The quiet advocate

The quiet advocate

The prison’s waiting room is like any other waiting room, save the walk-through metal detector to the right of the front desk. Off in one corner there’s a silent auction going on. A card table holds 10 clipboards, most with only one or two bids. A middle-aged woman walks in carrying a stack of files, her ID badge swinging from her lapel. The two correctional officers (COs)—both sporting sunburns and mustaches—lean over the desk with smiles.

Except for their badges and the occasional bang of metal on metal, you might forget it is a prison. There are citations of excellence on the walls alongside bright if counterintuitive motivational posters ("Attitude!" "Success!").

Andy Block appears on the other side of the front desk. His gray-brown suit stands in sharp contrast to the COs’ less-than-crisp uniforms, as does his tall, thin frame. Like a lot of police officers and prison guards, their appearances have the slight suggestion that someone, somehow, stuck an air hose in them. Andy walks through the metal detector, into the waiting room. He thanks the COs over his shoulder and keeps walking. If Andy’s upset coming out of his meeting at the Fluvanna Correctional Facility for Women, it’s awful hard to tell.

As he walks the prison’s parking lot, Andy has the same placid look on his face, one that betrays just a touch of agitation or fatigue, the same look I’ve seen—the only one I’ve seen—since I met him. We get back in his car. He points it west and we’re off.

But he begins to talk and all of it shows. Just a little. The anger and frustration. The outrage that both springs from and drives his work. Christina, his client who he’s just talked to, was transferred to Fluvanna from a juvenile facility in May. Andy and his team of lawyers and law students at


had represented Christina at a hearing to decide whether she was to be paroled or moved to the adult correctional system. She’d been a model inmate. Everyone, including staff from Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, expected her to be released. Andy and his team lost. The judge sent Christina to Fluvanna.

With an Ivy League education and obvious legal brilliance, why would Andy Block—a man who could write his own ticket to some absurdly easy life—choose a job with long hours and a salary a fraction of the size he could make…a job that’s the legal equivalent of jumping behind Sisyphus’ rock? What kind of person does this kind of work?

"She’s doing all right," says Andy as he’s driving. It begins to mist, and he has to intermittently turn on and off the wipers. He stares at the road. "Her cellmate’s a convicted murderer. Right now she could be living with her parents, working at a job, beginning college and getting counseling. She has a job at the facility, which is good. She works from midnight to 7 doing food preparation. And she’s going to start taking a vocational class, doing air-conditioning work."

Christina, who has her high school diploma, excelled in the English and advertising college courses she took while at Bon Air. She had been accepted into three colleges prior to being transferred to Fluvanna: Virginia Wesleyan, Old Dominion and Norfolk State. Being white and a woman, Christina was interested in getting accepted as a minority at a historically black college. She is also halfway finished writing a book. It feels like Andy is trying to sound more upbeat than he feels when he says the words "air-conditioning work." There is, just under the surface of the words, the faint sense of defeat.

In 2005, African Americans comprised just 48 percent of juvenile arrests, though they make up 73 percent of youth entering the adult corrections system. (Campaign for Youth Justice [pdf])

Andy’s resumé is impeccable, impressive enough that accomplishments begin to blend together until it takes on a hagiographic feel. Yale. Law degree from Northwestern. A stint as a Seattle public defender. This all led Andy to Charlottesville, where he founded JustChildren, a child-advocacy organization for kids and their families who are without access to support and services, legal or otherwise. This year the Virginia State Bar presented Andy with its Legal Aid Award [see sidebar]. Alex Gulotta, executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, called Andy "one of the most successful and influential child advocate attorneys in the United States."

Knowing all this, Andy remains essentially unknowable. At our first meeting he talks for long stretches about the Virginia legal system and the general work of an advocate. But he balks when I take out a tape recorder prior to the conversation.

After that hour, he seems almost like a symbol or stand-in for an actual person, some kind of cardboard saint. Maybe that’s all there is to know.

