It’s November. In just about eight months, I will stride through Rockefeller Chapel for my graduation ceremony. Some friends have asked what I plan to do after I finish my JD. Although nothing is set in stone, here is my plan:
I intend to work with a civil rights law firm in San Francisco, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, on a 1-2 year fellowship. My project will work to reduce barriers to housing for people with criminal records. Individuals leaving correctional control face difficulties in securing access to safe, decent, and affordable housing. According to the California state government, in large cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles, 30% to 50% of people on parole are homeless. Homelessness leads to greater risks of recidivism and re-incarceration.
I was drawn to this project because of its intersection of housing and criminal reentry. I developed an appreciation for housing through my experiences with the National Housing Law Project and LAF’s Housing Practice Group, as well as the Housing Initiative Clinic at school. Housing touches on every aspect of a person’s life, and is a foundational need for all people. People in insecure housing remain at risky jobs or in dangerous relationships for fear of becoming homeless. In fact, I have experienced firsthand a different kind of housing insecurity. My family was in Northridge during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and I remember the strain on my family as we struggled with trying to find a place to live.
I became interested in criminal reentry from my summer at Christian Legal Aid of Los Angeles. As part of the internship, I read “Tattoos on the Heart” by Gregory Boyle. Father Greg is a Jesuit priest who has worked in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. He focuses on formerly gang-involved or incarcerated youth who wish to leave the path of violence for a path of hope. I was moved by Father Greg’s description of the expansive compassion of God for all people, particularly those people that society demonizes as monsters or savages. I had the privilege of serving several clients at Father Greg’s organization, Homeboy Industries. The work is not glamorous; it is difficult, painful, and arduous, but filled with great beauty.
Right now, I am waiting to hear back from various foundations to provide funding for my project. If I don’t get the funding, then I will not have a job, and will need to figure out a backup plan. I will confess that it is difficult to wait, particularly as so many of my classmates already have their jobs lined up with big private firms. But their stories are different from mine, and so all that I can do now is wait and pray.