I first became involved in access to justice issues when engaging in pro bono during my first year in law school at Georgetown. While at Georgetown, I volunteered a few hours a week for the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, primarily conducting intake. I also became interested in interdisciplinary legal thinking in my first year in law school, though psychology has interested me for many years. Personal disclaimer: My wife is a professor in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and my father is, and my grandfather was, a psychiatrist. Indeed, but for being a lawyer, I might have been a psychologist!
For months, one thing after another kept happening to Claire. She was in a car accident. Then, the kitchen sink needed to be repaired. After that, her twin daughters, who were both disabled, fell ill and needed extra in-home care and therapies. Already stretched to the max with her budget, these unexpected expenses pushed her past what she could possibly pay on her limited Social Security Disability income. She began to fall further and further behind on her mortgage.
On the blog this month, Executive Director Chris Purnell urged us to fight with love and compassion, and we got to know Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Paralegal Kim Smith. We took a close look at our partner, Brookside Community Development Corporation, and the work they're doing to serve their neighborhood. We also introduced you to our Financial Counseling program, run by our Financial Counselor Angie Simmons. And, in honor of National Crime Victims' Rights Week this April, we shared the story of a client we are assisting through our Victim Justice Program.
On her office wall hangs a poster with a Dave Ramsey quote that says, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” For Angie, a huge part of what she does is to convince people that they can actually live like that. “My job is showing people their financial reality,” she says. “It’s kind of a pre-goal setting. You might think of it like triage as if you were at a hospital. Let’s see where you are right this moment and where you want to go from there.”
“What’s great about being a church is we’re not Human Services and we don’t want to be Human Services,” says David. “A guy coming out of prison needs resources, but he doesn’t need to be resourced. He needs relationships.” For Brookside CDC, this means regular meetings where staff and those seeking assistance can be real with one another. Their men also go through an education series. “We’re checking off boxes to make sure they don’t have a reason to go back to their drugs or crime or old lifestyles, but they are walking in newness with a Bridge Coach that will support them all the way through the process,” David says.
Although she did not initially seek out a position that corresponded with her Christian faith, Kim finds that part of her work to be especially meaningful. At the end of each intake, Dee Dee asks clients if they would like prayer, and they almost always say yes. “I’ve been here for over four years and I can think of maybe only two people that have said they don’t want prayer,” says Kim. “And when Dee Dee prays for them, that’s when they let it all go. They almost always walk out feeling better.”
One day, Marta returned from work to find him and their baby missing. When he finally came home, he didn’t have the baby with him. “He was super drunk and just kept saying, ‘She’s gone,’ over and over again,” says Erica. Desperate, Marta contacted the police, and a search began—but they never found the baby. Marta’s abuser was charged with the murder of their child. “They interviewed him multiple times and his story kept changing,” Erica says. “[Marta] cooperated with the police and testified against him.” He was eventually convicted.
This March was a whirlwind as the Legal Clinic participated in Brackets For Good 2018. Thanks to your generosity, we made it all the way to the Supported Sixteen, receiving $33,804.15 in donations during our three-week run!
Psalm 89:14 says “righteousness and justice are the foundation of [God’s] throne”—so far, so good. Nevertheless, the psalm goes on to say, “love and faithfulness go before you.” God is both just and loving, righteous and compassionate. And that is what he calls us to.
Something strange is going on at the Legal Clinic... Help #TeamJustice make it past the Hamilton County Humane Society and into the Engaged 8 in #BFG18 by supporting pro bono legal services for low-income families. Please donate to Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic now.
Chris, Ashley, and Cassandra are brainstorming strategies for going against FACE Low-Cost Animal Clinic in Round 1 of Brackets For Good 2018--and they have a theory on why their opponent is so competitive.
This February, Director of Legal Services Brian Dunkel wrote a message to followers about what it really means to love your neighbor and how our new client intakes are the first step in that process for the Clinic. We then dug in deep with Ft. Wayne Director Desiree Koger-Gustafson, learning how she changed her path from a medical career to a legal career.
People are thinking about how to make the legal system work for actual people, and not just people with law degrees. We've still got a long way to go, but I am hopeful that we can begin to simplify access to our legal system as the years go on. The thought-experiment that we are doing is asking, "What would the legal system be like if it were made to be accessible?" Imagine that.
Desiree Koger-Gustafson’s grandmother knew she was going to be a lawyer before Desiree did. For years, Desiree worked in the health field, harboring a desire to go to Medical School one day. But as she pursued this dream, she kept hitting roadblocks. “I retook the MCAT several times, my GPA was where it should be, but I could never get in,” Desiree says. “So I started to think maybe this wasn’t the direction I was supposed to go in.”
