Jason Makris California Innocence Project Intern AlumniJason Makris, former CIP clinical intern, shares how CIP helped shape who he is as a lawyer today. Jason is now a solo practitioner in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Like many transcendental experiences, being a part of CIP marks your life in ways that are both immediately known, and others that only show themselves upon reflection and in hindsight. Immediately, you become a member of the select group, the family, that continues each year with each new class. For me, the eleven other members of the 2006-2007 CIP Class — along with the CIP staff and professors — are brothers and sisters with whom a lifelong bond was created, and for which is always present, never forgotten, and always cherished.

The experiences during CIP are some of the most enduring and treasured of my life. Like the time I went with Herfie, Sarah, and Laura to conduct interviews in South Central Los Angeles; and ended at a car wash, all of us washing the car of a perfect stranger; her kids laughing in the mini-van as she exclaimed, “Don’t get my hair wet, don’t get my hair wet.” Or sitting with a young mother in east Los Angeles — the father of her child incarcerated for the rest of his life — and sitting with her as I felt her helplessness and sorrow; yet, in that moment, understanding the common humanity that is at the core of each person, and each case, CIP undertakes to resolve.

My intention for entering law school and becoming an attorney was never about money. I went to law school to help those people who were like my mother — single and raising two children on her own, and often seeking the “Justice For All” allegedly promised by our system of law and government, only to find it denied due to lack of financial resources. However, with the weight of student loan debt, I did not feel practicing criminal law would provide the kind of financial security and happiness I sought in life. CIP was a way to ensure my intention was aligned with what I felt was my purpose for going to law school, even if I wasn’t going to practice criminal law after passing the bar and obtaining my license to practice.

It is only upon reflection that I realize CIP set my path on the fulfilling road of service to others. CIP teaches you that when you dedicate yourself and your practice to something greater — to assist those who need access to justice the most, but can afford it the least — you will be provided with experiences which enable you to grow as a practitioner, and as a result, experience life as a more aligned and joyful human being. I am forever grateful for both the family CIP gave me, as well as the marker to which I have returned to: service to others as the center my practice. Since coming back to this and making it a central part of my current legal practice, I have reaped the benefits and enjoy a fruitful career and a life filled with joy, challenges, and opportunities for growth greater than I could ever have imagined.

Although none of my CIP clients as of yet have been freed, it is because of CIP that I am able to smile every time I hear a story on the radio or read about another inmate freed after decades of wrongful incarceration.  Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “The arch of History is long, but it bends towards Justice.” I smile because although I may not have contributed in a specific case to assisting in freeing someone who was wrongfully incarcerated, I am part of a greater effort to ensure the words “Justice For All” are not merely words in stone; instead they are inscribed upon the heart of every person who walks this path and takes this journey of service.

To celebrate his 40th birthday, Jason is throwing a day-of-service bash where he lives in Las Vegas. In lieu of gifts, he’s asked friends and family to donate to CIP and other nonprofits! Click here to learn more.