Growing up on the Big Island as a little girl, I saw my parents’ abusive relationship unravel into a horrible divorce and was dragged through the process. Later in high school, I found myself stuck in an abusive relationship of my own. It was a really bad time. My then boyfriend had held me down one day, shoved a gun down my throat, and told me that he would kill me. Later while I was driving in the car, he punched my face over and over, breaking five bones. When I finally got to my mom’s house, she could not even recognize me because of the purple bruises all over my face.
After building up the courage to call the police and go through the court process, I felt that the system failed me. He got 6 months in jail and was charged with a misdemeanor. I was still afraid for my life when he got out. I felt like nobody really cared during the legal process. I started struggling with alcohol to dull my feelings and pain, becoming a “high-functioning” alcoholic. I maintained a job, had my kids, but it was becoming a serious problem that was jeopardizing my entire life. I realized I could not keep living this cycle.
Getting sober did so much for me. It allowed me to feel my emotions and not mask it with anger or alcohol. It ultimately allowed me to forgive him, so that I could forgive myself. I have been sober for 8 years.
Those experiences shaped my desire to become a lawyer.
As a single mom of two, I earned my Bachelors degree after getting sober and my JD from Vermont Law School. I worked as a public defender in New Mexico and really poured my heart and soul into the job. I knew I wanted to come back home to Hawai`i and give back to my community. I love the work I do with the Legal Aid Society of Hawai`i because I know that I am serving the interest of the most vulnerable of our society through education and zealous advocacy.
We have the ability as attorneys to step in and say, “Yes, we can help you.” Our work can become deeply personal, so I am also open about my personal story if it will help people feel comfortable. I really do understand what it is like to be afraid, to feel helpless, embarrassed, and angry about everything. I let them know that I am human, too.
Today, I am good with who I am. The bruises have healed, the bones have healed, and I am grateful to be in a position where I can truly help others. It’s like that day when I was walking on stage to get my diploma, looking at my two kids, I felt like I had finally “made it.” I want help others to make it, too.
Managing Attorney, Kona Office
I choose to give to the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i because while I do not reside in Hawai’i, Hawai’i resides in my heart.
For the past 20 years my family and I have been blessed with the ability to spend more and more time in Hawai’i. The beauty of the land and people have made us feel welcome and at home. We consider Hawai’i the place we most want to be whenever time and pandemics allow. We hope to spend even more time in Hawai’i in the future, so much so that I even became a member of the Hawai’i Bar.
I have been in-house Counsel for a Fortune 50 Company for 20 years and I was an attorney at large law firms before that. I love what I do but I also realize that the large companies I help are not the only ones in our communities in need of legal services. Whether we think about it or not, the law touches almost every aspect of our daily lives. Unfortunately, and particularly through difficult times such as we are living now, the people who would benefit the most directly from legal advice are often the ones who have the least access.
I am grateful that organizations such as the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i exist to provide support to a community that I want to see thrive. I want to say thank you to the Staff and Professionals who work with the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i for the important work you do in providing access to legal services to those in our communities who are underserved and for giving the rest of us a way to be helpful.
Mahalo Nui Loa
Adriana I. Reyes-Villanueva