Anthony Graves turned his Death Row experience into a program for at risk youth.
After spending 18-1/2 years on Death Row for a crime he didn’t commit, Anthony Graves was exonerated and decided to dedicate the rest of his life to preventing the next generation from winding up in the criminal justice system.
Inspired by his story, Ja’Mira Alexander chose the Anthony Graves Foundation for her internship to assist at-risk children and to prevent injustices in the criminal justice system. Over the summer, she helped set up a mentoring program, laid the groundwork for a summer food project in 2015, wrote grants to fund initiatives for at-risk youth, and attended capital cases where Graves testified about solitary confinement.
Ja'Mira Alexander turned her internship into a career.“She was excellent,” said Graves. “She came in with the skills sets we needed…She was great!”
By the end of the summer, Alexander turned her passion into a job. She is now an executive assistant at the foundation and will continue with the important projects she started.
“I love it,” said Alexander. “This is one of the best internships I could have ever taken. I was going to school full-time, and I worked two part-time jobs, so I had to step out on faith into this unpaid internship. Now, they offered me a job.”
With steadfast focus on his innocence and the tireless work of the Innocence Network, Graves was released from Texas’s Death Row. Since then, he has spoken about his experience all over the world and established the foundation to “give children left behind by the criminal justice system a choice and a chance to live happy, productive lives and become the powerful, new foundations or our community.”
Graves also established Anthony Believes LLC to help others in the criminal justice system. He serves as a consultant at trial, particularly on the issue of solitary confinement. He spend 16 years of his sentence alone in his cell.
Graves said the internship benefits at-risk youth and criminal justice students alike. The kids in his program are more likely to connect with people closer to their own age, and the students get to make a difference in their lives. In addition, students can get hands-on experience in the criminal justice system working with attorneys in pro bono cases.
Alexander got to witness her first court case when she accompanied Graves to a capital murder trial in Dallas.
“It was definitely an experience,” said Alexander. “It was my first time sitting in a court, and I was one of the first people let into the courtroom. The people that testified had to stay outside. I got to see the lawyers – both the prosecution and defense. It was more like a debate. “
With her experience in the courtroom and her exposure to many attorneys at the foundation, Alexander sees law school in her future. In fact, she attended her first Continuing Legal Education Class sponsored by the Houston Urban League in July. The topic was on prosecutorial misconduct.
Alexander admires Graves for turning his life around and investing in the children and community.
“He is definitely an exceptional person,” said Alexander. “To see him come out of solitary confinement in prison and to invest in the foundation for the community and its people, he is a great person with great integrity and skills. He wants to make sure that people can get fair trials. My experience has been amazing.”
Graves with students from his program. The Anthony Graves Foundation was created in February and is developing a mentoring program with Wallop which will provide after school programs for at risk children. The program is expected to have 15 mentors, including representatives from business, the legal community and the Houston Urban Debate League.
The foundation also is planning a summer food program for 2015 that will help feed children in the programs.
“The reason he wanted to try this is because many kids start stealing money and food to help feed their younger sibling,” said Alexander. “We want to give kids meals all day for free so they don’t have to go out and do crime. We want to get to youth through their stomachs.”
During her internship, Alexander attended a grant-writing seminar to learn how to get funding for their programs. She worked on two grant applications with the Vice President to help at-risk youth.
Alexander said she is starting to live her education.
“Now I get to experience reality,” said Alexander. “Before I was reading pages and pages of books and now I am actively experiencing it. I didn’t think this day would come when I was so young.”