And sure, it’s cynical, but I can’t understand Andy Block. If you look past the awards and recognition, you’re left with a guy who fights for people who don’t have the power to fight for themselves against a state that would rather spend $8 million a year on prisons than lift a legislative finger to help schools. A job with an outcome, more often than not, that leaves you disappointed and dejected, the way Andy must feel right now driving away from Fluvanna.

With an Ivy League education and obvious legal brilliance, why would Andy Block—a man who could write his own ticket to some absurdly easy life—choose a job with long hours and a salary a fraction of the size he could make…a job that’s the legal equivalent of jumping behind Sisyphus’ rock? What kind of person does this kind of work?

Changing the water flow

In 1997 Andy quit his job as a public defender in Seattle and moved across the county to Charlottesville for a girl named Kelli. They met at a wedding eight months earlier.

"She either persuaded me or bamboozled me into moving to the Commonwealth," Andy says. "I had no job. I was not licensed to practice law in Virginia. I didn’t know anybody."

At the wedding in Maine, where Andy and Kelli shared mutual friends, a friend walked up to Andy to introduce Kelli. As the two of them said their first hellos, the friend said jokingly, "Hey Andy, you work with messed up kids, and so does she!"

"It was," Andy says, "love at first sight."

With no job or friends, Andy moved to Charlottesville. He passed the bar exam and just as quickly began work on a child-advocacy program modeled after one in the Seattle public defender’s office called Team Child. It was one of the few of its kind.

Alex Gulotta, the executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, calls Andy Block one of the country’s most successful and influential child advocate attorneys. "Every day we’re banging heads with state governmental officials and people who run corporations. You got to be operating at a pretty decent level to hold your own."

"It took a more comprehensive approach to representing kids, looking at their educational needs, mental health needs, and addressing those issues, keeping more kids in the community and getting at their core issues," says Andy. "And while I loved being a public defender, that kind of work was appealing because it seemed to me you could be more proactive. You’re not just putting your finger in the dyke, but you’re trying to change the way the water flows."

Kimberly Emery, who now directs pro bono efforts at the UVA School of Law, introduced Andy to Alex Gulotta. The two had lunch on the Downtown Mall. Andy, new in town and meeting Gulotta for the first time, pitched him his idea for a special project focusing on child advocacy. "It made total sense," says Gulotta.

Because child advocacy is a highly specialized area, most legal aid groups don’t dedicate resources for it. "You don’t dabble in it," says Gulotta. "You either do it, or you don’t." Andy was proposing a separate arm of Legal Aid, one that would specifically address juvenile issues, a legal area in Virginia that was woefully overlooked. With little to no local models to build from, Andy would have to create an organization from scratch in a field where specialization devours time and resources. As it goes with nonprofits, the responsibility for funding fell on Andy’s shoulders.

He began drafting grant applications. After Gulotta tweaked them, Andy flurried them out the door. Eventually he landed a Soros Foundation grant, which paid him a basic salary and allowed Andy to start JustChildren in 1998, which now has 12 full-time staff members. While all that was happening, he married Kelli, the woman he’d chased across a continent.

Virginia’s largest women’s prison

Andy Block’s car looks like what you think it looks like. Parked in the back of Legal Aid, it’s another white Charlottesville Subaru wagon with a radio that murmurs NPR’s "Morning Edition" when the key turns. We get on 64 East. Andy overshoots the Keswick/Boyd’s Tavern exit. He’s talking about new psychological research on teenagers’ brains. Researchers found that until we reach 21 or 22, the centers that access risk and impulse control aren’t fully developed.

If he notices that he missed his exit, he’s not telling. We get off at Zion’s Crossroad and head back west on 250. We’re going to see Christina. She’s just turned 21 and has been transferred to Fluvanna for crimes she committed when she was 17.

