Michael Braham was born and raised in Hartford. He moved to New Haven upon being released from a Connecticut prison after serving 25 years. While in prison, he earned a reputation as a jailhouse lawyer. He did so by successfully prosecuting several actions against prison officials and also by helping other prisoners do the same. At some point during his incarceration, Braham developed a love and passion for the law and began to imagine becoming a licensed attorney once released. He is now a paralegal working for a local civil rights attorney who frequently takes on cases seeking sentence reductions via motions for sentence modification or petitions for commutation. Braham is also a member of the Full Citizens Coalition (FCC), a New Haven nonprofit. With FCC, he is working on a project aimed at passing legislation that would give Connecticut prisoners the right to vote.
In his undergraduate career, Braham was a student of Wesleyan-Middlesex’s Center for Prison Education, where he majored in philosophy with a focus on the intersection between critical race theory and sociology.
Victoria Nataly Esparza
Victoria Nataly Esparza is a first-generation student finishing the last semester of her undergraduate education remotely at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), majoring in Political Science and Spanish. Esparza immigrated to the United States nine years ago and recently became a New Haven resident. She hopes to attend law school to become an Immigration Attorney and assist other immigrants like herself.
Esparza currently serves as the Undocu/DACA Mentor for the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations at UIUC. She serves as a resource for the immigrant community and assists undocumented/DACA students with college, scholarships, and financial aid applications.
Additionally, Victoria served as a Senator in the Illinois Student Government (ISG) for two years. Her work in ISG includes:
- Leading and drafting a referendum to create a center for undocumented students during student body general elections.
- Securing $24,500 in funding for DACA renewal applications for U of I students.
- Creating a program to collaborate with the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Illinois College of Law to distribute the funds for DACA renewal applications.
- Esparza also served as the grants intern at the University YMCA for two years. Her role consisted of assisting with drafting State and Federal grants to secure services and programs to serve the immigrant community in Urbana-Champaign. Lastly, Victoria maintained a legal internship for the last four years. Esparza has volunteered to serve in the Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board, along with other volunteers, she organized events for the City of Aurora to raise funds for scholarships.
Marisol Garcia is currently a senior at Trinity College pursuing a degree in Public Policy and Law, graduating in May 2022. She is a 2020 graduate of the Center for Prison Education program between Wesleyan University and Middlesex Community College. After serving a combined total of 14 years of incarceration, parole/probation, and community supervision, Garcia has made it a personal mission to help those she left behind the prison walls through community outreach and education. Her former mentorship in the Vera Institute of Justice Restoring Promise Initiative has helped fuel her continued passion for Restorative Justice. Her past hospice work has also fueled an interest in public health, public policy, and mass incarceration, an interest she pursues at Yale University’s SEICHE Center for Health and Justice. Garcia strives to be a model of hope for people recently released to pursue their dreams. She has wanted to study law since she was five years old. Since her release in 2019, she has won a Dress for Success Equitable Foundation Scholarship and represented other women’s organizations pursuing higher education and leadership. She balances her job at LAZ parking, two internships, her husband, and two dogs.
Annabelle Halliday is a Nigerian-American business analyst for Yale University’s Web Technologies department. The work includes improving internal business processes and helping different Yale departments achieve their website design goals and needs. Her career in technology is extensive, beginning as a Geek Squad Agent at Best Buy to helping run the Student Technology Collaborative for Yale undergraduates interested in learning about technology and applying the knowledge to real-world applications. As a New Haven County native, she attended Hill Regional Career High School and was a co-captain of the volleyball team. In high school, she worked for LEAP, Inc. to provide enrichment activities after school to underprivileged youth. She also worked at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England as an advocate for STI prevention and education for her peers. Halliday studied at Southern Connecticut State University for her first two years of college and then transferred to Western Governors University to graduate with a degree in Information Technology Management.
When she is not delving into technical topics, Halliday has many personal interests. She is an astrologer and tarot card reader, loves jigsaw puzzles, and makes homemade candles and beauty products in her spare time. She’s also an avid gamer and enjoys analyzing hard-to-crack levels.
Although Halliday isn’t sure what field of law she wants to pursue, she has one specific goal: to defend innocent people who aren’t able to defend themselves. She strives to help people and make a positive impact on their lives in whatever she does.
