This February, we had our first LEAP LIVE of the semester with Veronica Lockett, whose compelling story was an inspiration to all of us.
One of 13 children, Lockett spent most of her childhood in the foster care system, eventually went to prison, and has since graduated from college, earned an M.A. in Social Work, and recently graduated from law school and passed the bar exam.
Ms. Lockett’s mother suffered from mental health issues, having ended up in foster care and been the victim of a number of assaults while in the system, and found solace in drugs and abusive relationships, and therefore struggled to raise her children.
Lockett recalled for us a tense and scary moment from her childhood. She told us that she once watched her mother’s boyfriend at the time hold her mother in the air and threaten to throw her off of the balcony. She said that she and her siblings slept in the bathroom that night in fear of him.
After years of falling behind in school, living off of food stamps, and being hungry to the point of malnourishment, Lockett entered the foster care system at the age of 9, where she would live in a number of foster care families and group homes.
She explained that she learned about college from one foster care family, and decided she definitely wanted to go to college while with another family. When she started college, she found she struggled to find a place to live.
After transitioning through a number of poor living situations, she ended up in an abusive relationship. While dating this individual, Lockett picked up several charges, and was frequently in trouble with the law. She described an instance when the man held her down in the bathtub and told her he had a gun to her head. There was another time that he choked her until she was unconscious.
A few times, Lockett retaliated, cutting her abuser with a knife and burning him with an iron. Eventually, she had had enough. When she was tired of fighting, she ended up calling the police. Knowing she had a warrant out for her arrest for previous charges, she turned herself in to get away from him. Lockett wound up in prison for two years.
She then described her prison experience, which was tough for us to hear. We learned that the facility she was originally kept in was called the “dog pound,” which was where she was held until the prison assigned her to a specific unit. Once she was placed in a unit, she was placed on the “hoe squad,” where she and other inmates were required to do manual labor.
In spite of the challenges prison presented, including violence from guards and stints in solitary confinement, she was eventually able to get to know her mother, who was moved to her unit, and in the cell next to her.
Lockett told us that they finally reconnected, and she asked her mother all the questions she’d had over the years, about why her drugs and alcohol was more important than her children. Her mother explained that she was trying to cope with the pain of her mental health issues through drugs and alcohol.
After she got out of prison, Lockett went on to finish college, earn her M.A., and would eventually apply to law school at University of North Texas, which was the only school in Texas that would admit her in spite of her criminal record.
She then gave us some advice regarding law school, reminding us that it can definitely be a challenge, and we might not all get the best grades, but that does not mean we should give up. She told us to figure out a system of studying, get to know people who have similar priorities as us, and get as much experience as we can.
Lockett now works at Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit which strives to change unjust laws and policies that prevent Texans from realizing their full potential.
After the LEAP LIVE, a few of us were fortunate to have a one-on-one with Ms. Lockett, where she answered our more specific questions. We want to sincerely thank Ms. Lockett for sharing her time and honesty with us as we learned about her inspiring story of overcoming obstacles.
I think it best to close with a quote from Veronica Lockett which I found very moving:
“I think that the legal profession is all about helping people, it’s just how we choose to help people.