My Small Choice: How I Met Laura Caldwell and Joined LAI

By Claire Gupta

[Editor’s Note: Life After Innocence is excited to announce that we are being joined by a summer intern.  She is a senior — in high school — and will be assisting with various tasks at the clinic this summer.  What follows is the story of how she decided to volunteer with LAI.]

“I can’t wait to meet you again sometime” was my closing phrase in the message I sent to Laura Caldwell after meeting her at a book signing a few days before. I had purchased a copy of her then latest book, False Impressions, and I could not put it down, so I wanted to compliment her on her work. I am an avid reader subsequently a regular attendee at book signings, but I had never felt compelled to write to any of the authors I had met before. There was something about Laura, and how she took the time to have a conversation with me as she signed her latest copy of the Izzy McNeil series, that made a lasting impression on me. And although I did not actually anticipate meeting her again, I am so glad that since then Laura and I have crossed paths.

When I met Laura Caldwell I was a freshman in high school, and a few weeks after that, my English class was assigned a project called “How to Change the World.” For this project, we had to choose a person who is a social entrepreneur, someone who has done something to change the world, but who is not well known. After choosing the person, we would write a biography about him or her and then an essay about the issue he or she is trying to solve. Luckily, we were given some time to brainstorm, and I happened to have this project in mind when I was reading the biography of Laura in the back of False Impressions. It was then that I first heard about her organization, Life After Innocence (LAI), which I soon realized, after some research, is a one-of-a-kind program that touches the lives of so many people; Laura was a perfect fit for my project.

Researching LAI and wrongful convictions opened my eyes to the concept of injustice and its consequences. I had been taught that the legal system and law enforcement in our country were there to protect us from injustice. The stories of the exonerees, however, showed me that even the bodies appointed to protect the rights of citizens infringe the law, and that those choices and mistakes have hurt so many innocent, vulnerable people. Then, as if the situation was not awful enough, the fact that the government did not provide resources to help exonerees appalled me the most. I developed my belief in the importance of justice, and my admiration for Caldwell and her work grew. I began to think that I wanted to be a part of it in some way, and this summer I have been given the opportunity to do so as an intern.

In a phone interview with Laura Caldwell for my English project, she told me she believes that “small choices lead to big changes.” I think the way I became involved in LAI rings true to her conviction. It is crazy to think that had I not gone to a book signing, my intended career path and passion could have been different. I am a senior this year, and my connections to LAI have inspired me to look for programs where I can learn about law early so I can help others and preserve justice just like Laura and her law students. I am honored to be a part of LAI this summer.

***

Claire Gupta is a sixteen-year-old summer intern at LAI. She is a senior in high school and an aspiring lawyer. She is Secretary General of her school’s Model UN Secretariat, and in her spare time, she likes to read, write, and walk her dog. She is also a swimmer and a swim coach.

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