Susan E. Lawrence, MD, Esq. David Bruyette, DVM
Founder and CEO Treasurer
Susan E. Lawrence, M.D., Esq. is a nationally renowned innovator, physician, lawyer, and policy advocate connecting the impact of individual childhood trauma with our most serious societal and global problems. She is an advocate for all those wounded by childhood trauma who are enduring life without parole sentences, whether through physical confinement in prison or emotional confinement as a result of experiencing irreparable harm.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Susan entered Barnard College at the age of 14 to escape childhood abuse and trauma within a troubled family. Susan chose to attend Baylor College of Medicine determined to become a heart surgeon, but a rotation in medical oncology drew her to work with the terminally ill. She became a board certified internist and medical oncologist and opened her practice of medical oncology in Lancaster, California, in 1985.
When many local doctors declined to treat people living with AIDS, Susan welcomed those patients into her practice, in part because of her own childhood experiences of having been treated as an outcast. In 1992 she and her husband, Sonny Bartz (who died of AIDS the following year), launched The Catalyst Foundation, a California nonprofit organization providing medical care, support services, and advocacy for people living with HIV/AIDS. Susan closed her private medical practice and became Catalyst’s first full time Executive Director.
Shortly before his death, Sonny made a profound observation. “I'm not dying of AIDS,” he said, “but of the delayed effects of child abuse.” This insight, now supported by the firm scientific evidence of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, started Susan on her path of exploration into the devastating effects of widespread childhood trauma on society and the world, far beyond the AIDS epidemic. Susan became a nationally known expert and sought after lecturer on this topic, providing educational programs nationwide for diverse audiences including the Mayo Clinic, the San Carlos Apache People, and California maximum-security prisoners. In 2007, Susan published her award-winning book, “Creating a Healing Society: The Impact of Human Emotional Pain and Trauma on Society and the World.”
It was through her work with prisoners that Susan learned about LWOP (life without parole) sentences, and how they are a massive human rights crisis perpetuated in plain sight in our country as well as a profound manifestation of the impact of childhood trauma on society. She was drawn to this work in part because of her own history of childhood trauma, the aftereffects of which had created a life sentence of sorts without the possibility of reprieve.
Starting in 2004, Susan worked collaboratively with LWOP prisoners on a variety of prison and sentencing reform projects, including the rehabilitative Honor Program concept in California prisons, in which she supported Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero’s 2007 bill (SB 299) to expand such programs statewide. Catalyst was a prize-winning finalist in the prestigious 2008 James Irvine Leadership Awards for the work of Susan and her collaborators in this important endeavor. In 2008, Susan began working closely with a leadership team of LWOP prisoners to found and manage the Other Death Penalty Project, a nationwide campaign to organize LWOP prisoners to work together to end this cruel sentence. She served as the Project’s free-world liaison until 2018.
In 2013, Susan made the difficult decision to leave Catalyst and attend law school, as she believed absent the training and status of a lawyer she could not be as effective as she needed to be to make an important difference in ending LWOP. After graduating summa cum laude from Concord Law School in 2016, Susan launched The Center for Life Without Parole Studies, which she currently directs. Susan is now a licensed attorney, having passed the California Bar Exam in 2017.
For close to a decade, Susan played a vital role in securing a commutation of sentence and ultimate release from prison for one individual on the LWOP prisoner leadership team. Shortly after his release in late 2017, this man cruelly and maliciously betrayed Susan’s trust. This created a crisis of faith for Susan, calling into question her desire to continue to end LWOP, work with prisoners, and even whether real rehabilitation and redemption is possible.
After deep reflection, Susan refused to allow the actions of one man to force her to turn her back on her life’s work and especially on the tens of thousands of people in prison sentenced to LWOP, who should not be judged by his brutality and lack of integrity. Instead, she chose to continue to conduct herself honorably and with dignity in the face of unspeakable cruelty, and redoubled her efforts to end this inhumane sentence and bring awareness to the myriad faces of LWOP.
The Center for Life Without Parole Studies provides low-cost and pro-bono legal services to California LWOP prisoners, focusing on commutation applications. Currently, Susan is playing a leadership role in Vermont’s Senate Bill S.261, which would greatly restrict the use of LWOP sentences. S.261 passed out of the Senate in March 2020 and is now going through the House legislative process. Once S.261 is signed into law, Susan and her Vermont collaborators are planning to work with lawmakers in other states to pass similar legislation. Susan is also at work on a book, tentatively titled, “No Reprieve: How Childhood Trauma Creates Life Sentences Without Parole.”
Dr David Bruyette received his DVM from the University of Missouri in 1984 and completed an internship at Purdue University and a residency in internal medicine at the University of California-Davis. He was a staff internist at the West Los Angeles Veterinary Medical Group and a member of the Department of Comparative Medicine at Stanford University.
Dr Bruyette was an Assistant Professor and Head of Internal Medicine at Kansas State University and Director of the Analytical Chemistry Laboratory. From Sept 1996 until Jan of 2017 he was Medical Director of the West Los Angeles Animal Hospital. Currently, he is Chief Medical Officer of Anivive Lifesciences and President and CEO of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation and Consultation.
Dr Bruyette is a recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award from The Catalyst Foundation. He was on the Board of the Lifers Education Fund and also plays a highly influential role in the multi-year campaign to save the Honor Program at California State Prison-Los Angeles County.