In October of 2009, I was attending the Christian Legal Society National Conference in San Diego and the keynote speaker was a guy named Bob Goff. The theme of Bob’s address was “Love Does” and he encouraged the audience members to “do something” to help those in need. When he finished, I felt an undeniable urge to “do something,” even though I had never really been involved in international justice issues before.
In January of 2010, my colleague at Pepperdine (Jay Milbrandt), two other Pepperdine Law alums (David Barrett and Ray Boucher), and I traveled to rural Masindi, Uganda to a Remand Home where there were 21 inmates between the ages of 13 and 17. Many of them had been in this juvenile prison for nearly two years awaiting access to justice. They had all been charged with crimes, though none of them had a lawyer or a court date. Over the course of a week, we prepared all of their cases for trial. Two special boys assisted our work –brothers Henry and Joseph. They had been charged with murder in conjunction with a mob killing in June of 2008, even though the undisputed evidence showed that both were in school when the murder happened. They were the only prisoners who spoke English so they served as our interpreters for the entire week. Henry had risen to the position of Katikiro (translated Prime Minister) in the internal prison government. In conjunction therewith, Henry had been charged with a second murder after another prisoner died shortly after attempting to escape in December of 2009.
Over the course of the week in Masindi, I formed a special bond with 16 year-old Henry. As I was leaving, Henry and I exchanged phone numbers and I promised him I would do everything I could to help him get access to justice and then to help him resume school once he was released.
Over the next two months, Henry and I spoke on the phone several times a week as the prison gates opened and most of the children were released back to their families. There were numerous ups and downs during this process. The original murder case against Henry and Joseph was finally dismissed in March of 2010 for lack of evidence and Joseph went home. But in May of 2010, Henry (and the prison matron) were convicted of murder in conjunction with the death of the other prisoner. Two days later, I was on a plane back to Uganda to prepare Henry’s Pre-Sentencing Report. One month later, Henry was released on probation. One week after that, Henry resumed school – at the Restore Leadership Academy in Gulu, which was founded and run by Bob Goff, the same guy who inspired me to get involved in Uganda.
Since then, I have spoken with Henry on the phone every week and we have dreamed big dreams about him coming to visit America. Henry is now beginning his second year at the top Secondary School in Uganda where he is preparing to attend medical school. Joseph is excelling at the Restore Leadership Academy in Gulu, Uganda. I returned to Uganda in July of 2010 and June of 2011with a group of lawyers and Pepperdine law students to help juveniles at another Remand Home in Uganda. At some point along the way (actually pretty early in the process), I fell in love with Uganda and stopped resisting the magnetic pull to return. In January of 2012, I moved to Uganda for six months with my family at the invitation of the Ugandan Judiciary in order to assist them in reforming their juvenile justice system.
In early 2013, I am slated to argue Henry’s appeal in an effort to overturn his murder conviction and clear his record (he has already served out the probation sentence he received). I am told that I will be the first American permitted to argue a case in the Ugandan Appellate Courts.
Henry and I are planning to finish in mid-2013 the book we are writing together about how God brought our lives together. The book is called Throwing Starfish.