Turning His Life Around To Help His Daughter Thrive – with help from Legal Aid

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Mr. Johnson with Katie Feldman, Esq.

Alexis with Mr. Johnson and his girlfriend.

Alexis with Mr. Johnson and his fiancee, Carrie-Ann.

Sam Johnson was 11 years old when he was first convicted – for vandalism. During the next 30 years he chased after drugs, spending time mostly in and seldom out of prison. The last time that he was incarcerated, Mr. Johnson knew he was ready for a change. “I was always a follower, and it took me until age 40 to find out who I really am,” explains Mr. Johnson. “I had left my daughter behind and I knew that if I did everything that I was supposed to do, and tried to get my life back together, then I would be able to see my daughter.”

Mr. Johnson used every opportunity to better himself. He participated in sessions on anger management, victims’ awareness, parenting, depression, addiction and recovery. As he walked out of prison for the final time, he carried with him a stack of certificates that acknowledged his hard work.

On his daughter’s fifth birthday, Mr. Johnson saw Alexis for the first time in four years. It was obvious that she had not been well cared for. Her hair was matted and her clothes were dirty. He remembers, “I was angry, but I knew that I couldn’t lash out as I had in the past. I had to find a way to put myself in a position to help my child.”

After obtaining emergency custody of Alexis, Mr. Johnson took her to see Dr. Irene Dietz, pediatrician at MetroHealth, who had been trained on legal topics that could impact her patients through Legal Aid’s Community Advocacy  Program, a medical-legal partnership that helps low-income people overcome barriers to health. She diagnosed Alexis with developmental delays and referred the case to onsite Legal Aid attorney Katie Feldman.

“With an advocacy letter from Dr. Dietz,  I was able to follow up with the school district and request a special education evaluation. I accompanied Mr. Johnson to meetings at the school where we reviewed the evaluation results and participated in setting up an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Alexis now receives speech therapy, occupational therapy and counseling services, meets with a special education teacher daily, and is provided with curb-to-curb transportation services,” states Ms. Feldman, who also consulted with other Legal Aid attorneys to provide Mr. Johnson with the information he needed to obtain permanent custody of Alexis.

April 10 marks the one-year anniversary of when Mr. Johnson and his daughter were first reunited. Just as they did on Alexis’ fifth birthday, they plan to celebrate. This time they are both on the mend, looking at a future together made brighter through Mr. Johnson’s hard work and the help of Legal Aid. “Legal Aid is an organization geared to help those who are sincerely willing to help themselves,” says Mr. Johnson. “They helped me appreciate that my hope to give my best to my daughter was real.”

 

Click here to view the full Poetic Justice Issue where this story appeared.

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