• Bereza Photography

Law Student Confidential: Seeing Clearly Through a Plastic Window

Updated: Feb 5


The fourth chapter in a project witnessing and learning more about fellow law students and their motivation behind moving their life & family all the way to Missoula, Montana to pursue their legal education. Meet Tyler (& Tayler).

Tyler Waite's Story

I decided I wanted to be a lawyer shortly after leaving home to come to college. The first semester of my undergraduate program, my dad went to jail. It was a shocking experience, but I value the perspective that I gained. When I was home for weekends or holidays, I would go to the jail to visit him. Visiting times were on Saturday afternoons, and I came as often as I could. I remember waiting in line to check in. After checking in, I would have to wait to be called back. On a busy day, the wait would take hours. The actual visitation lasted only about 20 minutes. There were sometimes many people waiting to visit their brothers, uncles, fathers, and sons. Mostly, I remember seeing the kids. Every week, there were at least a few small children playing in the waiting room while they waited with their mothers.

I think my desire to work in criminal law came not just from seeing someone who I never saw as dangerous through a plastic visitation window, but also from seeing family members wait to visit their loved ones. I wanted to be an advocate for people who were trapped in the harsh criminal justice system and an advocate for their families and friends who would have to continue life on the outside without their presence.

I still hadn't declared a major by spring semester, but I met with my advisor and told her I wanted to be a lawyer. I was unsure what undergraduate program to join, so she advised me to pursue a political science, philosophy, or sociology degree. Ultimately, I choose sociology with an emphasis in criminology. This program turned out to be the perfect fit. I enjoyed it so much that someday I hope to return to college and continue to study criminology. I learned about the justice system, its limitations, and flaws. I learned about policing in America and how it could be improved. I learned about the difficulties people face reentering society following incarceration, and I saw my father navigate the process first-hand when he emerged after 8 months.

In law school, I’ve focused my efforts on criminal justice related classes. I volunteer at the Montana Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to the exoneration of the innocent. I’ve branched out into other areas of study, too. My goal as a lawyer is to help people who need it, and I’m quickly learning that can be achieved through many areas of practice. Since kindergarten, I’ve always been a student. Tayler and I both look forward to the start my career. We started dating in high school and have been together since. I couldn’t be more grateful for her support in this long and often exhausting practice.

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