BYU Law graduating student Ben Aldana’s path to law school was far from traditional. “I shouldn’t be in law school,” he said. “In February of 2010 I was released from federal prison; I had just spent over six years incarcerated on drug-related charges. Before prison, my life was one of criminal activity and drug use. I had no ambition, no desire to do anything positive for myself, and certainly no drive to do anything for the benefit of other people.”
At the age of 23, Aldana had a federal judge tell him he would spend the next 96 months of his life in prison. He was released right after his 29th birthday. Shortly after getting a job in road construction, he started classes at Utah Valley University.
“I continued to work while attending school with the goal to go to law school,” he said. “Many of my experiences instilled within me a desire to change something about the justice system—although I wasn’t quite sure exactly what—and I knew law school would equip me with the skills to have an impact.”
While some people encouraged Aldana’s pursuit, others laughed at the idea of a felon wanting a legal education. “I had a conversation with one law school’s admission office during which I was told that I wouldn’t be going to their law school, no matter what,” he said. “Fortunately, BYU Law was more open-minded, and notwithstanding the strikes against me, the admissions office gave my application more thoughtful consideration than most of the law schools to which I applied. I still remember the day Dean Sorenson called me with the news.”
After his first year of law school, Aldana spent the summer working at the Bronx Defenders office in New York City. “It was a great experience, and convinced me that I wanted to work as a public defender,” he said. “I came back to my second year of law school and took nearly every course offered that related to criminal law. I also participated in a clinical alliance working at the Public Defender Office in Utah County.”
Aldana noted that his fellow classmates made his time at BYU Law worthwhile. “The people that I’ve met and come to know at this school are amazing,” he said. “I cannot overstate how grateful I am for the opportunity to have gone to this school with them. They are smart, and they regularly say and do things that cause me to reflect on how I can be more thoughtful and better at what I do.
After graduation, Aldana will work at the Utah County Public Defenders office with two of his fellow classmates, Mary Mottaghian and Bryson King (pictured above).
“Every time I stop to think about the fact that I’ve had the chance to go to law school here at BYU—and am about to graduate—I am in awe at the opportunity that’s been given to me. Whatever the reason, I intend to make good use of it, and I plan to make those who took a big chance in allowing me to come here glad they did.”
In the video below, Aldana discusses an experience he had with Judge Benson.