Seriously. I know I’ve gone on in the past about various fictional characters and people (David Tennant, Blaine from Glee, Sam Tsui, and the like), but this time, I really mean it. Owen Daniel-McCarter is the most incredible person I’ve ever met (including Dean Spade, and those of you who spent any time near me around the last month or so of my senior year of undergrad know that’s saying a lot). He is just an absolute joy to be around, and he inspires me to be a better person.
Owen founded the Transformative Justice Law Project (TJLP), which provides “free, zealous, life-affirming, and gender-affirming holistic criminal legal services to low-income and street based transgender and gender non-conforming people targeted by the criminal legal system” in the state of Illinois. TJLP is a singular law project; of every law project of which I’ve heard, the combination of TJLP’s three goals of prison abolition, gender self-determination, and transformative justice is unique. And Owen truly believes in it all.
He is so incredibly admirable. Passionate, devoted to transformative justice, a genuinely nice person — I’ve never met anyone like him. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some really rad people at TJLP other than Owen (and at places other than TJLP). But I think they’d all agree that he’s something special. The Windy City Times agrees with me; they recognized Owen as one of the “30 Under 30” to be honored in 2010. His undergrad alma mater (University of Vermont) even created an award in his honor, the Daniel-McCarter Award, “in recognition of his dedication to LGBT concerns at UVM.”
The following quote captures Owen’s outlook on being an attorney: “I adore my clients and trying to be their advocate. I adore their ability to survive life. I feel like my role in that is to provide a voice that they’d never have.” He not only cares about his clients, he respects and admires them — and I feel as though that’s something that couldn’t be said about a number of attorneys, especially ones whose clients are often people who are incarcerated:
My clients inspire me more than anyone else, ever. They’re the fiercest, most resilient activists I’ve ever known in my life. (I’m inspired by) the way they are able to express their genders, even on the inside. They’ll use Bic pens to put on eyeliner, even though they know what could happen. Even if they’re not marching down the street or doing things that can take a lot of privilege to be able to do, their ability to survive and be fabulous is so great.
Owen is, at the same time, articulate and approachable. He’s an attorney, and he knows how to deal with the criminal legal system, but he doesn’t allow that to detract from his core beliefs regarding the criminal legal system and the prison industrial complex. He is incredibly busy, but he always has time for smiles, hugs, and checking with how the people around him are doing.
On so many levels, Owen Daniel-McCarter is a phenomenally inspiring person. He makes me believe in change.