Jordan Holmes is from New Haven. He is a senior at the University of Connecticut, majoring in Sociology and Political Science. Currently, Holmes is an ambassador for UConn, providing tours for prospective students, and is an alum of the ScHOLA2RS House. Holmes is pursuing a legal career in which his educational background will be intertwined with his life experiences, passion, and purpose. He is passionate about diversity and inclusion. Holmes has interned with Dr. Godfrey at Click Willimantic, a commercially licensed cooperative kitchen, where he taught gardening, culinary arts, nutrition, and other food-related classes. Currently, Holmes interns at UConn Health Disparities Institute under the tutelage of Dr. Wizdom Powell, focusing his research on stimulating policy actions, transparency, interventions, and public awareness. Holmes’s goal is to create a healthier and economically vital Connecticut for boys and men of color (BMOC). One of his many hobbies is photography.
Amber Moye is a talented individual with diverse experiences in many fields and social issues. With a B.A in Strategic Management from Howard University and an M.A. in Education Policy & Sociology from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College, she dedicated years to educating public school youth as a K-6 certified teacher. Within the school system, she also wrote classroom curriculums and policies to improve educational practices.
Moye is a passionate proponent of racial justice. She serves as a board member of a social justice nonprofit organization, where she takes an active role in rallying for racial equity and policy changes. Fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit, Moye has worked as a consultant with many K-12 education organizations.
Daniel Nieves III
Daniel Nieves III is a 30-year-old junior at the University of Connecticut. He’s been a legal consultant and Spanish interpreter for the last six years in New Haven. As a local, Nieves mediates between the judicial system and defendants who are from the area. He ensures that his clients fully understand their court hearings and proceedings. His long-term goal is to complete law school and help his homeland, Puerto Rico, become America’s 51st state.
At UConn, Nieves is an American Studies major. He is part of “La Communidad Intelectual,” a community-based organization that helps impoverished communities. For example, students are involved in big brother/sister programs and go into the fields of local farm communities to directly help workers.
Nieves hopes to return to Puerto Rico to fight corruption, poverty, and violence on his island. He notes that Puerto Rico is largely ignored by the United States because it is a territory. He believes that getting involved in politics to make Puerto Rico our 51st state is necessary to help his people and the island he loves. Nieves aims to play a major role in starting this process.
Outside of school and work, Nieves is working on his professional boxing debut. He also continues his self-taught speech therapy to help his speech impediment and become more fluent. Nieves enjoys spending time with his family, working on his culinary skills, and reading.
Anne O’Connell is currently pursuing a B.S. in English and History at Columbia University’s School of General Studies. In addition to being a full-time student, O’Connell is the Admissions Coordinator for the Justice-in-Education Initiative, a program that helps individuals who are formerly incarcerated gain access to higher education. She also interns for the Prosecutor Accountability Project, a non-profit organization committed to fighting absolute immunity. O’Connell is not only devoted to helping people who are seemingly left behind. She has also extensively volunteered for Animal Nation, a wildlife sanctuary that rehabilitates sick animals. O’Connell is also a percussionist and artist who has performed in groups such as the Judy Dworin Performance Project, Avodah’s dance ensemble, and the Greenwich Town Party. She truly enjoys being of service to others, and believes that a good sense of humor is always a good way to walk through life.
Kelli Ray Gibson
Kelli Ray Gibson is a native of New Haven and attended the city’s public schools. She completed her undergraduate studies at Central Connecticut State University with a dual degree in Psychology and Criminology. She also holds a master’s degree from Yale Divinity School where she concentrated primarily on the intersection between law and religion, focusing extensively on the association between trauma, faith, and human flourishing.
Gibson enjoys working with individuals and organizations to help them achieve their goals. She spent her early career working in human development, specializing in technical skill assistance and strategic interventions for individuals with intellectual and behavioral differences. Desiring more educational advocacy work, she transitioned to the nonprofit sector. She most recently worked as a strategic content coordinator, educating individuals on how to think more critically and ethically about the communities they serve.
Gibson is currently interested in Veterans Affairs advocacy work. In recent years, her awareness of the rampant health disparities and barriers to quality care that U.S. veterans face catapulted her into social justice work around this issue. She is the proud daughter of a Vietnam War veteran. Outside of work, she enjoys outdoor contemplative practices, DIY home projects, and, most of all, traveling the world.
Zasha Rodriguez grew up in a Puerto Rican and Mexican home, born in Orlando, Florida, before her mother put down roots in New Haven. She is a senior at the University of Connecticut majoring in History, double minoring in Sociology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her research interests include the socio-political history of sterilization, birth control procedures, and policy on Puerto Rican women from the 1940s to 1970s, focusing on both the island and mainland feminist responses and activism. Rodriguez is involved with registered student organizations that value community, collaboration, social justice and advocacy, and learning during the academic year.
