Today we’d like to introduce you to Natashia Deon.
Natashia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve always been a writer and have been an attorney for almost two decades. I started off in corporate law, and it left me empty. I wanted to help people, really help them in ways that were meaningful in their everyday lives.
I first thought that would be in corporate non-profit work, but I began to realize that my purpose as an attorney would require me to be out of the office and on the ground with people and needs. I have been helping people to clear their criminal records and win pardons from the governor for about ten years.
The work I do applies after someone has completed their court sentence—finished probation and paid all their fees or if they were imprisoned, after they are released. In other words, after they have paid their debt to society. But the consequences stay with them for the rest of their lives unless they do something about it.
Through my work clearing records, I’ve been able to witness a literal transformation of people, of families and communities. People can actually move on. My clients are able to get better jobs, housing, can travel again, immigrate, and in the case of felons, they get their constitutional rights back, including their right to vote.
I sincerely believe that if a person wants to do better and be better than their pasts suggest, there should be a path for them in society to do that. And there is.
REDEEMED, the non-profit I founded last year, pairs professional writers and lawyers with people who are seeking record clearing help. As one person and a mom and wife, there is only so many people I can help in a month or year. REDEEMED amplifies the work I do by bringing in talented attorneys and writers and systems, guided by the leadership of an exceptional board of directors.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I feel like my life story has led to the founding of REDEEMED. It carries several critical aspects of my life: writing as a professional writer, lawyering, justice, and teaching. As a professional writer, I face rejection more often than I’d like — the same as it is for actors, and even though I have an acclaimed novel–GRACE.
As a lawyer, I lose sometimes. I’m in court every week, and sometimes the judge says no or not yet. As for justice, the struggles are that justice means different things to different people and maybe victims should have the greatest say in it–what do you see as a fair and just punishment? And how long should that punishment last?
As a law professor and creative writing professor, the challenge is always engaging students in a meaningful way. it matters less to me if a student aces an exam, and means the most to me that she actually learns something from the lesson that can be applied to life.
Please tell us about REDEEMED.
REDEEMED will be holding self-help clinics throughout Los Angeles which are set to begin in the fall of 2019 to empower communities. These clinics will be held in non-confrontational arts spaces like museums and galleries. And like I’ve said, we’re pairing professional writers with applicants for record clearing because usually, part of the application process is an affidavit or personal statement written by the applicant. These statements are challenging.
Reliving moments of one’s past and putting it down on paper can be one of the most difficult parts of the process. Remorseful people often want to move on because it’s painful or shameful.
And there are others who have been in the criminal justice system for a while or have struggled in school or with reading and writing, so literacy is often an obstacle. But their statements will be quoted by police investigators in their reports to the judge and to the district attorney (prosecutor) and to their defense attorney. Personal statements, even poorly written ones, may also be quoted and read in the courtroom. REDEEMED provides help, as well as volunteer and low-cost attorneys for more difficult cases.
We are most proud of doing meaningful work and adding value to the lives of others. We are contributing to the lives of other human beings, helping them be better than their pasts suggests because they’ve already served their time and paid their debt to society.
Clearing records allows people to get better jobs, travel, apply for immigration, housing and more without fear or punishment. What I do and what REDEEMED now does literally allows people to move on from the shame and stigma of their pasts. Restorative justice.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My father was an L.A. County Deputy Sheriff who worked in the Juvenile Jails. In second grade, during the summer or on sick days, I would skate around lock-up while he and his partner sat behind a desk attending to things. In many ways, it taught me that even in prison– self-imposed or not–there’s something else to see there.
- Website: www.redeemedproject.org
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org