Read here about Ellie Ashby, Houston Christian's Student Body President, worked for social justice this summer during an internship with a social justice law firm.
Before the summer of 2018, I read the book Just Mercy. Immediately after reading the first couple chapters, I was touched by it, emotionally moved by the story. I could not believe some of the stories in the book, stories of injustice and discrimination. The book walked through the cases of attorney Bryan Stevenson, showing how injustice is still very prevalent in the criminal justice system, especially in cases involving minorities and the poor.
I was so touched by Just Mercy that I wanted to do something to learn more about the criminal justice system, to further dispel my own ignorance on the matter. That was when I got connected to Restoring Justice.
During the summer of 2018, I was given the opportunity to be an intern at Restoring Justice, a non-profit mission organization providing excellent legal, social, and spiritual services to people accused of crimes who are too poor to hire an attorney. During this time, I shadowed attorney Drew Willey in courts and jails across Houston and Galveston, listening to the stories of those trapped in the criminal justice system because they could not hire an attorney.
In cases like these, the accused get a court-appointed attorney, but these attorneys are often so overworked that the individuals I got to know never even met the person assigned to defend them. They just sat there in jail when their release could be as simple as an attorney filling out some paperwork. But if their court-appointed attorney never shows, they are trapped, waiting for hope that never comes. Restoring Justice gives these people the help and counsel they deserve, enabling them to navigate a complex and often broken system.
So, this is what I bore witness to during that summer of 2018. Every day, I was immersed in the criminal justice system, and none of it was sugar-coated. Every day, I witnessed injustice to a degree I never thought possible. Every day, I met with people who had been accused of crimes, people who were poor, racially discriminated against, or mentally ill, and I had to watch how a broken system treated them.
But, it was in the midst of such pain that I experienced the beauty of God, the light of Christ shining into a place that has been ignored for far too long. I bore witness to that, to the healing power of hope, forgiveness, and love.
Love and fear are adversarial…, antithetical, forever bound in a struggle over the heart of humanity. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear...” The criminal justice system is one of fear. Fear seems to drive every action. Jesus calls us to reverse this, to visit prisoners, providing advocacy and support, bringing love to a place run by the tyrant of fear. Jesus defends us even though we deserve the worst prison imaginable. God sent his son to die in our place, to set us free from our chains, and all out of love. We have the opportunity to do the same, to shine love in the face of fear, bringing beauty into broken places.
I have continued to work with Restoring Justice. After my initial internship during the summer of 2018, I was hired as the Volunteer Coordinator for the summer of 2019 and will continue working there throughout the 2019-2020 school year. I created the Youth for Justice Program, which gives high school students around Houston a space and platform to talk about these types of issues and work towards a solution.
Being a part of this incredible organization as touched my heart in a way I never expected. Restoring Justice has allowed me to turn my passion for justice into action, to actively seek to eradicate injustice from the criminal justice system in Houston. I owe so much to them, and I am very excited to help them now and in the future.