#NJIBAlawstudents is the law student division of the National Justice Impact Bar Association (NJIBA).
NJIBAlawstudents is a safe place for all formerly incarcerated or justice impacted prospective law students and current law students. Too often we have been marginalized and forced to contort ourselves to fit the desired goal and narrative that society has for us. Truth is we are different but our differences should be celebrated, not punished. As such, we created this organization to provide us a seat at the table instead of having to fight for one. Who better to advocate for us than us.
We believe firmly that those who are closest to the problems of the justice system are closest to the solutions. We do not think that our pasts hinder us or make us a liability but rather give us a different perspective which can be extremely helpful and useful, particularly in the field of law.
Our mission is to advocate for formerly incarcerated and justice impacted individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in the field of law. In pursuit of this mission we will encourage productive dialogue that is conducive to a change of mentality when it comes to the perception of formerly incarcerated and justice impacted individuals.
The leadership is composed entirely of all formerly incarcerated students. This organization is truly by people like us and for people like us.
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Text "NJIBA" to (917) 525-5977
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In 2012, Antonio Reza was released from jail newly convicted of the charge felony second-degree armed robbery and received a strike. Upon his release Antonio was determined to NOT become a statistic. Instead, he took advantage of his newfound freedom as a second opportunity and decided to turn his life around.
In 2013, he enrolled at Ohlone College where he was involved with the basketball team, student government, peer elected vice president of a club, got inducted into the honor roll society Sigma Chi Eta, earned student of the year, and made dean’s list and honor roll every semester. When it came time to graduate Antonio had earned 3 Associate Degrees, multiple certificates, and maintained a 4.0 GPA. Antonio transferred to the University of San Francisco where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, minoring in Legal Studies and Sociology. During his time at USF he continued to make the dean’s list and honor roll every semester, volunteered at a halfway house, became president of a club, got inducted into 3 honor roll societies: Alpha Sigma Nu, Lambda Pi Eta, and DeltaAlpha Pi.
Antonio has spoken on many panels and presented primary research on the criminal justice system. Upon graduation in 2018 he had earned EVERY award offered by his department and was valedictorian. Currently, Antonio is attending Santa Clara University School of Law. Is the first student president and an executive board member of the National Justice Impacted Bar Association and the Northern California Student Representative and an Executive board member of the California System Involved Bar Association. He has given a TEDx Talk titled From Felonies to 4.0s. Was a recent recipient of TheChangeLawyer scholarship and was awarded 1L of the year from Santa Clara University School of Law. He also has been elected to be the External VP of La Raza Law Student Association and the VP of External Affairs for the Student Bar Association.
VP of Pre-Law
Wesley Caines is a Bronx native of Caribbean heritage and the proud father of two children, Ashley and Gregory. A graduate of Bard College and New York Theological Seminary, his life’s journey has enriched him with a perspective on the importance of human connection and community engagement. Wes is a frequent speaker at colleges and universities as well as on panels and in conferences across the country on his exceptional personal journey and how it informs his work in criminal justice reform.
As Chief of Staff, Wes spearheads the organization’s systemic reform efforts which includes overseeing the policy, impact litigation and community organizing, teams. Prior to his current role, he was Director of Reentry & Community Engagement, roles which allowed him to work closely with directly impacted communities in understanding and developing strategies to overcome barriers that perpetually punish those ensnared in government systems.
Before joining The Bronx Defenders, Wes worked at Brooklyn Defender Services and launched the Records Accuracy Project which utilized local area law students to identify and correct RAP (records of arrest and prosecution) sheet errors. To date, he has trained nearly 50 law students in the complex world of reentry and reentry policy work. Wes sits on the boards of the Correctional Association of New York, Inside Change, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, and Network Support Services, Inc.,–leveraging his expertise in the furtherance of helping those who are economically and socially disadvantaged to improve their systems involvement outcomes. Wes is a member of the New York City Bar, Reentry Subcommittee, a former member of the American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section, and a founding member of the National Justice Impacted Bar Association. Wes’ life goal is the empowerment of underserved and marginalized communities as they become creative self-advocates who challenge policy-makers’ notion of the social contract.
National Pre-Law Rep
Marcelo Lopez is a system impacted undergraduate pre-law student at the University of California, Davis, double majoring in Sociology (with an emphasis in Law & Society) and Chicano/x Studies. His volunteer and social work includes the California Youth Connection (CYC) which is a youth-led organization that develops leaders who empower each other and their communities to transform the foster care system through legislative, policy, and practice change.
