Interview with Rebecca Woodworth Brodie

About Rebecca W. Brodie

I would consider my childhood chaotic. My parents divorced when I was young and I was raised by her maternal grandparents until I was around 5. Just before kindergarten, I went to live with my mother. Over the years, my mother had several relationships, many fraught with physical abuse, drug use, and mental health disorders including bi-polar disorder, anxiety, and depression.

My mom and I moved around a lot; each time with a new school and new friends. Sometimes it was just the two of us. Sometimes it was with a new boyfriend. By the time I got to high school, I had been enrolled in ten (10) different schools. Eventually I dropped out of high school to live with my boyfriend. Not surprising, he was physically abusive with a history of criminal activity and drug use. When I tried to leave the relationship, he pushed me out of a moving car.

After that, I dated a police officer. I was 20. He was closer to 30. I thought that a police officer would offer more stability and safety. Instead, he was even more controlling. His drinking began to escalate to the point that he would call on-duty officers to pick him up from the bar and drive him home. When I learned I was pregnant, he just laughed and told me “Well, I guess you’ll be just another statistic”.

A Better Life

After my hurtful breakup, I decided I needed to make a better life for my daughter and myself. I completed my GED and enrolled in a community college. It was the hardest time of my life. I was alone with a newborn. My mother lived 1000 miles away and my father wasn’t speaking to me. I was going to classes in the mornings and working in the afternoons. I would then do homework at night if I could get my daughter to sleep. I had tremendous support during my years at MassBay and learned how to be a lifelong learner.

I was looking forward to graduation as I started my last semester. But then, a professor told me ‘You have a lot of great things to say, but without a degree behind you, no one will hear them,’”

I was outraged, but she was right. I applied to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and was accepted. During my first semester at UMass all my clothes were stolen from the laundromat, my apartment burned down, and my car was stolen. It would have been easy to pack up and just be done but then I had what I call my “Scarlett O’Hara moment”. I shook my fist at the sky and “Bring it on UMass. I’m not leaving without that degree.”

And I didn’t.

After UMass, I received a scholarship to Suffolk law school. My goal was to become an advocate for those who could not advocate for themselves. During law school, I interned at several legal aid agencies and eventually took a job at Mass Justice upon graduation. After several years, I opened my own law firm; Brodie & Brodie. My firm was designed to be a “social law firm” which provides low cost legal services to the community. Since then, I have also practice as In-house counsel for a large private company and taught legal writing at a law school. I even taught at the community college that had once taught me…

Working toward Prison Reform

I became involved working with inmates quite by accident. One day, a colleague asked me to meet with a woman incarcerated at MCI Framingham. I was really scared to go inside a prison but, in the end, it was not at all like I expected. The inmates were all dressed in sweat suits and bright white Keds style sneakers. The visiting room was open and bright and there was a play section with toys off to one side. Some of the inmates walked puppies on leashes. I felt more like I was in a college dorm than in a prison.

When I met with the client, she was pleasant and polite. She didn’t proclaim innocence or make excuses. She fully accepted her situation and understood she had made poor choices. She was about my age. She was a mom, She had been involved with bad guys. Her life had been a lot like mine. Meeting this client changed my life and made me realize how, if not for a few different choices, she and I could be on opposite sides of the visitation table.

Since that day, I began doing more work with inmates and working to change the outcome of those incarcerated. Eventually, my work with inmates led me to pursue a Master’s degree in criminal justice. I studied recidivism, prison programs, and the epidemic of suicides in prisons; of both inmates and correctional officers. I finished my MA from UMass Lowell in 2014.

Since finishing my degree in criminal justice, I have been working toward prison reform. My goal is to overhaul the entire Massachusetts correctional system; making the system better for inmates, officers, communities as well as all the other stakeholders in the system. In my spare time, I am working toward a Master’s Degree in the Public Policy department from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth – and running for Sheriff of Middlesex County (the first woman ever to even run for this office)

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