My childhood upbringing played the biggest role in becoming the driven person I am today. I suffered much abuse, both physically and mentally, from either parent until one evening during a rather violent argument between my parents I, only nine years old, decided to take matters into my own hands and call 911. This ultimately led to my parents’ divorce, which arguably was even worse than their marriage. Being the intermediary of my parents at the time, I was brainwashed from both sides. It was hard for me to separate truth from lies, but I did have faith in the law—even though I did not know the complexity of everything that was taking place inside and outside the courtroom, I felt a sense of safety. I would argue that this where my interest in law began.
During the divorce, I took on all the responsibility of a parent. While my mom struggled with two jobs, I would care for my siblings and clean the house. Despite all of the love for my parents, I began to realize that they were looking out for their best interests, and not mine. I will never forget when my father told me, “You are just like your mother.” I knew in so many ways that I was indeed ‘like my mother,’ in that I was self-driven, independent, and sometimes even headstrong. But, I saw the flaws in my mother and strived everyday to make sure that I did not inherit some of those habits. Neither will I forget the times that my mother would sit my siblings and I down and ask us if we liked the opposite sex or not, in which case I would answer that I like girls. Her response would then be a sigh of relief that none of her children were “gay.” Little did she know, as well as the rest of my family who chose to be conveniently ignorant, I am gay.
Being gay in the rural northwestern Pennsylvania and dealing with the tyranny of my parents, I was left with only one outlet—school. I pursued academics with full force because education gave me hope for something better and freed me from my mother’s control. My mother had another child, which I initially protested because I knew I would take on parental responsibility, as I had for my other siblings. Instead of going out with friends, I was left carting a baby carriage around.
Leaving home to attend college in Philadelphia was one of the most pivotal moments for me. I was finally free to make my own decisions in life and strangely I found it much easier to choose a career because of my past experiences. I wanted to pursue a law degree so that I could become more involved in the legal system that had already been a large part of my life. Specifically, I was enamored by the vast amount of information that my mother’s lawyer knew and the contagious confidence that he exuded during my parent’s divorce. I remember a few times visiting the lawyer’s office and my mother crying about something that my dad was doing. The lawyer would bring up so many points that strengthened my mother’s arguments she would leave with a totally different attitude. I want to be able to reassure people who are suffering in a divorce or custody battle that law can protect them.
More recently, I have been involved with the legal system as a result of being robbed in front of a convenience store. Considering the man has been charged with a felony, I had to attend a pre-trial hearing. I sat in a courtroom as cases were called out and discussed among the lawyers and judge. I felt as though I was watching a favorite television program—I was enthralled by the professionalism of the lawyers and, yet, how nonchalantly they seemed to converse. My case was called and I was sequestered. I was then told the defense had filed a motion to require another lineup. After waiting for hours, I was called back into the courtroom where the judge denied the defense’s motion. I then proceeded to the witness stand and gave my testimony, much like I had when I was nine years old. I felt at home in the courtroom, given that much of my childhood had been spent in or around a courthouse and with lawyers. This time however I was much more educated on the legal system and was able to appreciate what was taking place.
My experiences in life have molded a certain interest in law, one that is motivated by seeking justice for clients. My mother’s lawyer won her full custody and rights to child support. This led to my interest in domestic relations law and has inspired me to protect children from abuse and neglect and put them in the best possible position in life. During my later experience within the criminal law system, I witnessed the same compassion of lawyers for the law and for people in general. While waiting in sequester, I overheard one District Attorney (D.A.) talking to a man who had his motorcycle stolen from him. The man expressed his concerns of the financial effects of his loss, and the D.A. assured him that it was not his fault and that restitution could be agreed upon. My D.A. then stepped out into the hallway where I was waiting and assured me that I was going to be protected. He plainly told me that the crime the man had committed against me is deserving of jail time. Just before it was my turn to go in and speak to the courtroom, the D.A. said, “Remember it’s always easier to just tell the truth than to make something up, so take as much time as you need answering questions.” As a lawyer, I also want to help people through difficult times in their lives, using the law and compassion, whether they are a struggling mother or any other victim.
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