OpenDoors Board Member Noah Kilroy tells his tremendous story of “Law Breaker to Law Student” to the Newport Daily News.
Noah Kilroy was sitting in a prison cell for each of his birthdays between the ages of 19 and 23. Now, as a recent graduate of Salve Regina University, he will enter law school in September with high aspirations of becoming a public interest lawyer.
Between 1998 and 2003, he served first a six-month sentence at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston for delivery of cocaine, followed by a two-year sentence at the ACI for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. Finally, he served a two-year sentence in a Florida prison for trafficking in cocaine.
Kilroy grew up in Newport, attending Carey School, Thompson Middle School and Rogers High School. Abandoned by his biological mother, he was a foster child before white parents in the Fifth Ward adopted him and his siblings. He dropped out of Rogers after his junior year to be on his own.
Working part time as a cook at Newport Creamery for $7 an hour was a “struggle,” and he wasn’t making enough money to pay even the rent, he said.
“I moved to Woonsocket where drugs were rampant,” he said. “My girldfriend’s mother was into drugs. I asked her to introduce me to her dealer and I started selling small amounts on the street.”
Dealing drugs became the focus of his life. At the time, he scrambled to be a success in his new profession, “if you can call it that,” he said. “I networked. If you can move product, you turn down offers from other suppliers. I wanted to increase my profit margin.”
…The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency arrested him in Jacksonville, FLa., after he made a puchase in Miami. He was carrying two kilograms of cocaine with a street value of almost $250,000. The mandatory minimum sentence for possessing that amount of cocaine was 15 years, Kilroy said.
…During his years at Salve, he also did internships, including one at OpenDoors, an agency that assists ex-convicts and successfully ran a campaign in 2006 to restore their voting rights. Kilroy was part of that campaign and continues to work with the organization. Now, he is teaching a class to some of the agency’s clients.
“He’s very bright and extremely driven,” said Sol Rodriguez, executive director of OpenDoors. “From the very beginning, he said he wanted to go to law school. There are definitely obstructions to that when you have a felony conviction, but they’re not insurmountable.”
When people go to prison, their mistakes are never forgiven, she said. But people can turn their lives around.
“Noah is a testament to that,” she said. “He really wants to help the guys who are getting out. A lot of people want to get as far away from that experience as possible. Noah is not like that.”
“I hope to act as a guiding light for others,” Kilroy said. “I saw them in prison. I was one of the lucky few to dodge a major bullet and get another chance. I’ll always have the stigma of being an ex-con. I won’t hide that. But I have something I can bring to the table. Prison put me on a trajetory for my life’s work.
Kilroy also did an internship with Rhode Island Legal Services, which provides public defenders to the indigent.
“Noah was very conscientious,” said Kevin Hall, who was chief social worker at the office when Kilroy was there but has since left.
“He worked hard to understand clinical theory and apply it to clients’ behavior and their lives,” Hall said. “Through the life he led and his intelligence, he is in a position to effectively advocate for people and help them make good decisions. He did really well on the job.”
Kilroy is now ready for the next step in his life.
“I knew it would not be easy, applying to study law with a rap sheet,” he said. “I just hoped someone would connect with my story and see I have something to offer.”
He was accepted a thte University of Detroit Mercy School of Law for the fall of this year. He would rather stay in this area, and is hoping to get accepted at the Roger Williams University School of Law this spring.
“I want to do work and make a difference here,” he said.
He would like to work for change in the public defender system that provides legal help to the indigent.
“That’s where my passion is,” he said.