At first glance, Joshua Safran looks to be an unlikely champion of domestic violence victims. The University of California at Berkeley Law grad became a corporate lawyer and is living the American dream with his wife and three daughters.
But in 2002, he was drawn to take on the pro bono case of Deborah Peagler, who was imprisoned two decades for setting up the murder of her abusive boyfriend. As Safran devoted hours, then years, looking for justifications to have his client released, he came to confront his own past: his early days with a wandering free spirit mother who wound up enamored with—then brutalized by—a Salvadoran militant.
In this episode of the Modern Law Library, the ABA Journal’s Molly McDonough interviews Safran about the memoir he wrote of his experiences, Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid. He shares the breakthrough moment he had with his client Deborah Peagler, in which he found himself bonding with her by sharing stories of the domestic abuse he and his mother suffered during his childhood.
Deborah Peagler’s own story and Safran’s struggle to free her are the subject of the award-winning documentary Crime After Crime.
San Francisco Chronicle: “‘Free Spirit’: A childhood of adventure, danger”
Elle Magazine: “Readers’ Prize Picks: October 2013”
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