Rodriguez’s passion for community building and involvement is rooted in two things that significantly impacted her upbringing and growth. The first is transformative work several New Haven programs have offered the youth and other populations. The latter is the unique intersection of law, and social work learned through her time working as an intern for the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants under its Survivor Services program. She is pursuing law and is involved with the program because she believes it will help her find the tools to help others and enact positive and radical change. Rodriguez is interested in immigration law, specifically due to her lived experiences as a Latina in the United States.
While Rodriguez prioritizes naps during her downtime, she loves listening to RnB, reading, astrology, yoga, dancing, playing bass or violin, watching anime, horror content, and dramas. A must-read for Rodriguez would be This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.
Renee Sawyer is a native of Connecticut and is excited to bring her insights from 25 years of nursing experience into the legal context. Sawyer completed her undergraduate studies at University of Southern Maine, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in nursing. While an undergraduate, her extracurricular activities included serving as a member of the Student Nurse Organization and as well as a Student Representative on the Curricular Development Committee. Sawyer also served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve Nurse Corps as a surgical nurse, and taught student nurses at a medical career institution. She most recently worked as a surgical RN for an exclusive private practice in Fairfield County.
Sawyer is a first-generation college graduate with aspirations to practice malpractice law, and also hopes to dedicate time pro-bono with nonprofits that specialize in criminal justice and prison reform. She is passionate about serving individuals who have been impacted by the criminal justice system, particularly people coming home from incarceration. Sawyer served as a volunteer with Believe in Me Empowerment, where she supported counselors with reentry housing placement, resume writing, and job searches for residents of New Haven seeking to reintegrate within the community. Sawyer also volunteered with Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) where she facilitated recovery group meetings. As a volunteer with CCAR, she earned her Recovery Coach certification. Sawyer’s other interests include reading, volleyball, exercising, rollerblading, horticulture, and keeping abreast of political events locally and abroad.
Allyn Wright has been a resident of New Haven since 2003 and has family roots in the Newhallville section of the city. Allyn is a 1999 graduate of North Carolina A&T State University with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering and a 2018 graduate of the University of New Haven with a master’s degree in Investigations/Financial Crimes.
From 1999 and 2008, he worked for General Dynamics Electric Boat Corporation, in Groton, Connecticut, as a Nuclear Engineer. Looking for a career change and wanting to become more involved within his community, Wright joined the New Haven Police Department in 2012 during the revitalization of the Community-Based Policing programs under then-Chief Dean Esserman. Allyn began working as a walking beat officer in the Westville Manor Projects and the Rockview/Brookside Estates Housing Complex, where he currently lives as part of an Officer in Residence program. Wright has worked closely with a variety of programs and community-based initiatives including the Yale Child Study program, which seeks to provide services to children and families who have experienced violence and trauma. His involvement with Yale Child Study served as the model of how police officers were trained across the nation in dealing with children who have been exposed to abuse and/or violence and trauma. Wright has been involved since the beginning of Project Longevity, a community and law enforcement initiative to reduce serious gang/gun violence in the New Haven area. He was the lead investigator in the New Haven Downtown Green K2 overdose epidemic in 2018 and the fentanyl-laced cocaine overdose outbreak in 2016 when several people died. Wright presented at the 2018 University of New Haven Henry Lee Institute Overdose Death Investigations Symposium and presented a case overview of overdose death investigations and prosecutions. Wright was involved in the 2018 Future Law Enforcement Youth Academy hosted by Yale University and the New Haven FBI which aims to shape and mold future law enforcement leaders. In 2016 and 2017, he received the United States Attorney’s Office District of Connecticut Award for Outstanding Investigative Service and Performance.
Through these initiatives, Wright has been involved in community-based programs that address addiction and substance abuse, mental health treatment, educational programs, housing, and employment. He is passionate about his role in the community and how the lack of resources and activities affects minority families throughout the City of New Haven.
Wright is looking for law schools with programs similar to Yale Law School’s Justice Collaboratory, which seeks to make the criminal justice system in America more effective and just. He likes the challenges and public service aspects of his job as a police officer and feels a law school degree would complement his professional career.
Outside of work, Wright is a single parent raising a 15-year-old son. He is active in his son’s grassroots basketball program and enjoys engaging youths in sports at all levels. Wright’s late uncle Gavin Jackson was the first New Haven public school student to attend Yale University (1980) and played basketball for Yale.