Justice Studies Professor Explores Pathways Out of Crime

Record Clearance Project Prepares Student for Law School

Javier de la Torre assists a client at the McKinley Neighborhood Center Speed Screening

Javier de la Torre assists a client at the McKinley Neighborhood Center (Justice Studies photo).

By Javier de la Torre

(Editor’s Note: The following story is an except from the winter 2011 issue of “Advance: News from the San Jose State University Record Clearance Project (PDF).” The project engages undergraduates in assisting eligible people to clear their criminal records.)

I began working with the Record Clearance Project (RCP) almost a year ago, and through this work have developed a whole new view about law and justice. The RCP and my studies at SJSU have ignited in me the desire to go to law school to become an attorney for at-risk youth.

In 1987 I arrived in San José as a young child, coming with my family from Mexico in search of a better life. Growing up, I never thought about going to law school. In fact, I found it extremely difficult to assimilate during my first years in the US.

However, I graduated from Oak Grove High School here and attended West Valley Community College, receiving an AA degree before starting at SJSU in the fall of 2009.

While I had been thinking of working as a police officer, sheriff or CHP officer, once I came to SJSU, I became more interested in learning about why crimes are committed and how to help the individuals involved. I began to see myself working with people who needed help rather than enforcing the law.

There are no lawyers in my family, and the Record Clearance Project gave me valuable field experience in the law. I really enjoyed working with my ten clients, and have seen firsthand that not only is knowing the law required, but communication and interviewing skills are necessary as well. My goal is to communicate in a professional and gentle way so that each person feels comfortable; being courteous and professional has guided me through many interviews with clients from different backgrounds.

I have enjoyed being able to share this wonderful project with the public by doing presentations and interview sessions in the community. At a Speed Screening at the McKinley Neighborhood Center, my interview partner was unable to attend, so I interviewed clients by myself. The one-on-one consultation made the experience feel as if I was a real lawyer. I was glad to return to the McKinley Center where previously I had done a community presentation, this time to help interested clients individually.

Becoming an attorney is a new path for me. For the last eight years I have worked at a sheet metal company, being promoted from the production floor to supervisor to production control. I paid all my expenses to put myself through college, and have helped my mother with her expenses as well. I have worked full-time, sometimes 50 hours a week.

In Spring 2012 I will graduate from SJSU, the first in my family to graduate from an accredited college. Being in the top 15 percent of my class, I am a member of the campus chapter of the Golden Key International Honor Society.

At this point in my career, close to graduation, I understand that choosing to pursue a law degree will take a tremendous amount of work and exceeding dedication. Through the RCP, I’ve met law students, as well as lawyers and judges. If accepted in law school, I believe I can make the right choices needed in my life and do the work required to emerge as a successful law graduate. I look forward to practicing law and continuing to help others.