Maybe it’s because it’s #WCW smack in the middle of Women’s History Month. Or, because I saw people from across the globe celebrate their heroes on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Or perhaps it’s because I just finished absorbing this beautiful tribute to Miquita, the ‘Abuelita de Pilsen’ on this week’s issue of Hoy. Whatever it is, I cannot stop thinking about the women driving our fight for justice and a better world.
Of course I am thinking about the fierce and brilliant attorneys, paralegals, and staff I share an office with who leave me in awe every day through their advocacy for our clients often times taking work home and somehow manifesting extra energy to care for family members or deal with challenges that women overwhelmingly have to face in professional settings.
I am also thinking about the women who are not always in the spotlight but are the ones I think often keep my colleagues and me up at night.
They are the mothers and spouses of clients who call us and the clerk’s offices weekly to get any sort of update available on a case. They are the ones who show up to every court date and wait sometimes up to hours just for a judge or prosecutor to decide they are not ready to proceed and need a continuance. They are the ones who are overdue for retirement but cannot afford to because they have loans taken out for legal fees associated with their loved ones’ wrongful convictions also overdue.
They are our clients and other incarcerated women who are torn away from their families and left trapped in the cages of our criminal justice system.
They are women like Clarissa Glenn, who risked everything to report the gross misconduct of Sargent Ronald Watts and his crew. These officers who swore to protect and serve retaliated, causing her husband to spend over a decade unjustly behind bars and forcing her to raise her children on her own. Clarissa’s fight for her family’s freedom led to Cook County’s first mass exoneration.
They are the unsung heroes in places like the westside neighborhoods that former CPD Detective Reynaldo Guevara thought he could come after. They are mothers, tías, sisters, and others who teamed up, collected mountains of information, attended police board meetings, knocked on lawyers’ doors, and gathered publicly to speak out against the corruption that led to their many loved ones’ wrongful convictions. And they are also journalists like Melissa Segura who are not only exposing these stories but are working to uplift the voices that have been drowned out for far too long.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme #BalanceforBetter emphasizes the importance of collective efforts in achieving a gender-balanced and overall balanced world. I see this play out significantly in the work we do every day at the Exoneration Project. It is a team effort and the team is big. We wouldn’t be able to do the work that we do without the brave people and as I highlight here the women in the community who are willing to share their truths with us as painful as it may be. It is bittersweet but I do feel lucky to get to do what I do and to work with, learn from, and know the women in this fight. I have hope for the future because I know their resilience. I know their audacity. I know these women.