At the Clinic, we have a lot to love! Our last Justice For All Gala was our most successful ever--raising $152,440.09 thanks to all of our supporters! We also welcomed four new Board Members in the past few weeks, like Todd Fisher, Carol Hartman, John Gurchiek, and Lori Torres! And we got to participate in the Spirit & Place Festival for the first time this past fall, helping more people in our community understand the needs of ex-offenders!
This experience with Keith, though brief, gave him visible relief from the burden of uncertainty he was facing. And my interaction with Keith is not unique. In fact, since 1994, the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic has made its services accessible to our low-income neighbors through intake sites located in neighborhoods throughout Indianapolis.
This January, we shared Executive Director Chris Purnell's thoughts on what it means to walk alongside those in need and to receive such care well when we ourselves are in need. This whole year, we will be exploring the theme of Belonging through our social media and blog posts. And, as the year goes on, we hope to learn more about how you participate in this community as well.
Carol Hartman first learned about the Clinic after a fortuitous Internet search. “I was looking for a way to do some volunteer work that was faith-based,” she says. “I went on your website and clicked on a link to volunteer.” For years, she sought opportunities that would utilize her unique set of skills. “I’ve worked in the tax world since the beginning of my career both as a CPA and as a lawyer. And I was wondering how I could best use those experiences to advance the Kingdom.”
Chase and his team wondered if the same dealership might have procured judgments against other individuals using false evidence. “Our intern for the summer did a review and found 322 other similar cases,” says Chase. “The total judgments were close to $2 million dollars.”
Recognizing God’s provision is often pivotal to the work that Michael does—most especially when that work is messy. “[At times, I find myself] working with some pretty broken situations and still not being able to fix them,” he says. On occasion, there are no good options for our clients; a foreclosure cannot be prevented and Michael finds himself in the position of having to deliver bad news. “I don’t like it when things don’t work,” he says. “My hope is that we can offer assistance of some sort often, yet it sometimes doesn’t take the shape that people are hoping for.” But even when things don’t work precisely as his clients would like, Michael is there to walk through the process alongside them.
The psalms say that, “God is near to all who call on him, who call on him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). Our clients call out as they feel stymied and oppressed; our staff-team calls out as well; God comes near and provides guidance, comfort, and belonging.
In 2011, according to the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention, 24% of all people experiencing homelessness were under the age of 24. In 2014, there were 354 homeless youth just in the Indianapolis area alone. What are the causes of youth homelessness? What are the unique challenges faced by homeless youth? And what services are available to assist those in need?
“[Her abuser] would force himself on her and would tell her that, ‘You’re my girlfriend—this is what you’re supposed to do,’” says Grecia. “She thought it was okay and she blamed it on herself because one incident did occur in front of her daughter.” According to Grecia, Josefina became even more wracked with guilt when her daughter, who was very young and who loved her father, begged her, “Please don’t send Daddy to jail.”
According to a study from the Center for Criminal Justice Research, part of the Indiana University Public Policy Initiative, even a 1% decrease in Marion County's recidivism rate could save taxpayers $1.5 million. To help support the work of Project GRACE, please consider making a donation this #GivingTuesday.
Dee Dee Gowan was only 21 years old when she was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy. Her first duty station was the Naval Ocean Processing Facility at Ford Island, a small island inside Pearl Harbor. For three years, she lived and worked in Hawaii, but was assigned to her next duty station at the Pentagon during the First Gulf War. On her last day in Hawaii, Dee Dee looked through the plane window and promised herself that when she had a family of her own, she would return. But three decades passed, life got in the way, and the promise she made to herself went unfulfilled.
This five-part video series explores the challenges faced by those who re-enter society after prison, as well as the power they can reclaim over their own lives through expungement and specialized driving privileges.
This October, we celebrated a record-breaking Justice For All Gala, featuring keynote speaker and NYT best-selling author Bob Goff. Leading up to the event, Board Member Matthew Barr shared his thoughts on why his firm, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, chooses to financially support the Legal Clinic. After the event, we summarized some of the best JFA highlights and shared a video featuring a client family that survived a genocide in Ethiopia.
Too often, a criminal record strips people of their power in our society. Some can’t find a job; some can’t drive. Some lose contact with their families; some have nowhere to live. Instead of talking to them, people end up talking about them. It’s dehumanizing and demoralizing--and that’s not how the Clinic wants to talk about our clients.