"The adult system is a different world," he says. "It’s not focused on rehabilitation." Andy’s 42, tall, thin. You might call him lanky, except the word doesn’t account for his simple gracefulness in the course of everyday activities. Gathering up papers. Pocketing car keys. He looks a little like a younger Sam Waterson, the gray-haired actor who plays the prosecuting attorney on "Law & Order." So much so, in fact, that on his Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership website bio, under the head "One thing people might be surprised to learn about you," he answers: "That I am not that guy on ‘Law & Order.’"

Of the 2,225 youth in the U.S . serving life without parole, the adult Virginia Department of Corrections houses 48 of them.

As he’s talking, he overshoots the visitor’s entrance for the prison. We take the second left and work our way back through the parking lot.

"We’ve come to believe harsh punishment is the only way to deal with people doing something bad," he says about Christina. "I’m sympathetic with the desire that she be punished more, but if this kid isn’t going to get released, who is?"

Like 84 percent of criminal convictions, Christina’s involved drugs. After taking a hostessing job in a Applebee’s, 17-year-old Christina began hanging out with an older crowd, men she met in the restaurant’s bar. The youngest of three children, Christina always tried acting older than she was.

One evening while she was staying with a friend, Christina called home. After talking to her mother, Fran, she caught up with two older men that she’d met at the restaurant. Later, after she was arrested that night for carjacking, conspiracy, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and abduction, she would tell her mother, "You know, Mom, I called and I think I was hoping that you’d make me come home."

The Higher Education Act of 1998 makes juveniles who are convicted of any drug-related offenses ineligible for any college grants, loans or work assistance.

Instead of going home, she and the two other men smoked a stash of marijuana that the men had been holding for someone else. The marijuana gone, the men were in a bind, needing quick cash to repay the debt. With Christina driving, they robbed a Newport News store. Then, crossing into Hampton, they cut off another driver. The two men got out of the car, forced the other driver from hers, threw her in the trunk and drove away. They later released her. Soon after, Christina was arrested. Still high and drunk, she was held by the police for 12 hours before her parents were called. During that time she had led police to the two men, who were arrested. Because Christina was driving the car that carried the men to and from violent crimes, she faced the same charges.

Andy turns left into the prison’s parking lot. He leaves his wallet and cell phone in the car. He gives the keys to me. "I know your boss," he mock-threatens before walking into the sprawling one-story building that’s surrounded by trees and sits only a few hundred feet off Route 250.

The prison itself isn’t threatening or even impressive. Without the overabundance of chain link and razor wire that gives other prisons an imposing air, Fluvanna feels almost like a small community college tucked away in the county. But Fluvanna is Virginia’s largest women’s prison. In 1999 state officials ordered an investigation into complaints of widespread sexual abuse by prison guards.

Andy and JustChildren became involved with Christina’s case after her conviction. She received a 80-year "blended sentence," with 70 years suspended. The blended sentence meant that before she turned 21, Christina began serving her time in a juvenile facility. Her parents, Fran and Carl, were put in touch with JustChildren when they became concerned about their daughter’s treatment. At Bon Air, Christina, along with other inmates, was regularly denied exercise, air conditioning and religious support services. Christina, who was diagnosed as ADHD, was put on an anti-schizophrenia drug to help her sleep. She battled the administrators and was finally taken off of the medication. She went through a sickening withdrawal that Fran likened to quitting heroin.

By the end of Christina’s time at Bon Air, the condition for inmates there had improved. JustChildren worked with Fran and Carl, and other parents, to make it understood that Bon Air was violating state law by denying the girls recreation. Christina also had access to the minister of her family’s church and began leading a Bible study group for other inmates.

Andy walks up to the front desk, sets his manila file folder down and explains to the CO who he’s here to see. He empties what’s left in his pockets, a pen and not much else, and steps through the metal detector. On the other side, a CO points a hand-held metal detector, the wand, and Andy turns to face the guts of the prison. Straight-backed, he raises both hands to shoulder level, palms up. It’s a familiar pose to anyone who’s spent any significant amount of time around security.

