Why Your Support Matters

[Below is a statement by Keith Wattley, Founder and Executive Director of UnCommon Law.]

UnCommon Law helps long-term prisoners earn their freedom. In the four years since UnCommon Law incorporated as a nonprofit, we have helped more than 150 prisoners obtain freedom and return home, even though they were sentenced with little or no hope of ever being released.

Our work is about personal rehabilitation, not innocence. Almost all our clients actually committed the serious crimes for which they were convicted, and they admit their guilt. Their sentences include the possibility of parole, but only if the parole board finds that they have transformed their lives and can be safely released. Unfortunately, they have limited access to effective rehabilitative programs in prison.

Although each client’s journey is unique, most of their stories involve fear and pain. Over the course of months, even years, we help clients re-visit the worst moments in their lives to understand why their crimes happened. We work with them to analyze how their experiences of being abused, neglected, or abandoned led to destructive decisions. They learn to articulate this understanding and to explain how they will avoid returning to harmful behavior patterns. This is a long, difficult, emotional process. Most of our clients have been in prison for at least 20 years — some for as long as 50 — and many have never before done this rehabilitative work.

Our clients include:

  • Women who have survived years of physical and sexual abuse, and whose trauma contributed to their crimes against their abusers, strangers, and their own children.
  • Men and women who committed unspeakable crimes while they were high or drunk, and who never addressed the root causes of their addictions until many years later in prison.
  • Former gang members who once pulled triggers in misguided attempts to gain respect, and who later learn to understand and overcome their youthful insecurities.
  • Many others who associated with the wrong people because they were seeking the kind of love and acceptance they didn’t get at home.

Our work gives people the support and hope they need to transform their lives. With the guidance and counseling we provide, our clients transform themselves into insightful, caring, responsible people. Many feel they owe it to their victims, and to everyone affected by their crimes, to return home as fully rehabilitated individuals.

Our rehabilitative work also helps reduce public resources spent on incarceration. Each year that our 150 successfully rehabilitated clients remain free, the state saves about $8 million that would otherwise be spent incarcerating them. Not one of our released clients has returned to prison for committing a new crime.

There is great need to expand the reach of our work. California recently passed two laws – Senate Bills 260 and 261 – that extend the possibility of parole to thousands of prisoners: those sentenced to life terms for crimes committed before age 23. Sadly, few have access to the services they need to rehabilitate, succeed in their parole hearings, and return home. They need the kind of help we provide.

We’re a small team with an enormous workload. UnCommon Law consists of only three employees. Three or four days out of each week, I am traveling to prisons across California to meet with clients. Each year I handle up to 70 hearings and challenge about a dozen illegal parole decisions. I also represent a class of 10,000 prisoners in a lawsuit to prevent the parole board from basing decisions on faulty psychological reports.

We need your support to continue our life-changing work. If you have read this far and believe in our work, know that your support is vital. Our successes come at great personal and financial cost, and we cannot continue on this mission without your help in bearing this cost.

Please donate to keep hope alive for our clients. You can make a tax-deductible donation by visiting uncommonlaw.org/support-us, or by sending a check to 220 4th Street, Suite 103, Oakland, CA 94607. Your contributions help bring more people home where they belong.

Thanks for all your support and generosity.

Keith Wattley
UnCommon Law
Founder and Executive Director