The Mike Lee Fellowship in Criminal Justice is a six month fellowship presented to people who have lived experience with the criminal justice system, who aspire to a career in criminal justice or community organizing in Philadelphia, and who have demonstrated a commitment to community and to social equity.
The Mike Lee Fellowship is presented each year to people who have (or have had) criminal records who aspire to a career in criminal justice or community organizing in Philadelphia and have demonstrated a commitment to community and to social equity. It provides a stipend to the recipient who will work 8-10 hours per week for six months in the offices of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE). Mike Lee Fellows will work with clients, arrange and lead community education programs, and conduct outreach to communities whose members have been impacted by criminal record histories; and will have the opportunity to meet Mr. Lee and his colleagues in the DA’s and Public Defender’s Offices. After their Fellowship period ends, they will benefit from the legal knowledge and analysis they have acquired, and they are expected to serve as resources for organizing their communities around criminal justice issues. They also serve on PLSE’s Pardon Project Steering Committee and are eligible for appointment to the PLSE Board of Directors.
The Mike Lee Fellowship has been used as a model for the creation of the J. Gordon Cooney Fellowship in Criminal Justice in Philadelphia, and the American Bar Endowment Pardon Fellows and the Bridge Together Pardon Fellows (2022-23) across Pennsylvania.
MIKE LEE FELLOW 2022-2023
A 2011 graduate of Temple University (BA in Communications), Danea is a small business owner with more than 14 years’ experience in the fields of social service, construction, project management and land acquisition. Today, she leads The Baring Group LLC, a residential development business which she founded in 2010, where she has successfully completed several residential development projects and mentored many subcontractors. Her energy, vision and passion to help others was demonstrated in 2000 when she created Unity Foundation Inc., a nonprofit 501c3 organization born out of the drug epidemic of the late 90’s. Her conviction from the early 1990s still makes it impossible for her to secure construction funding or loans for her real estate development business; worse yet, she is disqualified from serving as the attorney-in-fact either for her brother who requires care following a traumatic brain injury in 2020, or for her elderly mother. She has been an active member of the Pardon Project Steering Committee since 2021.
MIKE LEE FELLOW 2021-2022
Curtis Crosland is our 2021 Mike Lee Fellow. He is a father of five and grandfather of 32 who spent 3 decades behind bars representing himself, filing numerous post conviction and habeas corpus petitions to prove his innocence before this year being exonerated and released from prison. He comes to PLSE with a passion for helping justice involved people and is working with churches and organizations in the communities to spread the work being done by PLSE.
MIKE LEE FELLOW 2020-2021
Antoinette is a mother, an educator of mathematics for 18 years and someone who personally experienced the
life-altering effects of contact with the criminal justice system when she was racially
profiled and excessively charged in a traffic incident. She comes to PLSE seeking
justice for herself and her community. She is eager to share her knowledge of the
criminal-record clearing process and learn the laws to help her community. She
knows how to empower and support people.
Mike Lee Fellow 2019-2020
Shuja works to reduce poverty and gun violence by inspiring “emerging adults” (young people between the ages of 16 and 35 that are disconnected from school and work) through his work as a filmmaker. He is the creator/producer of the docuseries “Walkies,” a web series that highlights the transformation stories of the formerly incarcerated. After serving 12 years in prison, Shuja returned to his West Philadelphia roots to provide resources to the disadvantaged community he left behind. Shuja was named the 2020 Mike Lee Fellow at Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity. He has been recognized as a “Remodeled Citizen,” by the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement. Shuja also serves as the Neighborhood Advisory Committee/Community Engagement Manager at The Enterprise Center where he operates a resource center and facilitates community based projects.
Mike Lee Fellow 2018-2019
Jarue Lawson became the first Mike Lee Fellow on October 1, 2018. Only two weeks after being released from 20 consecutive years of incarceration, Jarue had a chance meeting with Katherine Zuk at a fundraising event in honor of Mike Lee on June 4, 2018. Jarue was ready for the opportunity because his lived experience prepared him. Jarue is very passionate about criminal justice reform, social justice activism, mentorship, and the understanding of one’s identity as a preventative and restorative tool. PLSE instantly became the conduit to serve the community that Jarue had planned for so many years.
Jarue lived and grew up in North, South, and Southwest Philly. He went to Meade Elementary, Turner Middle School, Bartram Motivation, Glen Mills and was an honor student throughout. He briefly went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Community College of Philadelphia. He worked at multiple jobs and ran the streets (guns and drugs), leading to his incarceration. He was a certified tutor for 6 years while incarcerated, a dedicated reader, and constantly engaged in real conversations about identity and serving people. There were other accomplishments and achievements, but the plan was always to serve. This was something he learned from family, particularly his mother and oldest sister. No matter what the situation or environment, serving people was the goal.
The mission is to meet people where they are, to assist them in getting where they deserve to be by human right. Jarue is here as an open book, to answer all questions about liberating people by using his experiences, to mentor and be an agent of transformation with ideas, the law, and understanding. Jarue lives by the principle that those who are not informed always get taken advantage of. During his fellowship, Jarue hopes to use PLSE as his apparatus to be empowered and to empower! Read more about Jarue’s fellowship here.
Founding Executive Director
A practicing human rights attorney and member of the inaugural class of Drexel University’s Thomas Kline School of Law, Mike Lee agreed to serve as PLSE’s inaugural Executive Director in 2010. As managing attorney for PLSE’s Criminal Record Expungement Project, Mike trained hundreds of pro bono attorneys across Pennsylvania, organized hundreds of community education events in the five-county area, and argued thousands of expungement and redaction petitions in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, achieving a success rate of over 95%. Responding to a request from the Lieutenant Governor, Mike became one of the creators of “Pathways to Pardons,” the statewide initiative that is open to all ex-offenders and specifically targeted on veterans and those in recovery, which has become a national model.
Mr. Lee received several awards for his cutting-edge legal work with PLSE and his service to the community. In 2013, Mike was named Diverse Attorney of the Year from the Legal Intelligencer, and received the F. Sean Peretta Service Award from the Young Lawyer’s Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association. In 2014 he was named one of Drexel’s 40 under 40 as being one of Dexel’s “most interesting, entrepreneurial and creative young graduates” for his work with PLSE. In 2015, he was recognized by the Barristers Association of Pennsylvania as the Outstanding Young Attorney, by the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania with the La Justica Award, and by the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Excellence Award. Mike ended his leadership of PLSE in January 2018, when was tapped by Philadelphia’s newly-elected, reform-minded District Attorney to become the Director of Legislation and Government Affairs for the DA’s Office.