Defending Santa Barbara's Most Vulnerable

Community Defenders, Photo: Paul Wellman

Public Defenders and Family Service Agency Give Clients a Voice Through Holistic Defense
At 40 years old, Jessica is learning to live a new kind of life. She grew up in Santa Barbara helping her mom steal things from stores and being verbally and physically abused by her family. “I grew up so sad,” she told the Independent. Jessica (not her real name) was still a bright kid who got good grades, but nevertheless had to juggle holding down a job, watching her younger siblings, and tending to the house. “By 17, I wanted to retire,” she said.

She moved in with an older boyfriend, was introduced to meth, and began a life spent in and out of jail. Though she struggled to get her life in order, working hard to become a registered nurse, she let her relationships control everything. “I ruined my life trying to get my mom to love me,” she said.

The endless cycle of jail continued even after Jessica had a baby. But two years ago, when she was arrested, a new program called Holistic Defense was being launched, and she was selected to become a recipient. While she was in jail, her mother tried to get custody of her child. “Nobody cared about [my child] and me and our relationship,” she said. Not until Lead Advocate for Holistic Defense Erica Bottorff got involved. With Bottorff’s help, Jessica was able to retain custody of her child, receive treatment for her substance abuse, and live at Transition House with her baby. Jessica, who has been sober for almost two years now, says she can’t even think about Bottorff without getting emotional. “Going to court is so scary,” she said. “They don’t let you talk, but Erica gives you a voice. She’s given me another life.”

Santa Barbara Independent