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Reentry in California – Overcoming Legal Barriers to Community Reintegration 2021

Speaker(s): Amanda Majail-Blanco, Ana Vazquez Pulido, Anita Wills, Ariel Leitner-Zieff, Avantika Shastri, Beth Avery, Brandon C. Banks, Carla V. Gomez, Darrell Jones III, David Schlussel, Debra L. Slone, Erika L. Watts, Eva J. DeLair, Jael Myrick, John Jones III, Maureen Kildee, Mel Siltanen, Patrick Berry, Sadie Wathen, Su Yon Yi, Taqwaa Bonner
Recorded on: Aug. 17, 2021
PLI Program #: 305331

Ariel Leitner-Zieff is an attorney in the Clean Slate Program at the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, where she represents people seeking post-conviction criminal record remedies and provides advocacy for people facing barriers to employment based on contacts with the criminal legal system.  Prior to joining the Clean Slate Program, Ariel clerked for the Honorable Martha A. Vázquez in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico.

Ariel received her B.A. from Emory University in 2011, and her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 2018.  During law school, Ariel interned at the Clean Slate Program at the East Bay Community Law Center, worked as a law clerk at Outten & Golden LLP, and was on the Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law.  Before law school, she worked as a paralegal at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP.

As a descendant of Filipino immigrants and Black slaves, DJ was funneled into pursuing the narrow definition of capitalist “success” to survive. He managed to “achieve” a model modernity life, but left behind his wholeness in the haste.  A chance encounter with colleagues from Harvard Divinity School catalyzed his nascent pursuit of a meaningful life, genuine self, and authentic happiness.

The journey brought him into healing ancestral wounds as he reconnected with his painful family roots. Through tears, he was able to see the connection between individual trauma and structural oppression, and the abounding joy alongside persistent pain. He now strives to weave his experiences together into an integrated existence oriented towards Healing, Liberation, & Joy.

At Just Cities, DJ focuses on bringing newer residents and tech leaders in proximity to the lives and leadership of grassroots leaders.  He leads the Black Tech for Black Lives initiative and directs marketing, communications, finances, and human relations.  DJ also co-founded the Beloved Oakland Event, an annual gathering of old and new residents to celebrate Oakland’s social justice legacy.

Along the journey, DJ contributed to co-creating The Formation Project - an intensive spiritual formation experience for the 21st century - as a joint venture between Harvard Divinity School and On Being Studios. He led business development for Clef, an internet security startup which eventually joined Twilio. He co-organized the Oakland Summit on Blacks in Tech. During his time at Clef he organized tech workers for political advocacy as co-founder of the TechEquity Collaborative, which has gone on to win significant progressive advocacy campaigns. He was also a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Fellow, exploring the intersection of cultural and social responsibility through the lens of our shared Public Imagination.

DJ received his BA in Politics from Pomona College.

Maureen Kildee is a staff attorney and clinical supervisor at the East Bay Community Law Center, serving indigent people in Alameda County seeking record clearing relief. Maureen received her B.A. from the University of Delaware, her A.A. from Cabrillo College, and her J.D. from University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 2001.

Maureen joined the East Bay Community Law Center’s Clean Slate Practice in 2017, where she focuses on removing barriers to employment and civic engagement for people with criminal records. She also works with EBCLC’s immigration unit to provide specialized post-conviction relief to immigrants who are not U.S. citizens.

Maureen is an active member of the Justice Reinvestment Coalition of Alameda County (JRC), and serves on the steering committee. The JRC is a group of local community-based organizations dedicated to creating a fair and just public safety system that invests in our communities, our families and our people.

Prior to working at EBCLC, Maureen spent ten years in private practice in Alameda County where she represented hundreds of indigent adults and children accused of serious crimes. She started her law career at the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office.

Since joining NELP in 2015, senior staff attorney Beth Avery has supported NELP’s efforts to create more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces by providing legal and technical assistance on removing unfair barriers to employment. Beth’s advocacy has particularly focused on expanding employment opportunities for people with arrest and conviction records. In partnership with allies across the country, Beth works to advance fair chance hiring (“ban the box”) and “fair chance licensing” laws and policies. For example, she worked with a statewide coalition of advocates and formerly incarcerated leaders to enact the California Fair Chance Act in 2017, which requires employers to delay background checks, as well as to reform occupational licensing laws to expand access by people with records. As part of her advocacy, she has testified before state legislatures, advised lawmakers and local advocates on policy design and implementation, and authored amicus briefs to federal and state courts.