Judgement day

At her May 1 blended-sentence hearing, where a judge could have granted Christina parole, a parade of witnesses took that stand on her behalf. Psychologists. Bon Air administrators. Rehabilitation experts. Andy and his team had left no legal stone unturned, spending hundreds of hours poring over her case files, all the transcripts, dissecting the law. Each witness supported JustChildren’s argument: If ever there was a case that was made for this law, if ever there was a model juvenile inmate that would not reoffend, if ever there was an inmate whose incarceration would not benefit anyone, it was Christina.

"We were all so sure he was going to approve her release," says Fran. "Andy and his people…I can’t tell you what a superb job they did. Their hearts and souls were into it. They not only reviewed and researched and did everything lawyers do, they went regularly to meet and get to know Christina so that you felt they could appropriately represent her. They came in with everything conceivable and argued a wonderful case."

From 2003 to 2005, between 8 to 15 percent of youth incarcerated in adult prisons were serving time for nonviolent offenses.

Carl, Christina’s father, agrees. "Andy and his team, we didn’t pay them anything. And they did tons more work than the first lawyer we had, who we gave thousands of dollars to. They were just phenomenal."

Both Carl and Fran felt almost certain that Christina’s exemplary behavior—along with the promise of a job, a home and acceptance into a college of her choice—would be enough to convince the judge not to send her into the adult system. But as they walked into court, someone whispered to Carl and Fran that the woman who’d been carjacked in Hampton was there, and that she didn’t want Christina released.

The judge denied parole and sent Christina to Fluvanna where she would begin serving the adult portion of her sentence. Everyone, from Christina to her parents to Andy and his team, sat in the courtroom devastated after the ruling. The emotional shockwaves of the judge’s decision spread through the room. Christina was crying. Her parents were crying. Even former Bon Air employees who’d come back to testify on Christina’s behalf were stunned.

What is a child?

There’s a jackknifed tracker trailor blocking 250 on our way back to town. Andy stops mid-sentence, dips into the Beaver Dam Market parking lot to avoid the mess, and keeps going.

Today’s visit with Christina is basically a check-in. Now that she’s in the adult system, there’s not very much JustChildren can do. She doesn’t have the right to appeal the judge’s decision to continue her sentence in at Fluvanna. The biggest thing JustChildren can do now is make sure Christina gets the right kind of ADHD medication. Right now, she is still fighting to get Adderall.

"The rights you have once you turn 21 and are in an adult prison are significantly less than the rights you have in the juvenile prison," Andy says. "And the responsibilities of the facility are less. They don’t have to provide her with education. They don’t have to provide her with mental health services. Once you get into the adult system, your options are pretty much limited."

The difference in rights between the juvenile justice system and the adult correctional system stems from the two systems’ disparate founding missions. Since the late 1980s, however, those missions have grown less distinct. The juvenile justice system has its roots in Chicago, Andy’s hometown.

In 1899 the Illinois State Legislature passed the Juvenile Court Act, which consolidated the efforts and institutions of progressive reform. It came at a time when the idea of what it meant to be a child was shifting from one of mini-adults to a concept of innocence and dependence. It established the county’s first juvenile court system, one that’s intentions were to treat juveniles as children first and as offenders second. The act stopped the practice of housing juvenile offenders with adult convicts. The court’s main purpose was rehabilitative rather than punitive.

The juvenile court acted more as a civil than criminal court and didn’t provide children with the legal safeguards that are now common in criminal prosecution. The act, legally, severed childhood from adulthood. By 1915 every state except two had separate courts for children.

But in the ’60s, the baby boomers carved out a new social age class—the teenager—and juvenile crime rates rose. More people began to question whether children who commit crimes should be treated differently from adults. Skepticism came at a time when the county was also, sometimes violently, redefining the relationship between the state and individual as it grew leery of state power.

