Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2015 Appelman Law Firm $1,000 Criminal Defense Scholarship! We’ve sifted through the applications and narrowed our list down to a final five. We will showcase the essays of the five finalists over the next five Mondays, and we’ll announce the winner shortly thereafter. So without further ado, here’s finalist #4, who experienced the justice system firsthand after being caught with a pipe.
There are two famous Chinese philosophers who vary greatly in their opinions of human nature: Xun Zi and Mencius. Mencius believed that people were, by nature, innately good and that society caused them to do terrible things. In contrast, Xun Zi believed the opposite. His writings include notions such as, “Human nature is evil. Goodness is caused by intentional activity.” It is easy to blame the world for our mistakes; but sometimes a person must bear the weight on their own shoulders.
Shortly after my eighteenth birthday, I moved into a house with my current boyfriend and some friends. There was a lot illegal activity being conducted in the house. Drugs, mostly marijuana but of many varieties, were being bought and sold within those walls. I was a good kid, raised in a loving home with two parents who truly cared for my well-being; I was even home-schooled. It was my parents’ effort to shelter me from the world’s harsh realities a young person can oftentimes experience in high school. Unfortunately, their efforts were thwarted by my bull-headedness and stubbornness. My words still echo in my ears to this day: “I want to make my own mistakes!” and I certainly accomplished that.
The situation in the house quickly escalated to an unprecedented level. I was frightened but unsure of how to get out of the situation and quite sure it was impossible to control or limit. It’s often said that if a man hesitates, life tends to make the decision for him. One day, the police came. The sheriffs sifted through what they could find in the communal areas of our house, then one of them stood at the doorway of my bedroom with me, a barely eighteen year old home-schooled, farm girl from Indiana, and said, “Now, are we going to find anything in here? Better if you just tell me.” I had already been read my rights and at that point, admitted to having a pipe in my room under my bed. Moments later, they took me away.
I was in shock as they put me in the back of the car. I didn’t think it could get any worse, but in that moment, it did. Foxy, my two year old Labrador, who had already rushed to my protection earlier in the ordeal and was almost pepper sprayed, got out of the house and chased the police car down the street as they drove me away. It was legitimately the lowest point of my life; rock bottom. I was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia and of 20 grams or less or marijuana for the resin in the bowl. I was booked, fingerprinted, photographed, strip searched, given an orange jumpsuit to wear and a pillow and mattress, then sent into general population. The terror that struck through me as I entered that room was unmatched by any other I had felt up to that point in my life. My parents had done such an incredible job of protecting me from that world, something I had thrown away like garbage.
Jail and Court
It was late in the night and most of the women were sleeping, but there was a small group who were still awake and they called me over, noticing my obvious fright. They reassured me, talked me through the fear tremors I was experiencing. Then, they began to tell me their stories. All proclaimed innocence to some degree, most were like me: caught up in a situation that spiraled quickly out of control. Good women who made mistakes. One woman was caught dealing within 500 feet of a school and was in prison for what would be the majority of my twenties. Another told me she had given all her money to her boyfriend while they were living together, then she got arrested during of one his drug deals. He then refused to bail her out and she had no one else. So there she sat.
Another common thread was that they could not afford proper legal representation. I spent what little money I had retaining an attorney. I was never charged with the count of possession of marijuana, but the paraphernalia charge required me to appear in court. My father sat beside me as my attorney spoke to the judge on my behalf. I was both mortified for my dad to see the proceedings, while feeling simultaneously beyond grateful that he was there, supporting me, never judging me. I was placed on what was called the County Diversion Program, a program specifically designed for young, first time offenders. The Court required me to complete fifty hours of community service, which I was to live out at a local thrift store. I was placed on probation for six months; entailing monthly appointments with my probation officer, drug tests, and some major fines.
Every visit to that probation office brought back the same feelings I felt that night in jail. Still, I was dedicated to completing my sentence quickly and in its entirety and I was able to do just that. I wanted nothing more than to move on. Slowly, with the love and support of my parents, I began to rebuild my life and believe in myself again. They were of course, disappointed in me, almost as much as I was in myself. But they always believed in me, and never doubted my ability to turn it around. Their unwavering support left me surprised and grateful and even more importantly, determined. I knew I could never make the same mistake again. I had been given a glimpse of that world and I wanted no part of it. My dad said to me one night shortly after my arrest, “Everyone makes mistakes; your grit comes from how you deal with them.”
I worked as a server in a restaurant through community college, and then obtained my degree from the University of Central Florida. Now, I am enrolled in the 2015 fall semester at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law and am excited to continue my education and become an attorney. I have worked very hard to get to where I am today, but sometimes I look at how far I have come and think of the girl in the back of that car. I’ll never forget that feeling of being chased by my dog as the police took me away. In my darkest moments I think to myself, You don’t belong here, you don’t deserve this. Even though I have worked hard to get to where I am, sometimes I wonder if the mistakes I have made have rendered my goodness impossible, if my past has somehow left me forever damaged.
Even when I applied to law school I had to disclose the details of my arrest along with official records, same as for this scholarship. My doubtful side whispers, Will it always be like this? Yes, it is something that will always be a part of who I am, but time has made me realize that it does not define me. I dictate how to tell my story. I am the one who decides how my past will mold me, the person my story will create. I write my own ending. My past is the foundation upon which I stand, but my actions in the present are what define me as a person. My arrest was a part of my story, a big one, but it is not the whole story. It was a single link in the chain of events that have led me to become this person today, a person who I can respect and admire: an erroneous human who is intentionally good.