Beth initially joined NELP as a Ford Foundation legal fellow. Prior to her time at NELP, Beth clerked for the Honorable Jesus G. Bernal in the Central District of California as well as justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Before pursuing her legal training, she assisted underserved  communities through a variety of service projects across the country with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).

Beth is admitted to practice law in California. She is a proud member of the NELP Staff Association, NOLSW, UAW, LOCAL 2320.

John Jones III was most recently on the staff of Just Cities as the Director of Community and Political Engagement. As a father of three and third generation East Oakland resident, John is also a formerly incarcerated advocate who was unemployed and homeless for eighteen months. Seeking to improve his Community John became involved in organizing and advocacy to empower himself and others by using his personal story of pain, trauma, faith and transformation. He works hard to inspire young (and not so young) people, as well as fighting for policy change. John has worked on several local and state campaigns and ballot measures, including Measure FF, Measure Z, Prop 47, and Prop 57- all successfully passing. John is a passionate and vocal advocate for affordable housing, employment, violence reduction, ending mass incarceration and advancing racial equity. In his spare time, John enjoys time with his kids and can be seen/heard rooting loudly for the Oakland Raiders, Oakland Athletics, and the Golden State Warriors. 

Avantika Shastri is an immigration defense attorney with the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, where she primarily provides advice and training to 100+ public defenders about the immigration consequences of adult and juvenile offenses.  Prior to this position, she was the Legal Director for the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative (SFILDC).  She oversaw and coordinated the removal defense representation provided by the 15 partner organizations, including legal strategy, collective advocacy, intakes and referrals, rapid response services, and legal training.  Avantika also supervised and supported the Immigrant Legal Defense Program at the Justice and Diversity Center (JDC) of The Bar Association of San Francisco as its Assistant Legal Director during this time.  She was awarded a Certificate of Honor by the Mayor of San Francisco in 2018 for her work with the JDC and SFILDC.  Previously, Avantika was in private practice for 11 years at Van Der Hout, LLP in San Francisco, where she represented immigrants before the immigration agencies and federal courts.  She specialized in removal defense, appellate litigation, family-based immigration, naturalization, and the immigration consequences of crimes. Avantika received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

Amanda was raised in San Leandro and Oakland. She is a young mommy of two beautiful twin boys and is working on getting a B.S. in Political Science, minoring in Ethnic Studies. She enjoys painting and spending time with loved ones. She is passionate about working with at-risk youth, formerly and currently incarcerated people and women who have experienced intimate partner violence. Growing up, she was personally impacted by the juvenile justice system and often challenged the adversities. Little did she know that being involved with the juvenile justice system would be the beginning of a blessing in disguise for her, which gave her the courage to continue fighting for the injustices she was experiencing. 

Amanda joined Soulciety, where she worked four years supporting transitional age youth on Probation, Foster Care and young mothers achieve employment and educational goals. 

More recently, in June of 2020 her brother, Erik Salgado was killed by California Highway Patrol in Oakland. Since his murder, Amanda has been forced into the fight for police accountability, taking on a vocal role to speak out for justice. She wishes to continue to hold all systems accountable for the pain/loss they have caused families and communities and show them that they can’t hold us down!


Ana was born in Jalisco, Mexico and moved to Santa Cruz, CA where she lived before transitioning to UC Berkeley’s campus.  She majored in Sociology in 2016.  While in school, she joined EBCLC as a third year work study student and has since become a full time employee. In her time at EBCLC, she has also worked as the Office Manager, program coordinator of the Health & Welfare Unit and as legal assistant for the Immigration Unit. 

