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Success story: BHS alumna lands career as New York City prosecutor

Sherene "Angela" Crawford, a 1994 alumna from Bemidji High School, is all smiles having just graduated from New York Law School in May. She recently landed a job as a prosecutor for the New York County District Attorney's Office in the borough of Manhattan. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

She sold everything including her car. When she ended the lease on her apartment, Sherene "Angela" Crawford reassured herself when she got to New York City she would find a place to live and eventually a job.

It was the summer of 2001 when the 1994 alumna of Bemidji High School made it to New York City. She arrived with no job and no apartment.

Eight years later, at 33 years old, Crawford landed a job as a prosecutor for the New York County District Attorney's Office, under direction of District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

High School

Like so many students, Crawford graduated from high school unsure of what she wanted to do with her life.

It is easy to assume by landing such a prestigious career that Crawford was one of those outstanding, do-it-all, be-in-everything kind of students in school. Crawford will tell you her story was quite the opposite.

"Actually, I didn't like school," she said. Life in High School became monotonous after a while and she often felt others only saw her as "the girl with the big hair."

Sitting on her couch, unconsciously twisting strands of her spiraled hair around her finger, Crawford had little to say about her high school days.

She wasn't interested in civics, law, or history at the time, but she did exceptionally well in art and English classes.

She recalled one of her favorite teachers was Tom Pacholl, who taught English at the high school until he retired in 2003.

"Sherene was smart, but High School wasn't her cup of tea," said Pacholl. "The cliques, the bells, the rules, and regulations, they weren't her scene."

Saying goodbye

After high school Crawford attended St. Cloud State University for two years. After taking a semester off, she transferred to the University of Minnesota, and graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree in women's studies.

Throughout her college career Crawford met several attorneys and worked on delicate domestic violence cases. Her senior thesis focused on women in prison.

After college, Crawford worked for three years at a nonprofit group dedicated to assisting people enrolled in a "welfare to work" program.

By this time Crawford had often visited friends in New York City. Every time she visited the city, the more she grew to love it.

"The city suited my personality," said Crawford. "You can eat any type of food. It's very accepting to anybody and everything."

On Sept. 13, 2001, two days after 9/11, despite concerns from friends and family, Crawford moved to New York City. "I had dropped everything and was ready to go," she said.

Smoke from the collapsed towers was still bellowing above lower Manhattan when she arrived, yet Crawford remained hopeful.

New York, New York

Ironically, Crawford's first job was working at an agency helping people find work.

For the next two years she worked for a nonprofit group helping people get back on their feet. Her job was to visit all the shelters in the city and help people rebuild their lives.

"There was good and bad to the job," said Crawford. "I saw women who came to New York City, like I did, but had terrible things happen to them. On the other hand, I traveled all over the city and I met so many different people."

In working in the shelters and studying domestic violence cases in college, Crawford discovered the power of law - that a courtroom decision could change a person's life forever.

In 2005, Crawford applied to the New York School of Law and was accepted.

Balance act

The summer before she started law school, Crawford caught wind of a job opening up in the Family Justice Center in New York City Mayor Bloomberg's office. She landed the job.

Crawford worked full time at the center, training staff from 14 non-profit organizations in domestic violence work, while attending law school at night.

An average day consisted of working at the Justice Center from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 4:30 p.m. she would jump on subway to law school in downtown Manhattan, where she attended classes from 6-10 p.m. After returning home late at night, she ate dinner, did a little studying, and went to bed.

Weekends were her only time to catch up on reading the pages and pages of court rulings and cases assigned to her by her law professors.

"The first year was overwhelming and intense," said Crawford. "I did more reading than I'd ever done in my whole life."

Crawford's spent many nights on the phone with her mother, Julie Crawford, who provided a good ear and positive advice.

"Sherene was always good at being organized, so I knew she could do it," she said.

She continued the intense balance act of school and work for four years. Beyond her fulltime job at the Mayor's Office, she also landed two different internships in the summers, one of which was working for the Transit Workers Union upholding union law.

Law and order

In the spring before her graduation, Crawford applied for a job as a prosecutor for the New York County District Attorney's Office.

She competed against 7,000 law students for a position, and was one of 150 called to a fourth interview with Morgenthau.

"It was an honor to meet him," she said. "I thought to myself, 'This might be the only time to meet with him,' so I asked him about his home. He said his first wife was from Minnesota."

Crawford couldn't believe it when she was offered the job on the spot. She believes Morgenthau chose her because of her extensive experience in domestic violence cases, which can be difficult to prosecute.

"It was hard at first to think of myself as a prosecutor," said Crawford. "There are hard questions to answer, like 'What do you do with the mom who stole diapers?'

"You have a responsibility for upholding accountability. I realize my job holds power. Taking away someone's liberties affects their entire life."

Looking forward

Crawford graduated from law school in May. She now works in the New York County District Attorney's Office, which is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crimes in the borough of Manhattan.

Crawford follows in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy, Jr., who served as a prosecutor in the attorney's office in the early 1990s, and Supreme Justice Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who worked as an assistant district attorney from 1979-84.

"When she called and told us she was going into law, we didn't expect it at first," Julie Crawford said. "But when I thought about it, it made sense. When Sherene was little, she was always stepping in to help people. She was also very good at negotiating things - whether it was trying get out of the house or to mediate an argument."

When Pacholl, her English teacher from BHS, heard of Crawford's current work, he said:

"Sherene reminds me of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, 'Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.' Sherene found that string by following the music of her soul," Pacholl said.