“You`ve been in trouble, but it doesn`t define you,” Yancey, D-Harper Woods, said, recalling the lessons she would share with the young defendants in court. “What defines you is what you will do with this experience in the future.” People think that becoming a lawyer is a lucrative career path, but the truth is that the potential income varies greatly. For example, most personal injury lawyers do not charge an upfront fee, but rather take a percentage of the settlement amount or jury prize. Keep this in mind when considering a legal career after a conviction for a crime. We`re sorry we printed this in bold, but it has to be said. Each state will subject you to a morality test, where you will submit documents about your past life, including education, addresses, and, of course, criminal history. Since you are a convicted criminal, you have a rap record in the state where you were convicted and at the FBI. VanSumeren applied to four law schools and revealed his criminal record. One of them responded with a scathing rejection letter that prevented him from applying in the future, he said.
My mother did not testify. Bronchitis had taken her voice, but I knew that grief had made her unable to say my name without crying. I couldn`t forget how devastated she looked when I told her what I had done. Three witnesses – my aunt Pandora and the two family friends – spoke on my behalf. His testimony was interrupted by the speech that troubled the courtrooms where young black men are sentenced to prison: “He struggled to make this adjustment of not having a father in the household. After passing the bar exam, every new lawyer, not just those with criminal convictions, must undergo a morality test in the state in which they wish to practice. You must comprehensively document various aspects of your past life, including where you lived, where you went to school, and your background_ criminel._ Before my 30th birthday, I had earned a bachelor`s degree and an M.F.A. in poetry; published “A Question of Freedom”, a memoir about my time in prison; published a collection of poems, “Shahid reads his own palm tree”; and always knew my status number by heart. I applied for almost every teaching position in colleges and private schools in the Washington area without getting a single interview.
Peers without records – and some without publications – got jobs or at least interviews. My first job in prison, washing dishes, sweeping and cleaning floors in the kitchen, paid 23 cents an hour. Some days I felt like I was more likely to get back to this job than to teach poetry at a nearby school. I have expanded my job search to all of the United States. Terese, who earned her master`s degree in occupational therapy, was pregnant with our second son, Miles Thelonious, born on October 10, 2011. And I was fraught with fear: unemployed and embarrassed to admit to Terese that I was afraid of never having a paid job, of being able to pay the rent or to buy diapers. Then, one day in March 2011, the director of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard left me a phone message offering me a Radcliffe Fellowship to finish work on the collection of poems that would become “Reagan-era bastards” in 2015. I listened to the message five times, enthusiastic and incredulous. The application for the scholarship had been an Ave Maria.
And then we moved to Massachusetts, 300 miles from the only family we knew, a little boy who was barely trained in towing, and another along the way. About a year later, worried about trying to get a teaching position, I decided to apply to law school. I thought that for at least three years, my student loan bill would not be due every month. The first sentence of my personal statement read, “The part of my life that has been the most influential part of my desire to go to law school is also the biggest obstacle to my admission to law school and becoming a lawyer.” In April 2013, I was accepted into the law schools of Yale, Harvard, Columbia, University of Michigan, Georgetown, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern and Boston College; Yes, a school for every year I was in prison. Before I was accepted into Northwestern, Clifford Zimmerman, then dean of students, called me. He asked me to tell him something that wasn`t on my resume. We talked about the book club for black boys aged 6 to 17, YoungMenRead, which I founded at Karibu Books. about my sons; about Terese. We talked about the character and fitness challenges I might face later. He didn`t ask about prison, although he gave me the names of lawyers in three states who could help me when it was time to be admitted to the bar. Even before I entered law school, I knew what lay ahead. I enrolled in Yale Law School just before my 33rd birthday.
