A Second ChanceBy Deborah Poole
Vol. 22, No. 3, 2000 p. 26
In August 1998, I took the first step--in what I have since concluded will be my life's work--indigent criminal defense. I went to work as a staff attorney at Georgia Justice Project. Clearly, the attraction was not the sexiness of the work, nor was it the compensation, which is meager compared to first year associates in most law firms. Rather I was lured by the philosophy of the Georgia Justice Project: "Changing Our Community One Person at a Time." Trite in its simplicity, this idea captures the essence of the Project: If we deal with clients holistically by considering how they arrived at their current circumstances, and if we address their problems rather than simply adjudicate their legal cases, they can break the cycle which keeps them in the criminal justice system.
My first client was a young black woman named Skye. Her mother died when she was nine. Her father turned to alcohol and drugs. At age fourteen, Skye began to use drugs. Her abuse of cocaine, speed, pot, and crack continued for ten years during which Skye gave birth to five children, with five different fathers.
Skye came to us charged with armed robbery, a crime that carries a ten-year mandatory sentence. She had been up for two days straight doing drugs, and doing whatever it took to get the next hit After an episode where Skye sold her body for money to buy more drugs, the "John" refused to pay. Skye, with a box cutter as a weapon, confronted him. Her money secured, Skye drove away, only to be quickly picked up and charged with armed robbery.
It took nearly a year to resolve Skye's case, but when she came before the judge, the hours of work put in by Georgia Justice Project's social work team and addiction counselor paid off. Instead of being sentenced to prison, Skye was ordered to a residential treatment facility for her addiction, and to serve the remainder of her sentence on probation.
That was two years ago. Skye completed her residential treatment program and is now united with her five children.
Last month, I received a letter from Skye. She is buying a three-bedroom home in South Carolina (She received permission from her probation officer to move out of state). She is healthy, happy, and has not used drugs in two years.
Skye is an example of what Georgia justice Project is about-- supporting human potential, and helping individuals create second chances for themselves.
Deborah Poole is a staff attorney at the Georgia Justice Project.