My name is Phillip Ensler and I am excited to have recently joined Alabama Appleseed as Policy Counsel. In my role, I will provide direction and leadership to advance our policy goals. This includes managing the Access to Justice Campaign to improve access to adequate counsel for indigent clients in criminal and civil cases.

I graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York this past May. Although I am a native New Yorker, coming to Montgomery is like returning home – or as we say down here, Sweet Home Alabama!

My history in Alabama dates back to when I was in college and visited Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham to see the sacred sites of the Civil Rights Movement. I was humbled and inspired by standing in the very places where Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and countless other heroes and foot soldiers had the courage to stand up for a more just and equal Alabama.

Despite the significant progress that has been made, I was also aware that there was still much more to be done. In this spirit, I moved to Montgomery in 2012 to serve as a Teach for America corps member, where I worked to help close the educational achievement gap. My students were just as talented and intelligent as students at any other school, but they were not given the same opportunities to succeed due their racial and socioeconomic backgrounds.

My experience in the classroom motivated me to attend law school in order to gain the skills and knowledge to fight to make the law fairer so everyone in Alabama can achieve their full potential. I was committed to returning to Alabama because it was a community that welcomed me with open arms, and it is where I have met some of the most dedicated and passionate people in my life.

After my second year of law school, I worked as a legal intern at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, where I worked on juvenile rights and education issues. And now, I am looking forward to the work Appleseed will do to ensure that more students are receiving the education and opportunities they deserve and do not become just another number in the system of mass incarceration.

We also have much work to do in the area of civil and criminal defense legal services for disadvantaged Alabamians. The words “Equal Justice Under the Law” are engraved on the façade of the United States Supreme Court. Yet in order to fully live up to that democratic principle in Alabama, we must ensure that all citizens have access to adequate lawyers, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Our justice system should not depend on which side has deeper financial pockets.

That is why at Appleseed we will be working with partners throughout the state to increase funding for civil legal services. This will ensure that those who cannot afford to hire a lawyer can continue to have access to legal assistance for vital services such as applying for veterans benefits or seeking to remain in their home in the face of eviction.

On the criminal side, we will similarly work with stakeholders to ensure that indigent criminal defendants receive adequate counsel. The determination of truth and justice in a criminal case should not be predicated on whether a defendant can afford an attorney. At the Innocence Project, where I also did a legal internship, we saw in case after case that defendants were wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for decades because they did not have access to adequate counsel during their cases. In order to prevent such injustices in Alabama, we will examine which methods are most effective in upholding indigent defendants’ Constitutional right to counsel. We will then advocate for these best practices to be implemented state-wide.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs ‘down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’” At Appleseed we are determined to continue that effort for all of Alabama. I am grateful to be a part of such work and I look forward to working with activists, partners, and leaders throughout the state to make it happen.

My name is Lisa Cagle and I will be a second year law student at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. While I am originally from North Dakota, I am excited to be living in Alabama and enjoying the warm weather year round. I may not have been born here, but I got here as fast as I could.

My background is not your typical law student background. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemical Engineering from UCLA. However, life had other plans for me, and I became a teacher in 2008. During my first year teaching, I read an inspirational book by Wes Stafford titled Too Small To Ignore that changed the way I viewed teaching. In this book, Stafford stresses the importance of focusing on children and their unique needs and not waiting until a person has reached adulthood to begin to consider them a quality member of society. Shortly after that, I met my first child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Finding unique ways to teach that child was an amazing experience for me. As a result, I spent many of my continuing education hours learning about special needs and how to design a classroom setting and modify my teaching style to accommodate children with special needs. Over the course of eight years of teaching, I had the privilege to work with several children with varying needs and the honor to help educate families on special needs and the accommodations and therapies available to help these children learn and thrive in a structured school environment.

After several years of working with children and families, I decided to go to law school to enable me to continue to work with families in ways that I was unable to as a teacher. I desire to do more than recommend other resources and professionals to families in need. I would like to be one of the resources and professionals that a family can turn to. This is also one of the reasons why I am excited to intern at Alabama Appleseed this summer. Appleseed has a reputation for creating change to better the lives of people in Alabama and I am excited to be a part of this.

My project this summer will be the school to prison pipeline. According to the American Bar Association (ABA), the school to prison pipeline is the metaphor for the student disciplinary issues at school that result in students leaving school and entering the criminal justice system. The ABA has done research to discover that a disproportionate number of minority students and students with special needs are dismissed from school, resulting in a disproportionate number of minority students and students with special needs in the criminal justice system. As a former teacher, this issue is near and dear to my heart. I have received training on ways to help children with special needs adjust to a classroom setting and believe that all children deserve a chance for a quality education, not just the ones who have the ability to conform to a “typical classroom setting.” I am honored and thrilled to working as an intern for Alabama Appleseed and am looking forward to continuing Appleseed’s work this summer.

