Today I get to uplift an advocate and an author, Claudette Nurse.
I have not met a person more passionate about justice than Claudette. (She causes “good trouble.”) She is an attorney. She worked for the Legal Aid Society, in its Prisoner Rights division. She is also an author, of two books, Memoirs of a Prison Lawyer, Prison Wife, and a novel, All Tapped Out.
To use a wrestling metaphor, Claudette never taps out. Anyone wrestling with the legal system would want her on his or her team. She is the zealous advocate people charged with crime expect and hope for but often do not receive. If I ever need an attorney, I would first call Claudette. In fact, in my experience, I would take a woman lawyer over most men. Whenever someone reaches out to me about a legal issue, before I pass judgment or give legal information, I call one of my women lawyer friends, and Claudette is at the top of the list. Perhaps this is solely my experience, but women attorneys bring something to court most male attorneys do not because, I think, men lack a certain sensibility.
Claudette jokes that I am her “work husband.” For more than ten years we did work for the Coalition for Parole Restoration (CPR), a grassroots nonprofit organization, which Claudette cofounded. CPR was tackling the issue of parole reform long before it became “sexy” and “fundable.” In fact, any progress made on parole reform in New York State has CPR and the work of Claudette to thank, this includes the Parole Preparation Project. On a similar note, Claudette stayed in contact with many people she represented when she worked for Legal Aid, long after the cases were over. In fact, we visited people in prison, because we never forget, we never forgot them. Claudette and I also started a law firm, Spencer Waters Legal Associates, LLC. Today, we are doing work together through the New York State Prison Crisis Response Coalition (NYSPCRC). NYSPCRC formed two years ago to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in prison. And even though that issue brought us, a group of advocates with various ties to the criminal legal system, together, we have not confined ourselves to the pandemic alone. Currently, we are pushing for New York State to fully reinstate the Temporary Release Programs (TRP) for all people in the NYS prison system. (For a copy of our white paper on TRP, please message me.)
I highly recommend reading Claudette’s memoir. It’s an improbable love story that, surprisingly, does not read like a legal brief. It also speaks to her passion for justice.
I know Latin is a dead language, but when you live in the legal system, you pick up a host of Latin phrases. So I’ll roughly translate the title of this post: “I care not if even the heavens fall, let justice be done!” That could be Claudette’s motto.