“Don’t use your talents for evil!” “Get comfortable getting out of your comfort zone!” “Make good choices and wear sunscreen!” All sayings that my three now young adult children have heard me say more times than they can count. In my 20 years as a “stay-at-home” parent, taking a break from my legal career, I tried to instill in my children all the usual things (kindness, reading, good hygiene), but also endeavored to raise people who would do good in the world. Little did I anticipate that those efforts would turn out kids who would then challenge and encourage me to do the same, which is how I ended up as a volunteer attorney for NCIP.
In my years at home, I read a lot and became increasingly interested in social justice issues. After reading a 2009 New Yorker story about a man executed despite serious doubts about his guilt, I decided I wanted to learn more about wrongful convictions and began following the work of NCIP. I confess that I also watch a bit of TV, and so when my daughter and I saw that Dean Strang, one of the lawyers for Steven Avery featured in the Netflix hit series, “Making a Murderer,” was speaking at NCIP’s 2016 Justice For All (JFA) Gala, I knew we had to attend.
At JFA, I was especially inspired by NCIP exoneree Maurice Caldwell’s story. Maurice spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, yet never gave up hope that he would someday be exonerated and freed. I thought about the things one could do in 20 years. In that span of time, my husband and I built a life together and raised three children.
My family always had passionate dinner table conversations, from politics to propositions, and as my kids got older and increasingly sophisticated, we encouraged action as well as talk. These conversations occasionally turned to wrongful convictions. My kids suggested I use the tools I had as a trained attorney to get involved in a more hands-on way—so I applied to be a volunteer attorney for NCIP.
After 20 years out of the work and legal profession, I was nervous to practice law again. But the team continues to be incredibly welcoming, supportive, and willing to provide training and advice. I am thrilled to be making an immediate impact, such as on Glenn Payne’s case, which was my first assignment when I began volunteering in 2017. More than anything, though, I am glad to be working with people like Glenn, who inspires me with his gratitude and positive outlook, despite losing 15 years to a wrongful conviction.
I am so thrilled with the work of NCIP that I want to share it with everyone—my social media has been filled with it lately. And, I am very excited to be bringing exoneree Maurice Caldwell and NCIP attorney Paige Kaneb to speak about wrongful convictions at an assembly at my children’s high school this month. Maybe someone else will be inspired like me.