UnCommon Law is a California non-profit law office whose mission is to help long-term prisoners understand and resolve the factors that contributed to their crimes so that they can safely be released. We work with prisoners for months or years in advance of their parole board hearings, and we represent them in those hearings and in court petitions challenging the parole board and the Governor.

In this video, client Troy Williams and our founder, Keith Wattley, discuss why it’s so difficult for prisoners to rehabilitate themselves in a system built to warehouse them.

On January 6, 2016 and January 13, 2016, Sam Levin of the East Bay Express produced two powerful pieces on California’s parole consideration process: Part One shows how arbitrary parole decisions needlessly keep life-term prisoners behind bars for decades after they have been rehabilitated; Part Two shows how abuse and insensitivity by parole commissioners can discourage prisoners from openly exploring the traumatic experiences that contributed to their crimes. Both articles feature several of UnCommon Law’s clients, and both highlight the importance of our comprehensive and personal approach to advocacy (see the video accompanying Part One here).


From Founder and Executive Director Keith Wattley:

In the 18 years since I began working with prisoners serving life sentences, there has been a dramatic improvement in how the parole board determines whether and when to set such prisoners free. Through the tireless efforts of many individuals and organizations – inside as much as out – we have helped the parole board see the humanity behind the numbers and irrational fears. As a result of these efforts, prisoners sentenced to life with the possibility of parole now have a much better opportunity to show the parole board that they are ready to safely rejoin their families and home communities.

In addition to formal and informal advocacy, we have found that visual media has a way of instantly helping people on the outside understand what’s possible on the inside. We are fortunate to have access to some films that provide a rare glimpse into how people in prison transform themselves by using education, vocational training, self-help programs and individual and group therapy to address the many factors that contributed to terrible decisions in their past, some of which resulted in death.

16.05.28 Juvies at The Lark

On June 28, we will screen an award-winning film, JUVIES, which focuses on the front-end of our justice system by following the lives of a handful of children facing substantial time in adult prison under draconian laws that failed to account for the unique circumstances of their youth and their capacity to change. This film will be shown at The Lark Theater in Larkspur, at 7 pm.

Immediately after the film, we will be joined by Michael “Duc” Ta, featured in the film as someone who, at age 16, was sentenced to 35 years to life for driving a car from which a passenger fired a gun without injuring anyone. UnCommon Law helped Duc secure his release nearly three years ago. He has valuable insights into the experience shared by up to 14,000 California prisoners sentenced to lengthy terms for crimes committed in their youth. You are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance of this special screening.

In addition to raising awareness about these important issues, these events help support UnCommon Law in our efforts to reach even more people in prison and help them safely rejoin their families and communities. We hope you can join and support us.

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You can always support our work by making a tax-deductible donation. Just click the Donate Button on the right or send a check to us at 220 4th Street, Suite 103, Oakland, CA 94607. Thank you for your continued support.

Keith Wattley, Founder and Executive Director