This redefining was at a high boil in 1964, when police arrested 15-year-old Gerald Gault and a friend for obscene phone calls. His parents were away at the time and not notified. In a juvenile court, Gault was convicted and sentenced to six years in the Arizona State Industrial School without ever being advised of any kind of rights or being allowed to question the single witness against him.

Three years later the United States Supreme Court found the proceedings against Gault lacking in due process and gave minors most of the rights of defendants in the criminal trial. Intentionally or not, its ruling erased much of the distinction between juvenile courts and adult criminal courts. Writing in partial dissent, Justice John Marshall Harlan II predicted what, in many ways, has come to pass: the move of the juvenile justice system away from civil courts toward a more punitive approach.

This move intensified in the late ’80s as the nation watched on its new 24-hour news channels the story of the Central Park Jogger, a case where a group of black youths were convicted of raping a young white woman in New York City. The media wrung their hands over the state of youth and a phenomenon that became known as "wildin’"—assaulting passersby unprovoked, something that’s sparked similar discussion in Charlottesville. The boys were eventually exonerated.

In 1995, then-Princeton professor John J. DiIulio, who later led George W. Bush’s office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, published an article in The Weekly Standard titled "The Coming of the Super-Predators." In it he predicted a vast crime wave of snarling, feral juvenile criminals, detached from society and looking to rape, pillage and plunder every good American. When the crime wave failed to materialize years later, DiIulio recanted.

But DiIulio’s article made the rounds of the nation’s media echo chamber, and television sets glowed with reports of violent youth. The nation grew more concerned about its safety. Despite the perceived boom in violent juvenile crime, in 2005 only a little more than 1,000 of 32,990 juvenile arrests in Virginia were for violence offenses.

Even so, states began to try more and more children as adults. Since 1990, the incarceration of youth in adult jails has increased 208 percent. In deciding whether to try juveniles as adults, more states have handed over that decision to prosecutors instead of judges even though research shows that youth are more likely to reoffend after serving an adult sentence.

And this is precisely what happened in Christina’s case. Tried in Newport News as a juvenile, the Hampton prosecutor decided not to follow suit. Instead, she was tried as an adult in the second jurisdiction, even though the crimes took place on the same night, just miles apart.

After working with Andy Block and JustChildren in the Child Advocacy Clinic as a law student at the University of Virginia School of Law, Angela Ciolfi worked in the Seattle’s public defender’s office—a job Block helped her land. "He does propel people toward action. He’s not content with words." Now she’s back working with Block at JustChildren.

Who cares about social justice?

When I ask Angela Ciolfi, a lawyer for JustChildren, whether Andy is shy, she laughs. "Shy? I think he enjoys talking about the work more than about himself," she said. "He almost never talks about himself. But shy? No."

Ciolfi worked in Child Advocacy Clinic, a joint project between UVA and JustChildren­, while she was a law student at the University of Virginia School of Law. She’d been a research assistant for law professor Jim Ryan, and one day had lunch with both Jim and Andy. After meeting Andy, she decided to do the clinic on the spot.

"He does propel people toward action," said Ciolfi, who landed a job at the Seattle’s public defender’s office after graduation, with Andy’s help. "He’s not content with words. You walk away going ‘Oh, what did I just get into?’ I think that’s a pretty frequent occurrence with staff or with people whose minds he’s going to change.

"He’s very quick on his feet. He’s the one who can go out and dazzle a judge or a policy maker. He manages to take really complex issues and distill them down to an issue that everybody understands. And he’s not shy about doing that. He’s not shy about offending people with the truth."

Currently, 40 states permit or require juveniles charged as adults to be held in an adult jail before their trials.

Talking to him, this much is clear: One of Andy’s great skills is navigating subtext. After awhile, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re part of a chess game in his head. As he speaks, you can almost sense the consideration he gives each sentence, the weight a single word might carry, where one idea might lead, the possible avenues a certain phrase could open.

