This week’s LEAP Center event offered students a rare opportunity: the chance to listen and ask questions of an average citizen thrust into incredible circumstances. Michael Morton, famous for his new-found freedom after being wrongfully convicted for his wife’s murder, spoke at the Brazos Bookstore in Houston before one of his book signings for his memoir, Getting Life.
During his remarks, Morton stressed two major themes: (1) his humility and gratitude to those who assisted him, such as the Innocence Project and attorney John Raley, (2) forgiveness as a means of re-gaining control of life. For a man who spent 25 years in prison after being wrongly convicted, Morton seemed remarkably well adjusted, friendly, and lacking in bitterness.
For us as college students living in a world of constant stimulation, the monotony of prison life described by Morton seem unthinkable. To survive a quarter of a century under those conditions seems impossible. Morton endured this imprisonment, while also mourning the vicious murder of his wife, and the loss of a relationship with his son. Morton’s courage in the face of such daunting circumstances provided us with some real perspective, and we left the event reflecting on our lives, feeling grateful for our freedom and other privileges.
As students of the law, many of us felt a keen sense of shame and disbelief that the criminal justice system could fall so short of the ideals set for it, that justice could sometimes be corrupted, even if in isolated incidents. For those students considering criminal law as a possible career, Michael Morton’s words served as a reminder of the ethics necessary to call oneself a member of the Bar and the challenges facing practitioners in putting society before self.
Indeed, the speech provided “CLE”—continuing legal education—units for the attorneys there, and there were many. Governor Mark White introduced Morton. Representative Sissy Farenthold was there, almost seventy years after she was one of three women admitted to UT Law School. There were 797 men admitted that year. And attorney John Raley, who helped free Morton, was also there. It was a good night for people watching.
And for conversing. LEAP Center Vice-President Constance Gabel asked Morton what advice he might give to students who aspired to become lawyers. He responded, “Be one of the good guys.”
Governor White jumped in, arguing that once Gabel read Morton’s book, the difference between good lawyers and bad lawyers would be clear. After the event, Governor White, Attorney Raley, and other judges and attorneys engaged us with real-life examples of the good and bad. Interestingly, Carol Vance, the former Harris County DA who was a speaker at a previous LEAP Center event, featured prominently in the stories of good attorneys.
Following the book signing at Brazos Bookstore, we took a short drive down the street to the Istanbul Grill and Deli to enjoy some authentic Turkish food. Representative of Turkey, the restaurant décor was simplistic, yet incorporated traditional elements of the Turkish culture such as the eye of protection and the hamsa displayed throughout the restaurant. Before the main course, we sampled many different types of meze, similar to relishes or small appetizers. The tzatziki sauce was a crowd favorite when paired with the warm pita bread fresh from the brick oven. We also sampled the humus, tabuli, ezme, and various other types of meze. All had a distinct flavor and were delicious.
For our main course, the group ordered various meals. Some enjoyed the vegetarian options such as the mantar (stuffed mushrooms); another tried the donor (gyro) sandwich; and another tried the iskender, which involved both a yogurt base and a tomato-sauce topping. Most dishes were served with rice and a garden salad.
After everyone finished their meals, most indulged by enjoying baklava for dessert. The popular sweet and buttery pastry was the perfect way to end an eventful night in Houston. With full stomachs and a sense of gratitude, we departed for Huntsville.