‘Just because you’ve been incarcerated doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful’

In September, Jessica Trejo became one of 12 adults to graduate this year from the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program, a Georgetown Law Center re-entry program that prepares formerly incarcerated students for the paralegal profession. The 24-week, full-time program—made possible through a partnership between Georgetown University, the Washington, DC, Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs (MORCA), and the DC Department of Employment Services (DOES)—is dedicated to reducing barriers to the legal profession for returning citizens. 

Related: McCourt School career experts help returning citizens succeed in the job market >

Participating students have access to job readiness training, mentorship, and support. They are also able to earn hourly stipends while attending classes. Courses cover a variety of topics including legal research and writing, corporate law, contracts, ethics, and digital literacy. After completing their coursework, students earn a certificate in Paralegal Studies and can apply for paid, full-time paralegal positions with Georgetown’s network of employers.

Preparing returning citizens for success

The program—part of Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI)—has been a life changer for Trejo, who began a full-time position as an Equal Opportunity Specialist at the DC Office of Human Rights after graduating. In her new role, she uses the skills she learned to investigate discrimination claims in employment, housing, health systems, and educational institutions; speak with both sides; and compile necessary case file information.

“For the last maybe three years, I was living paycheck to paycheck. Struggling, just cutting it so close,” Trejo says. “I think that without PJI, I wouldn’t feel the way I do, and I would still be stuck at a labor job, tired and working my butt off with nothing to show for it.”

The program has inspired Trejo to further broaden her career and personal goals: she plans to become a homeowner and pursue a Department of Justice accreditation to represent undocumented immigrants at their hearings, as they do not have a right to legal counsel.

“PJI was definitely that beacon of light for me, and I’m just eternally grateful,” she says. “It opened my eyes to see that just because you’ve been incarcerated doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful.”

Read more about the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program and the opportunities it provides.

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