Of course, this is what lawyers do. But there’s a feeling, a nagging one at times, that even as he talks, you are two mental steps behind Andy. This a man built for what he does. Legal wrangling, staking a claim out with words, never taken by surprise. And it’s a little unsettling sometimes. It’s a gap between you and Andy.

Besides representing clients, Andy works with state legislators to change policies that affect children. Virginia is a tough place to be a kid in a low-income family. In 2004 it ranked 12th in per capita income but 43rd in public-education spending.

So Andy spends time in Richmond working with law makers to level the playing field for Virginia children. He writes op-ed pieces for the Times-Dispatch and The Washington Post. JustChildren serves as a community organizer, training and supporting parents to be more informed about and engaged in the systems their kids depend on. Pushing the rock up the hill is not the work of a shy person.

I ask Gulotta, who’s known Andy nearly 10 years, if Andy isn’t shy, is he a private person?

"That’s a fair description on some level," he says. "But whatever." (Roughly every 10th word from Gulotta’s month is "whatever," "y’know" or "sorta." The other nine point to a high-octane mind humming at near warp speed. Throughout the 40-minute interview he answers e-mails while fielding my questions and parsing state policy.) "To be a lawyer at a place like this, you’re out there. Every day we’re banging heads with state governmental officials and people who run corporations. You’ve got to be operating at a pretty decent level to hold your own."

It’s true. To start a program from nothing, to take on Richmond, to dazzle judges, and hell, to raise enough money to keep the whole thing going, Andy has to have a little bit of showmanship to him.

"It’s not who he is," said Gulotta, "it’s just the way the world works. The reason JustChildren has 11 people is that you got to be out there telling people to support what you do. Money doesn’t fall from the sky to do good work. Getting support takes a lot of hard work."

It’s not enough, the long hours of research and case study, the David-Goliath routine of Richmond, the heartbreak of losing cases and hearings like Christina’s. On top of all that, you bust your ass just to find the money to do it. And that leads me back to where I started. Who is Andy Block? What kind of a person chooses a career that eats up so many waking hours, that pays so relatively little and forces you to stare at an ugly national underbelly that most of us are content not to notice?

Everyone I ask seems to have the same dumbass answer. Even Ciolfi and Gulotta, two individuals who, by conservative estimates, may be 20 to 25 times more intelligent than I am, give the same answer that Andy does: "People who care about social justice." Bullshit.

I press Gulotta, who seems tired of all these dumb, high-minded questions I’ve been whipping at him for the last half hour. I say, if I walked outside right now and stop 20 people on the street, odds are 19 will say they care about social justice. And the odds are just as good they’ve not gone deep in law-school debt, working 10 to 12 hours a day to do anything about it.

"What would they be in a different world? I don’t know," says Gulotta, leaning back in his chair, throwing up his hands. "Whatever. They might have been social workers, they might have been nuns or priests. Traveling monks. Who knows?"

A life we ought to aspire to

On the ride back from Fluvanna, I do something very unfair to Andy. I try to make him explain himself, to undertake a critical self-examination while navigating Pantops gridlock. This is the last time we’ll talk, and I’m desperate.  

And for whatever reason, Andy seems to relax behind the wheel. Maybe it’s because he’s driving and doesn’t have to make as much eye contact. Maybe he’s concentrating on the traffic, leaving another part of his mind free to wander. Whatever the reason, he starts talking about growing up in Chicago, where his grandfather was a prominent businessman and where Andy was surrounded by extended family, most of whom lived in the city.

"I had a pretty nice life," he says. "I went to private school, that sort of thing. I lived in a relatively safe neighborhood and had an intact family. I lived blocks from my grandparents, my aunt and uncle."

When he talks, he talks about privilege, and there are long pauses between sentences. His eyes don’t leave the road. There isn’t a sense of guilt or reluctance to tell me this, to try and present it in a different light, to spin it. Suddenly I wonder if he’s always been this comfortable. It’s not cocky. Instead, it’s somehow reassuring.