During the weekend of admitted students, the dean, Robert Post, gave a speech in front of my 1L class. In our issue, he said, there was a cordon bleu cook, military officers, a poet – me. He did not say that among us was a person who used to be imprisoned, a criminal, an ex-fraudster – he said “poet”. I imagined that I had begun to overcome the worst of my past. Until the day Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor came to Yale for a public conversation with former New York Times legal correspondent Linda Greenhouse. During the discussion, Greenhouse asked why the term “undocumented immigrant” was more accurate than “illegal alien.” Judge Sotomayor replied, “Many of these people are people I know, and they are no different from the people I grew up with or who share my life. And these are people who have a serious legal problem – but the word “illegal alien” has made them look like these other types of criminals. And I think people then portray these individuals as a little less than worthy people. My classmates applauded. I sank into the chair, unable to stretch my legs, like a man constrained by chains – and I realized that for many people, I was one of those “other types of criminals.” A few weeks after the event in Sotomayor, Micah`s kindergarten teacher told me that after hearing a conversation between his parents, one of his classmates told Micah that I had stolen a car and gone to prison.
He and Miles, who was 2 years old, were in a local private school. Terese and I had struggled with what to tell their teachers about my past. We chose silence, perhaps without ever really agreeing on it. Micah`s teacher told me that he had cried and was visibly upset – but he was fine now. And I couldn`t help but wonder what “OK now” meant. That afternoon, when Micha got home, we sat down at the dining table to talk. Prison has always been the distance between the world and me, but that distance didn`t matter until I realized that it also became the distance between me and my sons. Terese and I had never talked about when we could tell them – but we expected to dictate that when. But we didn`t have that. Everything Micah knew about me had collapsed in one word: prison. I didn`t know if I was okay, but I was sure he couldn`t be.
Micah, that`s what happened. And I explained, but not everything. Instead of telling a gun and a man to “get this [expletive] out of the car, then get out of prison and so on, it was just: I stole a car and went to jail. He asked me how long. When I told him eight years, I could see in his eyes that he was struggling with what it meant to me to have been in prison longer than he had lived. Eight years. “But don`t bad people go to jail, Dad?” Micah`s voice sounded like the whistling air of a balloon. I was a first-year law student and I explained that in prison, in crime, it was never just about being bad. I also realized that conversations about criminal justice reform and the new Jim Crow were practical ways of not admitting that I had fired a gun at a man for no good reason. I wondered if there was room to escape, from the 6-year-old boy who first made me feel free, to be called bad. [Read more about the election action to restore voting for people convicted of criminals in Florida, which could attract 1.5 million eligible voters — more than any other initiative since women`s suffrage.] You might work hard enough to be accepted as a lawyer, to find yourself in a job that pays less than expected.
However, if a legal career is really where your heart is, you can still get there with a little time and dedication. In most states, a conviction for a crime does not necessarily exclude an applicant from admission to the state bar and admission to the bar. Before being admitted to the Bar, each State assesses the nature and suitability of an applicant to exercise his or her right on the basis of its own rules and regulations. A week later, my aunt Pandora took me to a gospel concert at Bowie State University. Karibu, an independent African-American bookstore with several locations in the area, had set up a table in front of the concert hall with stacks of books, many of which I knew from my prison and read: “The Destruction of Black Civilization” by Chancellor Williams; “Under a Soprano Sky” by Sonia Sanchez; “The Fault Drawing of the Negro” by Carter Godson Woodson. I spoke for an hour with Yao Glover, the bookseller, about literature. “Where did you go to school?” he asked. It was the first time outside of prison that someone thought I was in college.
I didn`t have an answer, so I told the truth, “Man, I just got out of prison.” Yao turned out to be one of the caribou owners. A few days later, the Bowie site manager called me and asked if I would be interested in opening there. By the end of the summer, I had enrolled full-time at Prince George`s Community College and had a full-time job in Karibu, where I was selling black literature to foreigners. I enrolled in Yale Law School just before my 33rd birthday. During the weekend of admitted students, the Dean, Robert Post, gave a speech in front of my 1L class.