My name is Ellen, and I am looking forward to being an intern this summer with Alabama Appleseed! I just completed my first year of law school at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. I grew up in the Nashville, Tennessee area, and I graduated from college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Before coming to law school, I worked for nonprofit organizations providing educational resources to immigrant and low-income communities. I was an AmeriCorps member in Arlington, Virginia with the Arlington Education and Employment Program, where I taught English as a Second Language to adult immigrants from a multitude of countries and of a variety of ages. After that, I was an AmeriCorps member in Nashville, Tennessee with an after-school program for middle school students. That opportunity led to working for The Center for Refugees and Immigrants of Tennessee (CRIT), where I was a Site Coordinator for one of its after-school programs for middle school students. Later, I was promoted to being the Associate Director of all of CRIT’s after-school programs. Around that time, I became interested in going to law school to be an attorney. CRIT had an immigration attorney, and the work the attorney did stuck out to me. He helped immigrants, who were already positively impacting the Nashville community, establish residence in this country after suffering traumatic situations in their home countries. Before going to law school, I also shadowed public defenders. One day I went back in the county jail and met a young girl, about 15 years old, who was charged with making meth with a male about 20 years old. She struck me as a girl who may have made a bad choice as to who she became friends with but if given the opportunity she would make better choices.

I am excited about the work I will do this summer with Alabama Appleseed. The major project I will be working on is to set the groundwork for a heir property project to help individuals gain clear title to their land. Heir property is property that automatically goes to a deceased person’s heirs when the deceased person did not provide for the ownership of the property in a will. Although there might be numerous heirs to a property, often only one heir is using the property. In fact, many of the heirs are probably not aware of their interest in the property. The main issue with heir property is that the property cannot be used in a way as it could with clear title. For example, the property cannot be leased or financed without the consent of all the heirs to the property. In addition, the heir property owner using the land can be forced to leave if others with an interest in the property bring a judicial partition action. This often happens when the heirs who are not using the land sell their interest to a non-family member.

Resolving heir property issues is particularly difficult for people who do not have access to legal assistance. Alabama Appleseed’s goal is to create resources that will help volunteer attorneys and law students navigate the hurdles individuals face when seeking clear title to their land.

Other projects I look forward to working on this summer include researching barriers to justice and policies that feed Alabama’s school-to-prison pipeline. I am very excited to be working on these projects because I know it will make a difference in the lives of individuals finding themselves in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. I chose to intern with Alabama Appleseed because the organization is effective at advocating for just policy for Alabama residents. I look forward to furthering Appleseed’s work this summer!

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed, regarding SB 187.

Eight times since 1976 Alabama has sent a person to death row and gotten it wrong. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to keep Alabama from making another potentially deadly mistake, the Alabama legislature voted to make Alabama’s death penalty process even less reliable.”

“Opposition to this legislation should have been universal. In the United States, the importance of ensuring a fair and accurate death penalty process should be non-negotiable. The Alabama legislature disagreed.”

“We urge Governor Ivey to veto this bill. This is not about where you stand on the death penalty, it’s about where you stand on the need to ensure a fair and accurate death penalty process.”

SB 187 will now go to Governor Kay Ivey. For additional information regarding SB 187, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed regarding SB 187, which the Alabama House of Representatives passed today:

Eight times since 1976 Alabama has sent a person to death row and gotten it wrong. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to keep Alabama from making another potentially deadly mistake, the Alabama House voted today to make Alabama’s death penalty process even less reliable.”

“Opposition to this legislation should be universal. In the United States, the importance of ensuring a fair and accurate death penalty process should be non-negotiable. Today, the Alabama House disagreed.”

For additional information regarding SB 187, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed regarding SB 187, which the Alabama House of Representatives Judiciary Committee favorably reported today:

“Eight times in the modern death penalty era Alabama has sent a person to death row and gotten it wrong. Yet, instead of focusing on ways to keep Alabama from making another potentially deadly mistake, the House Judiciary Committee voted today to make Alabama’s death penalty process even less reliable. Regardless of where each of us stand on the death penalty, we should all agree that Alabama must do everything in its power to not execute an innocent person. SB 187 goes in the opposite direction – it would increase the likelihood that Alabama could make a fatal mistake.”

For additional information regarding SB 187, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed regarding SB 16, which was signed by Governor Kay Ivey today:

We should all agree that if we have a death penalty then the process should be fair and accurate. SB 16 will help minimize unreliable and arbitrary death sentences and move Alabama one step closer to ending its outlier status. We commend Senator Brewbaker, Senator Sanders, and Representative England for their leadership in this effort. And, we thank Governor Ivey for her quick action to finally put an end to judicial override in Alabama. But, as the American Bar Association pointed out over ten years ago, much work remains before Alabama can consider its death penalty process to be fair and accurate.

​SB 16 became effective immediately. For additional information regarding SB 16, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.

Montgomery, AL – The following statement is by Frank Knaack, executive director of Alabama Appleseed regarding SB 16, which the Alabama House of Representatives Judiciary Committee favorably reported today:

We should all agree that if we have a death penalty then the process should be fair and accurate. SB 16 would help minimize unreliable and arbitrary death sentences and move Alabama one step closer to ending its outlier status. We commend Senator Brewbaker and Representative England for their leadership in this effort. But, as the American Bar Association pointed out over ten years ago, much work remains before Alabama can consider its death penalty process to be fair and accurate.

SB 16 will now move to the House floor for consideration. For additional information regarding SB 16, please read Alabama Appleseed’s fact sheet.