- Route: Ozarks
- Ride Year: 2024
- Hometown: New York, NY
- School Year: Sophomore
- Major: Plan II
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi! My name is Dani Berman. I am a Sophomore from New York in the Plan II program, also studying History, English and Core Texts and Ideas! I used to be a dancer, and danced with the Alivin Ailey school when I was growing up. However when I started high school I decided to switch paths and instead pursue acting, which I studied throughout my high school career. In college I have loved being able to study a whole slew of topics, right now I am really loving Philosophy and reading everything that my English class is throwing at me. This summer my love for theatre, specifically Shakespeare, was revitalzied when I spent nine weeks in the Texas countryside studying and performing three Shakespearian plays with the Shakespeare at Winedale program (We performed As You Like It, Hamlet, and Cymbeline!)
I love going for runs and long walks around Austin, and learning to appreciate the rare but beautiful cloudy days. I have played soccer for most of my life and have loved playing on an IM team for most of college. Last year I started playing Ultimate Frisbee, which turned out to be a great skill this summer at Winedale, where we played ultimate almost every morning. Other than running around, I am working on learning Spanish so right now I have been listening to a lot of Disney songs in Spanish, but I have also been loving Sammy Rae & The Friends!
Why I Ride
As a child, I saw the world through a black-and-white filter – there is evil in this world, but in the end, good triumphs over evil. I had terrible nightmares of classic archetypes, like pirates swooping in to my bedroom to snatch me away.
But my entire world view was shaken to the core when my dad began working with the legal team of a man named Billy Kuenzel – a man convicted of a terrible murder and sentenced to the death penalty. Why would my dad do this, I wondered. If Billy had done evil, why would my dad help him?
Thoroughly confused by having watched my father work long nights to help Billy, I finally got up the nerve to ask my parents about what he had been accused of doing. But what I heard that night rocked me to my core: in Billy’s case, he – the alleged killer – was innocent… and the prosecutors, the police, the courts… they were the ones who had done wrong. Billy was wrongfully convicted after evidence was withheld, an unqualified defense attorney failed to act, and false testimony was permitted but the key evidence was not permitted before the court… because, they said, Billy had missed a filing deadline. They were prepared to inflict the ultimate punishment without even hearing the evidence that could be proving him innocent because he missed a filing deadline.
But how could that be? Not only was my original assumption about Billy wrong but so was my assumption that good would automatically triumph over evil.
In fact, for more than 10 years, I watched my dad and his colleagues, in their quest to convince the courts to grant Bill one fair hearing at which the key evidence could be heard by the court. They won support from so many people – liberals and conservatives; religious and secular; pastors and prosecutors; and so many more. Yet, for all their work and commitment, justice remained elusive. Over time Billy became an unofficial part of our household. My dad would give us regular updates on how he was doing; how his kids were doing, or the conditions in which he was so wrongly trapped.
In 2020 Billy was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer, he was living in near-constant pain and had only so much more time to live. Soon after this diagnosis we learned that the cancer had spread into his liver and kidneys, meaning he had only a few more months to live. Upon hearing this news my dad went down to visit Billy for the last time. I can clearly recall when my dad came back from seeing Billy, he looked completely drained.
After a two-year fight, in February of 2022 Billy passed on from this life. It felt as though I had lost a family member. He had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember, always fighting. Fighting an unjust legal system. Fighting a death sentence which constantly felt as if it were a guillotine hanging over him. And finally, fighting against cancer.
We lost the case. And we lost a good man. But we won in the sense that, even after nearly 35 years, the State hadn’t taken him away from us.
The reality of Billy’s case was complex and multifaceted and simultaneously incredibly simple; it is more and less than it appears. Despite the relentless court process, in the end the case is simple, Billy is an innocent man. And yet he faced an unjust criminal justice system that never let him walk free again, in spite of all those advocating on his behalf. The courts refused to grant Billy a single hearing at which all
the evidence could be heard – thus, evidence proving Billy’s innocence was never heard. However, the case is straightforward, Billy lived and died an innocent man.
I dedicate my ride to Alaska in honor of Billy’s fight against cancer and for justice. Cancer is a universal struggle. I am hoping to ride in order to demonstrate the importance of healthcare no matter the circumstances. And in honor of the fact that we must all do good; we can’t just sit down and watch. Unfortunately, Billy’s story is not unique, in its own right a cancer diagnosis is all too often seen as the same as a death sentence. This is a reality which should be fought against. I hope to ride for Texas 4000 in order to memorialize Billy and to continue his fight for justice and freedom.
If you have any personal stories or people who you would like me to ride for please reach out and share your stories with me at email@example.com.
To Alaska and back,