The gangs in Honduras began harassing Ana* when she was only 14. But after being abandoned by both of her parents when she was young, Ana’s support system was minimal. Beta Martinez, who works in the Clinic’s Immigrant Justice Program, says that the gangs waited for Ana to leave school in the afternoons. “They were telling her, ‘You need to be ours,’” she says.
Serious crimes and convictions only make up 15% to 20% of the approximately 45,000 charges filed every year. Therefore, for the MCPO, protecting the public means dealing with lesser crimes in a more innovative way. “The idea is if you can address those problems of criminogenic needs then perhaps you can get them back on a straight path. You can’t just address the drug problem; you can’t just address the alcohol problem; you can’t just address the mental health needs,” Andrew says. “You’ve also got to work with different groups and agencies so that you can help them find a better place to live, get a job—which is not just a job, it’s something that’s more career oriented for them. Try to help them keep their families together.”
From the age of 11, Sha’na knew she wanted to be an attorney. “I watched a movie called Separate but Equal with Thurgood Marshall and documenting the whole Brown vs. Board of Education decision,” she says. “That was the first time I realized how much influence and power attorneys had to make change, and so I knew I wanted to be a part of that.” For years, Sha’na worked towards that goal, graduating from college and then Law School—ultimately passing the bar examination earlier this year.
Of course, the work of a receptionist at a non-profit legal clinic can be daunting. Often, the clients who come to the front window seeking aid are embroiled in high-stakes legal issues regarding their immigration status, impending Sheriff Sales on their homes, or an expungement that would finally allow them to get a job and thus support their family. Alicia does not view her position as wholly difficult though. In fact, she says, “Everyone tells me my job is so hard and I just keep thinking, ‘This is the best job I’ve ever had.’ I love it.” When she does encounter a difficult client, or someone who is in a dire situation and who might direct that fear or frustration towards her, Alicia turns to her faith. She takes a deep breath and says a prayer for patience and for the words necessary to help the person in front of her.
One of the Center’s main programs, “Strong Fathers, Strong Families,” is a three-week intensive course where fathers are taught about parenting, child development, child support, relationships, financial literacy, job readiness, anger and conflict resolution, and communication, along with a host of other things. Dr. McLaughlin says, “We are hoping in that three weeks to really try to give them everything we can holistically to help them assess and access responsible fathering.” Many of the young men that go through the program grew up without any strong models of fatherhood and find themselves struggling to juggle the many responsibilities that being a father brings. Dr. McLaughlin says, “We realized that fathers—especially teen fathers—were not dead beat; they were dead broke.”
Over the years, things started looking up for Debra and she was eventually able to turn her life around. She found a job. She got married and then had two children, leaving her old life decades behind her. In fact, when she came to our office seeking assistance with sealing her criminal record, Project GRACE staff attorney, Carlton Martin, says, “She had not committed a crime in almost 20 years.”
Latosha was then faced with the dilemma of needing to find another job, but with something on her criminal record from much earlier, she was worried about her chances of getting hired elsewhere. Over the years, she’d never even tried. She explains, “I’ve kind of been stuck at the same job for like 16 years, but I always stayed there because of my background. I didn’t think I could go nowhere else.”