Lisa Lowery is a 2009 graduate of the Talk To Me Circle & Discovery Program at the GEO Lockhart Facility. This 14-week program is designed to deepen the inmates’ self-understanding and wise use of freedom of choice; to improve communication skills, through writing, speaking and respectful listening; to develop tools of self-expression; as well as to grow the understanding in the importance of community and creativity, both to be thought of as tools for transformation.
Lisa has just celebrated her fourth year of living in her hometown of Amarillo. Please read the article that was written about her today in The Amarillo College News. We are so proud of her!
Interviewed and the article written by: Joe Wyatt, Communications Coordinator for Amarillo College
Lisa Lowery knew going in that mediocrity was not likely to suffice, not for her. What she could not know, however, was just how far even academic excellence might take a convicted felon who was seeking a paralegal career. Lisa therefore took aim at unequalled academic excellence—and she nailed it. Lisa was named Paralegal Major of the Year in 2012, the same year she graduated from Amarillo College with a 3.96 grade point average, and just three years removed from a six-year stay in the state prison system. That latter experience might have seriously diminished her chances of becoming a working paralegal, especially had she been an ordinary student, but Lisa’s unparalleled prowess made a huge difference. That’s why she is happily employed today in the law office of Amarillo attorney William R. McKinney, Jr., who was naturally apprehensive when he first reviewed her application and the full disclosure of her past that it contained. “Lisa was an incredible student, the best. The only B she made at AC was in typing,” Bruce Moseley, director of AC’s Paralegal Program, said. “My tests are extremely hard, but if there were 100 points to be had, plus extra credit, Lisa scored 110 every time. “I had a long discussion with Mr. McKinney about Lisa because I truly believed the only thing he might regret would be passing up a chance to hire her. I don’t think he has any regrets about that now.” She may have made her paralegal studies look easy, but the truth is Lisa had to work hard for her exceptional grades—she began her AC experience in remedial classes—knowing all the while that only exceptional results might positively change potential employers’ perceptions once they learned of her unhappy past. The short version of that past is this: When Lisa was 12 and living in the Metroplex, her mother stepped out into the driveway with a loaded gun and committed suicide. Lisa disliked the stepmother who arrived almost immediately; she ran away from home while in the eighth grade and began using drugs. By the time she reached her 20s, Lisa had earned a GED and reconciled with her father, but at age 23 she experienced renewed misery when her dad was shot and killed at the convenience store he operated. The very next year, she underwent chemotherapy and had a mastectomy. Lisa’s use of methamphetamines spiraled out of control after that. Her health waned. Virtually skeletal, she was busted in 2003 for possession and theft by forgery. While incarcerated, she learned that her brother had died of a drug overdose. “I thought God hated me,” Lisa said. “I could not have been more wrong. It was God who changed my life, who saved me. He brought me a lot of tangible help through those in my church.” Her path to redemption began behind bars. She discovered a latent faith and became a peer educator, teaching new inmates about health, hygiene and HIV. By mail she received a certificate of completion in restoration ministry from the NET Institute, so she could help restore broken families upon her parole, which finally came in October of 2009. She moved to Amarillo to live with an aunt who was active in a local ministry. Lisa, whose mother had been a legal secretary, had always been interested in the law. Once she achieved residency within the Amarillo College District, she enrolled at AC and began remedial work in writing and math, with one eye on the Paralegal Program. That was in 2010. “My English and writing were at a seventh-grade level,” she said. “My algebra was dismal. I had nine months of remedial work, and I did it with the wonderful help of the tutors at AC. There are so many incredible people and resources there, like the math lab, and the writing center, and of course Mr. Moseley, who encouraged me beyond belief. “I’d been an A student all through grade school. The help I got at AC helped me figure out how to be a student again, how to take tests.” Hard tests are no triviality, but compared to hard time, well … Lisa went on to set a new standard in the Paralegal Program. The rest, as they say, is history. Or it would be were Lisa not still connected to AC’s Paralegal Program in an unofficial way. Moseley occasionally connects her with students who express interest in his program but whose own pasts are flecked with dubious occurrences: people who logically question their own ultimate employability. “I’m honest with them,” Lisa said. “I tell them my story. It’s pretty harsh. I mean, I was in the penitentiary, and that’s a hindrance in getting any job, but especially in the law.
“But I also tell them that if they are willing to give it everything they’ve got, if they are committed to what it takes to excel, then anything is possible. I tell them that because I’ve personally discovered that it’s true, and if I could do it, I believe they can do it, too.”