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While she was a promising young student in medical school, Sarah Gad fell into opioid addiction. Originally prescribed pain medication after a 2012 car accident, Gad found herself reaching for the pill bottle each morning, whether she needed it or not. This spiraled into an addiction that would see her in and out of jail until she was given an opportunity to turn her life around.
Now, she's a practicing attorney who recently won her first murder case. The courtroom she once walked into as a criminal is now where she goes to work. But the road to her new profession wasn't easy. Between 2013 and 2015, Gad was in and out of jail, and while in Chicago's Cook County Jail, she was beaten, stabbed, and raped.
This is when Gad's family began reaching out to find someone who could help. Luckily, Gad's case caught the eye of attorney Kathleen Zellner. Zellner is known for working on wrongful conviction cases and was moved by Gad's story. So, she reached out with a lifeline and offered her a position helping at the law firm. It was the opportunity that Gad needed.
During her time at Zellner's firm, Gad worked on the case of Mario Casciaro, a man whose murder conviction was thrown out once a witness recanted their statement. It was a case that inspired her to want to go to law school herself, even though she still had her own legal troubles.
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“I had the privilege of being able to be present when a person that I had helped prove they were wrongfully convicted of murder. I was able to be at the prison and be with him as he took his first steps up to freedom, hugging his family,” she shared.
While Gad was accepted to the University of Chicago's law school, which she was able to pay for thanks to a settlement for Cook County, she still had to appear before a judge. As a repeat drug offender, she was facing a mandatory minimum sentence. In the eyes of the law, she was seen as unable to be rehabilitated. Luckily, the presiding judge decided to take a chance on her.
“The judge is like, ‘Well, she did say she got into law school, like, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt,'” Gad recalled. “[I] started law school with an ankle monitor.”
After graduating in 2020 and receiving her license to practice in 2022, Gad is using her own personal experience with addiction and the criminal justice system to make a difference. She now has her own firm in Minneapolis, where she specializes in criminal defense, civil rights violations, and immigration law.
It's a turnaround that may seem unexpected to some, but Zellner always knew that Gad had it in her. “I recognized her enormous potential for making a real contribution to society and I tried to influence her in that direction,” she explains. “She has transformed herself from a criminal defendant into a champion for the legally oppressed. All she needed was a second chance.”
Listen to Sarah Gad tell the story of her transformation from an opioid addict to a practicing attorney.
h/t: [Fox 9]