Jerome Wilson recently completed his International Public Service Project with African Prisons Project, a nonprofit organization with the vision to empower changemakers within prisons by providing them with legal training and services.
Through his work with APP, Wilson was not only able to assist the organization in its research, but was able to take on professional and personal experiences that he believes will help shape his future career path.
There are inmates in many countries across Africa who will never meet a lawyer and are unable to afford the most basic access to justice. Through APP’s Justice Changemaker Program, prisoners and prison staff are taught how to study the law, giving them the ability to provide themselves and others with critical legal advice.
Based in London, APP works primarily within prisons in Kenya and Uganda. APP offers a formalized sponsorship program enabling prisoners and prison staff to study law through the University of London’s international program.
Wilson, a Marine Corp veteran who is pursuing a concurrent Juris Doctor from the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, said that when he began looking for potential partners for his international project, he wanted an organization that could combine his law and public service degree programs.
“I was able to see an international public service organization that had a legal focus,” Wilson said. “Many organizations, especially western organizations, focus on making change but they do it by treating symptoms. APP is trying to fix the system by creating individuals that can advocate for their own rights, defend themselves, and advise their peers, giving them skills and knowledge and degrees so that when they leave prison, they don’t fall back into the same patterns as before.”
After arriving in Kampala Wilson created an evaluation plan to measure the impact of APP's Justice Changemaker Program. Specifically, Wilson’s work set about assessing the after-effects of incarceration, both on prisoners and their families.
“The research has shown that, yes, the primary audience for the consequences of incarceration is the prisoners themselves,” Wilson said. “But it’s not just targeted on that one population, it extends to their children and the people they cared for and cared for them prior to prison.”
Wilson interviewed three different populations. First, he interviewed the auxiliary paralegals – incarcerated individuals who are trained in how to be paralegals. Second, he interviewed the families of auxiliary paralegals. Finally, he interviewed previous participants in the program. He asked each group questions about the school performance of children and the frequency and causes of the need to relocate.
“Most people who relocated following an incarceration, it was due to a lack of income originally provided by the incarcerated individual,” Wilson said. “Most children, if they were removed from their schools, it was due to a lack of financing for school fees.”
A native of Portsmouth, Va., Wilson said that his first-year Clinton School experiences helped him with his work in ways he never expected. “I can’t stress enough how much the classes prepared me for this work,” Wilson said.
His Practicum project work, in conjunction with Field Research Methods taught by Dr. Nichola Driver, taught him “team management and how to handle himself in a public service environment.” The communications class taught by Dr. Robert Richards assisted him in his collection of qualitative data.
“You don’t realize how much you learn in this program as you’re going through it,” Wilson said. “Then, you get out into the world and you can pull from it, as if it’s something you’ve been practicing for years.”
Wilson noted that the experience with APP had multiple professional and personal impacts. After clerking with the Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office, he was convinced he would follow a specific path to becoming a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney after finishing law school. Now, he said he could see himself taking a different route.
“I really like working for a nonprofit,” Wilson said. “I really like working at a place where I can see tangible results. I really like working with people. I could see myself doing this full-time.”
Personally, he said the time away from his family – his wife and their two children stayed in Little Rock – made him reconsider an eventual move back to the East coast, where the majority of their family is located. He also said the downtime allowed more time for introspection, which led to a personal writing habit that he has maintained.
“Writing was my way of processing it. It worked and it’s something I’m still doing now. The first one was a poem, the second one was more of a spoken word, and it’s just evolved from there. When I have these complex things in my head, I need to find ways to get it out. And it’s been very therapeutic.”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.