Susan Atkins Introduction Photo

Welcome to the website for Susan Atkins-Whitehouse. This website has been recently updated, as of January, 2014.

Originally this site was constructed to debunk myths about Susan's commitment offense which seemed to become more exaggerated each year.  With this in mind we tried to use as many citations to actual documentation as possible.  To the extent we were able to do this I believe this site is still very valuable for people who care to hear more about the case than just the evolving grotesque caricatures of the case which were being used to sell books and made-for-TV movies. But over the years it has seemed more in line with what Susan would have wanted to make the focus more on her work inside the prison system.  Although Susan never forgot the victims of her commitment offense or her duty to live her life in a way that showed respect for them and their families and loved ones, Susan moved far beyond the case for which she was convicted.  To that extent we have tried to make this site more an emphasis on how she continued to contribute to the community and society despite the limitations of her incarceration.  And on her relationship with Jesus, which was the source of her strength and her happiness, and which was what Susan would have told you was the most important thing in her life.

On March 18th, 2008, Susan was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of brain cancer. She was treated by an army of incredibly skilled neurologists, doctors, nurses, aides, therapists and social workers. They cared for her with kindness, compassion, professionalism, and unbelievable dedication. Despite the fact that Susan was not expected to survive the initial weeks of her illness, due to these professionals' skill and determination and even more importantly the weight of prayers from friends, family and complete strangers who had been touched at one time or another by Susan's work or her testimony, Susan was able to celebrate another eighteen months with us.

Susan was able to attend her 18th hearing before the California Parole Board on September 2nd, 2009. And although doctors had predicted her illness would prevent her from ever speaking again, she was able to recite Psalm 23 as her statement to the Board. A week later, after a day of visiting in which she never opened her eyes or moved, I prayed with her as I had every day since she was hospitalized, and I ended it the way I always did; "In Jesus' Name, Aaaaaa..." and suddenly Susan opened her mouth and whispered "Amen!" And that was the last word she ever spoke.

Two week later Susan passed away after spending the day with me. She was surrounded by friends and people who loved her. She looked very peaceful and content, and there was a hint of a smile on her face.

Susan was  two weeks short of entering her 41st year of incarceration when she passed away. She had spent more time in prison than any woman in California history, and we believe longer than any woman in U.S. history. Though her case attained almost urban-myth proportions, Susan's incarceration was in stark contrast to the sensationalism of the crime, being characterized by an unwavering decades-long commitment to the community punctuated by contributions to earthquake victims, aids sufferers, 9/11 victims, homeless children, victims of violent crime, at-risk youth, and National Security. This website has been constructed with the hope of allowing the public to see who Susan really was, the extent to which she contributed to our community, and the extent to which her life was a testament to her personal savior Jesus Christ.

SusanAtkins.Org Mission Statement

My Mission Statement

I met Susan in 1985 after discovering a copy of her book, "Child of Satan, Child of God." I was dealing with problems in my own life, and this story about a girl who ended up on death row only to turn her entire life around was extremely inspiring. I determined that if she could change her life from the confines of a prison cell on death row certainly I, blessed with all the advantages of living in the free world, could do the same.

I was also impressed by just how easy it is to make one or two bad decisions and to find yourself inextricably stuck in a terrible situation. Susan's stark story reinforced my commitment to change my life.

I wrote to Susan and we exchanged letters for a year or more, with her giving me encouragement as I quit drugs and drinking and slowly reestablished relationships with my family and even started back to school. Eventually I learned more about her daily life and how she spent her time and I was amazed at the extent of the work she (and other life-inmates) did for the community. From walk-a-thons to raise money for the Sheriff's Department, to raising money for earthquake victims, 9-11 victims, and hurricane victims, I was astonished how many programs Susan and these women contributed to. I asked Susan why none of this was ever mentioned in the media and she shrugged and said the media wasn't interested.

This bothered me because I was raised with the notion that if someone did something wrong they should be held accountable, regardless of who they are. And if someone did something commendable they should be acknowledged, once again regardless of who they are. This was all the more so of a woman who was imprisoned and told she had to "pay back to the community." It seemed not just hypocritical but illegal to demand she "pay back" and then to refuse to acknowledge all the work she'd done.

Over the years I came to slowly understand that Susan was fully aware that she would not be acknowledged for the work she did for the community. She accepted that but, to my amazement, she continued to contribute whole-heartedly - sometimes giving when she had next to nothing for herself. I slowly came to understand that she was strong enough to set her own needs aside and keep focused on helping others regardless of whether she was ever given credit for it.

I honestly do not know if I could have done that. Not for five years, or ten years, and not for the almost four decades Susan did it. It was because of Susan's commitment to others that I came to believe in Susan.

To the extent to which her trial was a circus, and to the extent to which her case has been used and exaggerated to serve the financial and political interests of some people, and to the extent to which she has been denied parole regardless of her flawless behavior, this offended everything I was taught to believe regarding our Justice System and what the United States was created to stand for. 

In 1994 I applied to and was accepted by Harvard Law School, and I graduated with honors three years later. Since then I acted as Susan's primary legal representative.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                James W. Whitehouse

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