In Virginia, court-appointed attorneys assigned to provide legal counsel to juveniles facing transfer to adult court are not required to have any criminal defense training or expertise. They receive $120 per charge, the lowest rate in the nation.

"On one hand we led a sheltered life. On the other, there was definitely the message from grandparents and parents that you have a responsibility to do what you can to help people. That you were really lucky to be where are and don’t take that for granted ever. My wife and I still talk about that a lot, about how fortunate we are to be in the situation where we can both do the kind of work we want to do and to be able to have kids."

Kelli, a social worker, has worked with both kids and families in the foster care and mental health systems. "It could get a little gloomy around the dinner table," says Andy, laughing. "But having our own kids was incredibly helpful. Before, when we were working, you would come home and it would be one sad, outrageous, horrible story after another. Having kids has been a real blessing. It put a limit on how much you can actually think about work, and talk about it, and dwell on it."

We pull into the parking lot behind Legal Aid. It’s raining a little harder now. And instead of going inside, shaking hands and sending me off, going back to the office where he clearly has a mountain of work to do, Andy turns off the car and we sit there. And he talks.

"You go to college and you rail against the injustices of the world, you talk about this person’s such an idiot and the world is so unfair, then…"

You turn into them, I say.

He smiles the small wry smile he has, and maybe here’s the difference, here’s why he’s able to do what he does. He meets my cynicism head on.

"It’s putting some responsibility to it, and saying, ‘If I don’t do it, who’s going to?’ It’s easy to be in the cheap seats railing against the man. But on a personal level that’s not satisfying for me. It’s hard for me to say, ‘I’m going to leave those problems for someone else to fix.’

"It’s a feeling that we are all brothers and sisters. Being raised in a Catholic church, that was a big message for me. More than anything, that’s what I took away. That we’re all connected. That we have some responsibility to help other people when we can. That, in a lot of ways, a lifetime spent serving others is a life we ought to aspire to."


We are in Andy’s office looking at a framed picture hung above his desk. It’s a simple line drawing of the Lincoln Memorial statue. Instead of gazing out toward the reflecting pool, though, this Lincoln is holding his head in his hands, grief-stricken. It belonged to Andy’s godmother. When she died, Andy acted as her estate’s executor, and the picture was the only thing he wanted.

The drawing ran on November 23, 1963 in The Chicago Sun-Times, a day after John F. Kennedy was shot. Andy talks about the hope associated with Kennedy, and how much of that hope died along with him that day.

It’s just that sort of hope that’s the backbone of what Andy does. Really—and there’s no way to put it without it sounding grandiose—he is carrying on a legacy. The best way he knows how. And the best Andy Block can do just happens to be better than most of us.

"It’s important to keep a sense of outrage. That helps put logs on the fire and not bury our heads in the sands and say, ‘Everything’s fine.’ To do this work, we need to remember that things aren’t what they should be. That people are still treated horribly. That policy makers make decisions that are counterproductive and inhumane."

But how does he keep that outrage at a useful simmer, not letting it boil over into cynicism?

"The good days and moments help," Andy says. "When you get a child back in school. When you get a child out of the system, or the General Assembly makes a decision that expands protections for children, the water behind the dam goes down a little bit. You feel like it’s not hopeless. And that it’s worth being outraged."

The day that Andy was in Hampton and the judge sentenced Christina to serve out the rest of her time, she spent the night in the city jail before being transferred back to Bon Air. After the trial, she walked back into the holding cell, surrounded by older prisoners. She was visibly upset and terribly shaken. The women circled Christina, who had just been given some of the worst news of her young life. And they hugged her, letting the 20-year-old girl cry until she couldn’t cry anymore.

"It’s moments like those that make you feel it’s worth it," says Andy. "We all have our humanity. People have their failings, but none of us are as bad as the worst things we’ve done. And redemption is still possible."

For more information, see sidebar: JustChildren’s not so small victories

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