By Olivia Klaus
I vividly remember entering the California Institution for Women for the first time in 2001. As the prison guard slammed the gate behind me, I wondered if I had made the right decision to become a volunteer for an inmate support group. But my nerves were eased by a woman who introduced herself as "Krenny." Welcoming me into the group, she seemed quiet and insecure -- yet also exuded an inner strength. I had no idea how she got here and didn't ask.
It was only several years later, while documenting the support group for a documentary film, "Sin by Silence," that I learned Krenny's full name: Patricia Krenwinkel. I was astounded. She was one of the infamous Charles Manson followers, convicted of seven murders. She eventually approached me to go on camera with her story.
In this Op-Doc video, Ms. Krenwinkel provides her first on-camera interview since 1994, reflecting on her life before and after Manson. This week is the 45th anniversary of her crimes.
In 1969, at age 21, Ms. Krenwinkel was a member of Mr. Manson's cult in Los Angeles. His group, which he called the "Family," included more than a dozen men and women who adhered to a bizarre mixture of hippie culture and apocalyptic paranoia. Seeking to inspire a race war, Manson ordered Ms. Krenwinkel and other members of his group to commit a series of murders. Over the course of two nights, they savagely murdered seven people, inflicting more than 130 stab wounds. One of them, the actress Sharon Tate, was eight and a half months pregnant. At their trial, the women shamelessly admitted their crimes and flaunted their allegiance to a leader they loved, but who clearly controlled their minds.
Over the years, I had gotten to know this woman -- and our many conversations about life, love and politics had revealed slivers of a dark past. But not until her on-camera interview, featured in this Op-Doc, did I fully comprehend her journey of self-discovery. In prison, she has struggled mightily to reconcile two parts of her life: the 21-year-old girl who committed crimes to win the approval of the man she loved; and the 66-year-old woman who lives each day haunted by the unending suffering she has caused.
Ms. Krenwinkel is now the longest serving woman in the California prison system. She says she takes full responsibility for her actions -- finally, she says, she is a woman she can accept. But is society ready to accept her back? She is next eligible for parole in 2018.
United States Death Row Inmates