Anita Wills is a writer, author, speaker and community activist. She is the author of six books, including A Nation of Flaws JustUs in the Homeland, a historical account of policing in America. She is currently completing her seventh book, Minqua Unami and Okehocking the Down River Nations. Ms. Wills is an Activist with Movement for Black Lives, a Policy Outreach Leader (POL), for Ron Dellums Social Justice Institute, and is founder and President of Stand Up N Do Something.  Her Activism with housing centers on the formerly incarcerated who are integrating into their Community. Ms. Wills Activim began when her son Kerry Baxter, Sr. was wrongfully convicted of 2nd Degree Murder in 2003. When her grandson was shot and killed in Oakland her Activism took a new turn. On March 29, 2012 Ms. Wills led a Million Hoodie March in San Francisco in support of Trayvon Martin. She traveled with a group of Activists to Ferguson Missouri and was one of the protestors assailed by Police with Pepper Spray and rubber bullets. Ms. Wills advocates around many issues including wrongful convictions, disparate sentencing of African Americans, sentencing reform, prisoners’ rights, and ending money bail, and Police Accountability.

At age 21, Jael Myrick founded Standing To Represent Our Next Generation (STRONG) to strengthen our young leaders’ civic participation. From 2009-2014, Jael served as a Field Representative for (then) Assemblymember (now Senator) Nancy Skinner during which time he helped lead the initiative to bring the Clean Slate program to Contra Costa County. Jael was appointed to the Richmond City Council on February 4, 2013. He was elected in his own right in November 2014 and reelected in November 2016. Since joining the Richmond City Council Jael has been integral in establishing programs like the Richmond Promise which guarantees money for College to Richmond youth when they graduate High School and has played a key role in moving forward policies like Fair Chance Housing for people with criminal records. In February 2017, Jael was hired as Program Coordinator for the Clean Slate Practice at the East Bay Community Law Center. In addition to providing direct services to clients, Jael led efforts on behalf of EBCLC and a broad coalition of over a dozen organizations to pass AB 2138 this past year. AB 2138 allows individuals with criminal records the opportunity to access Occupational Licenses under the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Brandon Banks has dedicated his entire legal career to indigent defense work.  He has been an attorney at the Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office since December 2002.  During that time, he has represented clients in cases ranging from misdemeanors to serious felonies.  Brandon Banks has tried over 50 jury trials, including multiple murder and life cases.  Brandon Banks is an Assistant Public Defender with the Contra Costa Public Defender.  He currently supervises the Clean Slate, Arraignment, and Probation Units in his office.

Carla Gomez is a Senior Deputy Public Defender in San Francisco where she has practiced for over 15 years. In 2017 she was part of the team that spear-headed the Immigration Unit. Carla has successfully defended the most challenging cases in immigration court where clients with serious felonies have won asylum, withholding, the Convention Against Torture and readjustment of status. Her successful post-conviction relief practice throughout California including Monterey, San Mateo, San Joaquin, Sonoma, Kern, Sacramento, and Pasadena has saved lawful permanent residents with aggravated felonies from deportation, and allowed immigrants to adjust their status.

David Schlussel is deputy director of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. He advocates for restoring rights and opportunities for people with a criminal record, through a range of policy and legal projects with a national perspective. Prior to joining CCRC, David served as a law clerk for Judge David O. Carter at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He received his J.D. from Berkeley Law in 2017. During law school, David worked in the East Bay Community Law Center’s Youth Defender and in public defender offices, served as an editor for the California Law Review and Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, and published a note on marijuana, race, and collateral consequences. David received his B.A. in Political Science from Yale University.

Debra is a Los Angeles native. Debra is a graduate of Santa Monica College, UCLA and UC Hastings College of Law. She grew up in a politically active family. Debra was in private practice from 1992, primarily as a family law, dependency and criminal defense counsel. She loves being here and working for freedom and justice.

Erika Watts is a Clean Slate Attorney at the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office.  Erika has focused her career on helping people impacted by the criminal legal system remove barriers to employment and other collateral consequences.  She became interested in reentry legal work during law school while working at several public defender offices around the greater Bay Area.  Erika received her J.D. from U.C. Davis School of Law.

Eva received her J.D. in 2014 from Drexel University, Kline School of Law.

While at law school, Eva worked at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project where she assisted in prisoner rights litigation; interned at the Philadelphia Defender Association where she represented low income clients in pretrial felony arraignments and misdemeanor trials. She also volunteered with the ACLU, reviewing police stops for violations of people’s Fourth Amendment Rights; Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity assisting individuals in understanding their conviction histories and applying to seal them; and as a collective member of Books through Bars in Philadelphia which sends free books and educational materials to incarcerated people. Eva brings strong experience to Root & Rebound, working with systems and impacted people and communities.

