'All She Needed Was A Second Chance': An Opioid Addict's Redemption Story
August 4, 2023
In a remarkable display of the triumph of the human spirit, a former opioid addict turned Ivy League-educated lawyer returned to the very courtroom where her life-changing journey began.
This time, however, she stood not as a defendant but as a legal defender, successfully exonerating an innocent man accused of murder.
Sarah Gad / Credit: FOX 9
Between 2012 and 2015, Sarah Gad had seven felony drug convictions, going in and out of jail in Pennsylvania and Hennepin County. She landed in the Cook County Jail during a trip to Chicago, which she described as "27 days in hell".
"I was beaten, I was stabbed, I was raped and thrown in solitary confinement when my family started making noise and reaching out to people. And Kathleen Zellner was interested in my case because I think she's had a lot of negative experiences with the Cook County Jail and just how they treat people," Gad told FOX 9.
Zellner, a well-known attorney made famous by the Netflix documentary "Making a Murderer", stood by her side and invited her to help at her law firm. This was the chance Gad needed to change her life.
"I found the work to be very rewarding. 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," Gad said.
That case and that moment inspired Gad to go to law school. She was accepted into the University of Chicago Law School.
But, there was one more hurdle. She had to face a judge who could have sentenced her to prison.
"'There's a mandatory minimum for repeat drug offenders, and she is a serial recidivist who cannot be rehabilitated'," Gad recounted. "But the judge is like, 'Well, she did say she got into law school, like, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.' [I] started law school with an ankle monitor."
Gad graduated in 2020 and received her license to practice law in August 2022.
Last week, Gad won her first murder case. Her client, Ben Richardson, was freed from jail. That same day, she ran into a judge she knew from her past life.
"It was crazy running into Judge Barnett, who was the judge who presided over my drug convictions. And he was like, 'What are you doing out here?' I was like, 'Oh, yeah, I just, you know, I'm out here working now'," Gad said.
Zellner is proud of how far Gad has come since leaving Cook County Jail.
"I recognized her enormous potential for making a real contribution to society and I tried to influence her in that direction," she said. "She has transformed herself from a criminal defendant into a champion for the legally oppressed. All she needed was a second chance."
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