Thursday, May 21, 2009

Introducing Laura Caldwell

Laura's been having some technical difficulties, as we say, so I'm posting her first message for her. Please welcome her to the Outfit.

When Libby Hellmann asked me to join The Outfit, she told me, “We generally blog about Chicago, crime, and writing.” I laughed. "Well," I said, “that pretty much sums up my life".

The same would not have been true ten years ago. Back then, I was a lawyer representing doctors who had been sued, and I spent my time taking depositions and figuring out how to perform things like carotid endarterectomies so I could later explain that to a jury.

What a difference a decade makes. I’m still an attorney, but now I’m a professor at Loyola University School of Law. (Actually, my title is Distinguished Scholar in Residence, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue very easily). I teach Advance Litigation Writing and International Criminal Law, and I run the Life After Innocence Project. The project offers guidance to people who were wrongfully convicted and then exonerated (such as by DNA evidence) or those who were wrongfully prosecuted and received a “Not Guilty”. It’s interesting because if you are a convicted felon, someone who did the crime and then the time, and you got out, you would receive a parole officer. You would be entitled to health benefits and other services.

But if you didn’t actually do the offense they accused you of, and if later the truth comes to light and you’re released? You’re not entitled to any such guidance or services. What the state gives such a wrongfully convicted person upon release is a bus card and a sweat suit. Seriously. Now, we’re lucky to live in a state like Illinois which is one of 25 states that provides some compensation to the wrongfully convicted. However, that compensation is relatively minimal and often takes a year or two or more to reach the individual. So, at the Life After Innocence project, we try to help these gentlemen with whatever we can—big things like getting jobs and education, little (but important) things like learning how to email and text and use a cell phone. Think of how busy most of us feel today with text and Twitter and Facebook and email. Now imagine if you had just stepped into the world for the first time in a decade (or two) and you didn’t know what any of those things were—you didn’t know how to email your sister or text a friend or work a cell phone. These guys have a LOT of learning to do. We just try to help along the process. And meanwhile, our clients are the coolest people on the planet. Very, very inspirational guys. You can learn more about them and the project here:

The other job I have now is being a novelist. When I discuss the first four books I published, I usually call them ‘women's fiction’, but a lot of people called them ‘chick lit.’ I never cared very much what anyone called them. The ‘chick lit’ term certainly got me on a lot of front tables at Barnes & Noble. After those books, I wrote three mysteries - Look Closely, The Rome Affair and The Good Liar. Next up, I'm trying to combine both types of my writing plus add a dash of myself.

A friend of mine recently gave me a t-shirt that read, Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel. I thought the shirt was funny. I framed it and put it in my writing room. However, it wasn't really true of me. I’ve never been the type to share my private life in my public, novel-writing side. However, I’ve decided to span the gap.

This summer, it’s going to be a red hot one, because my publisher, MIRA, is releasing my Chicago mystery trilogy. The first---Red Hot Lies—comes out in a week. I'll be going on WGN Radio with Steve Cochran on the afternoon of May 28th, and my street team (so cool, I’ve always wanted a street team) will be handing out a hundred free, signed copies in front of the studio on Michigan Avenue.

And on June 3rd, there will be gathering to launch the book. My character's name is Izzy McNeil, and so of course the party will be at Lizzie McNeill’s ( It's a great Chicago pub on the river, the kind of place, my character (and I) love to hang out. It starts at 6. The fantastic band Hello Dave will be playing at 7:30 or 8. Please come. Bring friends, bring enemies. And if you can't make the party, check back here because I’ll be blogging every two weeks with these authors who I am absolutely—absolutely—in awe of. Thanks guys for having me!


abbourgoin said...

Welcome Aboard Laura! It's great to have you.

Steerpike said...

Hi Laura, and welcome! Great post.

I have a stupid question that popped into my head while I read your piece:

Is a person convicted of a felony and then released on account of being innocent still required to state (on job apps and so forth) that they were "convicted of a felony?" If so, how is this managed? If not, why not?

Thanks again for your post. I look forward to more!

Marcus Sakey said...

L, we're delighted to have you. Thanks for joining the party--and I'm looking forward to seeing you at yours!

Anonymous said...

I've crossed paths with Laura three or four times. We've shaken hands, spoken, but she has no idea who I am or probably cares.

But I have never met someone, especially a writer, who has such a smoldering, sexy, powerful vibe.

It was for no other reason than this that I picked up one of her books and read it. And she writes as good as she looks, and talks, and stares, and laughs.

Laura Caldwell is officially my dream girl.

And she's ruining my sheets.

Sean Chercover said...

Hey, Laura! Awesome to have you on the team!

See ya at the launch party!

Lynn Spencer said...

The Life After Innocence project sounds like great work. When I was in law school, I worked with federal inmates at a women's prison and seeing the almost overwhelming challenges waiting for them on release was very eye-opening. To learn that someone wrongly convicted gets "punished" by basically being turned out into the streets with no support amazes me.

On an unrelated note, I've enjoyed your books!

Dana King said...

I guess I never thought about it, but it never occurred to me that convicted felons proven to be not guilty, or even those found to be not guilty, get a lesser deal from the government than do actual felons. I'm not advocating reducing the help felons get upon release--we should do whetever we can to keep them from becoming felons again--but the work Laura is doing on the Life After Innocence project is heartening, as no one passing throuhg ghr criminal justice system deserves our help more than they do.

Laura Caldwell said...

That's a great question about whether someone released because of innocence has to still check on an employment application that they have been convicted of a felony. The trick lies in expungement. Take Jerry Miller for example. He did 26 years for rape and kidnapping that DNA eventually showed he never could have committed. He was one of the few people that Blago responded to while in office and he has a full pardon that actually says, "Pardon with Expungement". However, his record didn't get expunged automatically. The Illinois system isn't set up like that. In fact, every time Jerry has applied for a job, his backgroud check screams, "Sex Offender!" My law students and I are trying to get the record expunged right now, but it's not easy--a maze of legal work--and the kicker is he has to pay an expungement fee to the court. However, once that's done, I don't believe he should have to check that box, because he will have no criminal record. He won't, essentially, have been convicted of a crime. But we'll see how it all sifts out.... And I have to have my students see if the law agrees with my assessment.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Welcome, Laura. It's great to have you aboard.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Welcome Laura!

M. L. Kiner said...

"The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.

Anonymous said...

ML Kiner must have taken Stacey Cochran's "Marketing Guru" seminar.

Jenn said...

Hi Laura

I've read so much about you and I think the work you do is awesome.

My brother unfortunately has been wrongfully accused of murder, the past four months has been a nightmare. Our family has been put through so much but fortunately we have great support from family, friends, and a large church.

The local police department and DA have made many mistakes by accusing him long before they had enough evidence. They have treated the whole family like murders, serving search warrants for my parents house and trying to get us to turn on my brother and accuse him of child abuse on our kids. Our attorneys have told us from the beginning that we had to be very patient and things would soon turn around, and just last week we finally got some good news.

I really never thought this could happen to anyone, I believed in our legal system. I have been so disappointed by the way our family has been treated especially my brother. I want to find a way to put a stop to the "guilty until proven innocent" charges, I just don't know where to start. I'm trying to contact anyone that can help, any suggestions you have would be gratefully appreciated.