Additionally, Marcelo is a member and leader of Beyond the Stats at UC Davis which is a collective of system impacted & formerly incarcerated students at UC Davis working to dismantle the stigma surrounding formerly incarcerated communities, intending to use collective voices to advocate for not only support, but also programs. Beyond the Stats aims to create a community, coursework, and safe spaces that can offer formerly incarcerated or system impacted communities access and assistance in succeeding within higher education.
As a system impacted, first generation, reentry student who is also a former foster youth Marcelo is interested in addressing the intersectionality of personal identity and the impact that the criminal justice system has on these identities. His research at UC Davis explores institutional bias and he works closely with various groups on campus to bring attention to these and other related issues. As a board member of the Beyond the Barriers Initiative at UC Davis, Marcelo works with faculty and the administration to focus efforts for the research and resource allocation of UC Davis’ justice impacted community. Marcelo is interested in employment law.
ARTICLES & MEDIA
Hailing from Barrio Logan in San Diego, Jonathan Verdugo is a first generation Xicano and the second of eight children born to a Mexican mother. From a young age, Jonathan had formative experiences with the criminal justice system. As a young child, he recalls the police raiding his home with military gear and assault rifles. By fifteen, he was a high school dropout involved in street gangs and drug addiction. His best friend was brutally shot to death and his younger brother is currently serving a twenty-six year sentence.
Mr. Verdugo spent his youth in and out of juvenile detention facilities and the fact that he never once had a person of color assigned to his case was made more salient by his realization that the majority of inmates were Black and Latino. These experiences influenced his views and steered him toward pursuing a legal education. He earned his BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley and served as executive director of the Latinx Pre Law Society.
Jonathan is a 2L at the University of San Francisco School of Law and wants to dedicate his life to combating the scourge that is mass incarceration. He believes it is the civil rights issue of our time and he wants to give a voice to the voiceless and zealously advocate on behalf of communities thathave been forgotten and relegated to the margins of society.
National Pre-Law Rep
Before I knew education was a way out, I was fighting against societal expectations of being a brown-skinned Mexican woman.
It was a losing battle. While all my friends were getting pregnant in high school, Melissa did not get pregnant until after high school, but I was conforming in other ways. Growing up, my community wasn’t the safest. I never knew when it was going to be the last time my family was going to be together.
As a child of poor Mexican immigrants, the environment of being in a constant mode of survival I grew up in was normalized. This meant not being able to set up long-term goals for myself because I was just trying to get through daily life. As I continued to grow, I became heavily impacted by the criminal justice system as I witnessed my closest childhood friends end up imprisoned or dead.
I am passionate about working toward solutions to the injustices occurring in immigrant and low-income communities, like mine, disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system.
National Pre-Law Rep
Chelsie Martinez was born in San Jose, California. Throughout her academic career, she has had to adapt to her learning disability by receiving help with educational resources. It was very hard for her to receive accommodations at first because her parents are undocumented and many did not want to help them or give them resources.
This is where Chelsie learned to advocate for herself because she saw the injustice and inhumane treatment her parents were receiving. She volunteered in the program Peer Court with the Santa Clara County Probation Department where she learned to advocate for juveniles in giving them restorative justice to return back into the community. She also volunteered for the Student Equity and Success Committee at Mission College where Chelsie advocated for student help, equity, and resources.
Chelsie has had the honor to graduate from Mission College with 5 degrees and will now be attending her dream school, Santa Clara University. She will be majoring in political science and working with the university to transfer into the Santa Clara University School of Law. Chelsie plans on becoming a lawyer where she wishes to advocate for those who the system has treated unfairly.
Director of Communications
Hisrael (Israel) Carranza is not the traditional law student. Apart from being married and a father of four, he is also a formerly incarcerated individual. Israel attributes his change in lifestyle to the realization that his old way of life had few possible outcomes.
Israel’s decision to pursue a better life was not accompanied by instant praise or a clear path. Instead, Israel had to surpass many obstacles like finding a steady jobwith a record, paying off his legal financial obligations, and finding a way to afford going to school all in hopes of changing the trajectory of his family’s legacy.
He credits his second chance at life to the help of his family, mentors, and dogged work ethic he learned from his immigrant parents. In 2017, Israel graduated from Weber State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Minor in Criminal Justice.
He is currently a rising 3L at Gonzaga University School of Law. At Gonzaga, Israelis active in the law school community and has held several leadership positions in various school organizations and committees. After law school, Israel’s goal is to practice in the two areas of law that have intersected in his life, criminal and immigration law.
OPTION 1: TEXT-TO-DONATE
Text "NJIBA" to (917) 525-5977