Meet Nigerian-Canadian aspiring lawyer Ish Aderonmu who is sharing his story of how he paid a price for making a huge mistake, how he’s retracing his steps, and hopes his story can be a window for other young people building a life after a criminal conviction.
Ish was determined to improve the financial situation of his family when they moved to Philadelphia. This led him to buy and “source marijuana for a few friends.” On January 2010, he was arrested. He was charged with “Possession with Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance”, criminal conspiracy, criminal use of a communication facility, and possession of a controlled substance.
Born in Nigeria, my family immigrated to Canada when I was 3. Beginning in Winnipeg, we moved 8 times over 10 years, as my parents sought to improve our lot, finally settling in Philadelphia. I had little guidance regarding careers or pathways to success. I witnessed only hard work to make ends meet, but my family was always scraping by. Determined to improve my situation, I launched businesses that brought in revenue with little need for capital. I saw an opportunity to source marijuana for a few friends. A few months later, in January ’10, I was arrested. My bail was set at a whopping $200,000.
I pleaded guilty to “Possession with Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance” and was sentenced to 6-23 months house-arrest plus 2-years of probation. The judge informed me that there may be immigration consequences stemming from my plea, however, my lawyer asserted that the District Attorney had confirmed the plea would not affect my status. On the spot, I decided to continue. Unfortunately, the District Attorney had no jurisdiction over immigration, a fact I would learn the hard way.
Despite being a model citizen following my plea, in Jan ’12 ICE agents arrested me. I was imprisoned for forty-five days, awaiting a hearing. While incarcerated, I researched my own case and discovered a way to end my incarceration. I was granted Voluntary Departure and was escorted by ICE agents to the Peace Bridge. I walked into Canada, alone. For years I struggled with the trauma of being imprisoned, uprooted and losing my sense of self.
Seeking meaning, I plunged into 2018, forging a transformational year. I resigned from my job and reflected on my life and its purpose. I realized that I wanted to make my experiences matter, that I wanted to help other people in marginalized situations rise to their potential, and in the process, find mine. This past year, I have forged relationships across the legal community and embarked on my advocacy journey.
A law degree will empower me to dedicate my full energy to shaping a legal system that affords everyone equitable access to justice; a mission that can only be achieved if the legal profession itself becomes more diverse, inclusive and accessible.
Photo Credit: IshAderonmu