During Eva’s second summer of law school, she interned in San Francisco at Legal Services for Prisoner with Children (LSPC). Following law school, she continued that work as a fellow at LSPC and then as a staff attorney until July of 2018. With LSPC, Eva advocated for legislative and regulatory policy changes to increase the rights of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and their families. Areas of work include increasing access to visits and family connections, increasing and protecting employment rights, accessing expungement and other post-conviction sealing remedies, challenging the use of solitary confinement, advocating for trans and gender nonconforming prisoners, among others. She worked from start to end on many of these projects, from legislative advocacy, following and advocating for proper regulatory implementation, and working with communities to ensure that they knew their rights and how to access them, and with service providers to develop tools to implement the changes.
In Eva’s spare time, she volunteers with the Prisoner Advocacy Network (PAN). PAN is a project of the National Lawyers Guild of San Francisco and works with activists inside California prisons to support them in their advocacy and challenge retaliation and other bad treatment they receive because of their work.

Eva received her BA in political science and religious studies at Scripps College in Claremont, CA.

Mel is a systems-impacted single mother of two who has had to navigate the system and homelessness. Mel believes deeply in the knowledge of young folks by way of their experiences. Her work is to hold space where young cis and trans women can be deliberate in hoaning in on and lifting up their strengths, being heard as a practice of healing, and organizing their thoughts as way to step into their power, get loud and claim space in this world where they have been historically positioned to have no power and remain silenced. 

Mel first came to YWFC in 2015, is a founding member of the Sister Warrior Freedom Coalition, and started employment with the Center in October 2019.

Patrick Berry is a fellow and counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, where he focuses on voting rights restoration and promoting fair, diverse, and impartial courts. During law school, he was a law clerk at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Open Primaries. Berry received his BA from the University of Central Florida and his JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he participated in the legislative clinic and was an executive editor for the Journal of Law & Public Affairs.

Sadie Wathen has been an attorney with the Clean Slate Program at the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office since 2014. She currently leads the Program, which is an integral part of the Office’s holistic model of defense and has filed over 9,000 successful petitions since its inception in 2013. Sadie focuses her practice on direct legal services and administrative advocacy to remove barriers to occupational licensing and employment for people with prior convictions. Additionally, she worked with a coalition, which included people impacted by the criminal legal system and other providers of legal services, to draft and pass fair chance occupational licensing legislation in California. Sadie also has experience providing case management and employment services to Bay Area residents with prior convictions. She became interested in reentry issues during law school while working on habeas cases at the Northern California Innocence Project and seeing the challenges faced by exonerees upon reentering the community after incarceration. Sadie received her J.D. from Santa Clara University School of Law and her B.A. from Georgetown University.

Su Yon Yi is an Immigration Attorney/Deputy Public Defender at the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office.   For over ten years, Su Yon has specialized in the intersection of criminal and immigration law.  She has been providing expert legal advice to public defenders in several states and has extensive experience defending immigrants with criminal convictions before the immigration courts, the BIA, the federal courts, and USCIS.  She also litigates post-conviction relief motions in the California criminal courts.

Most recently, Su Yon served as an immigration attorney at public defender offices in Alameda County, California and in Queen, New York.  Prior to her career in public defender offices, she was an attorney at Immigrant Legal Resource Center, where she updated the California Chart on the Immigration Consequences of Crimes, wrote practice advisories and trained on the topic.  Prior to becoming a lawyer, Su Yon worked at immigrant-rights organization in New York City and Los Angeles advocating for just immigration reform and access to health care for immigrants.   She is an immigrant and graduated from U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis, School of Law.

Taqwaa Bonner, a proud husband and family man, joined All Of Us Or None as a Housing Advocate in August, 2018. During his 30 years of incarceration, Taqwaa achieved a General Education Development (G.E.D.) and an Associate In Arts Degree in Social Science, became certified in three Electrical trades, a 5-year Electrical Apprenticeship training program, and two in painting programs. Taqwaa also became a certified Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselor. On September 10, 2018, Taqwaa officially started an All Of Us Or None East Oakland Youth Chapter in a quest to help rebuild the community which he damaged 32 years ago.