeles Times devoted slightly more than a half page in their Obituary section on February 19, little else can be found that honors the end of this remarkable woman's life.
"Who was Sybil Brand, and why was she remarkable?" you may ask. Well, she was known for her generosity and community leadership and particularly her efforts to improve conditions for imprisoned women. In 1963, a new Los Angeles County jail was named in her honor. The Sybil Brand Institute for Women closed in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake.
In the 1940s, Brand was appointed to the Vocational Training Commission, which evolved into the Institutional Inspections Commission and was renamed the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections in the 1980s. Brand served as commission chairman until her death, although she stopped making facilities inspections about four years prior to her death. When she was physically able to make her rounds, she personally inspected detention facilities run by the Sheriff's Department, the Probation Department, and the Department of Children and Family Services.
According to the Los Angeles Times article, the first time she visited the floor of the men's jail where women were being detained, she found 1800 women crammed into facilities designed for 1200. "She saw women sleeping on the floor, with bugs crawling on them and she learned they were not allowed to bathe more than once a week." She immediately demanded that conditions be improved and that they be allowed to bathe daily.
Not long after that incident she set out to help raise funds to build a new jail facility for women, but ended up raising enough money to not only pay for the new women's facility but also a new men's jail and several honor camps.
She advocated decriminalizing prostitution, basically for economic reasons. She is quoted as saying that prostitutes "pay their fine and get out and then they're back in again. It costs us a fortune to keep them."
One of the reasons I decided to write this article is that I had the pleasure of meeting Sybil Brand many years ago--maybe 20 or more years ago. I used to have a gift business and was invited to sell my merchandise at a law enforcement conference. One of the items I sold was a large fireman bear, all decked out in black pants with suspenders, yellow jacket and red helmet. She fell in love with it, and although I had also donated one for a prize drawing for which she had bought raffle tickets, she wanted to be sure she bought my last one and not risk not having it. She was really nice and very down-to-earth, and I was so excited to meet this important woman.
She always treated all the incarcerated women with respect, and they greeted her warmly during her visits. Although she was born into a wealthy family and married into more wealth, she was always known for her generosity that dated all the way back to her childhood. She tried to live by a saying she heard from her mother: "If I can do one good deed a day, life is worth living."
May her memory live on as we all try to live by those words.
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