I had a tough upbringing, I won’t hide it. As is true for many families today, we struggled. My home life was fraught with chronic and extreme domestic violence, untreated mental illness, and acute substance abuse. We need to stop the stigma and have a bold, honest discussion about trauma in the home so that children living with violence and substance abuse know they are not alone. It’s also about social justice. If we’re going to end financial inequality, we have to close the education gap. Before we can do that, we need to understand that children from households like mine can’t conjugate verbs or learn algebra if they’re thinking about what’s waiting for them at home.
Like many children, I had a natural sense that what was happening in my world was not right. Somehow I found a way to right my internal compass and find a way out of the cycle. Later, after my niece Renee was born into the same environment, I reached back and pulled her out as well. She is a now a Princeton grad, recently married, and traveling the world as she works. Proof that the success of one can spur on the success of others!
I believe, by speaking boldly and openly, we can, together, pull back the curtain of secrecy and take away the inherent shame that surrounds “family problems.” As your Congresswoman, I will focus on solving the basic issues that hold our children and families back, especially access to mental health services and drug/alcohol treatment, so that lost opportunities can become stories of success and happiness.
I began working at an early age, mainly to get out of the house. The work ethic stuck. I waited tables through high school, and when I got to the University of Southern Indiana, if I didn’t earn enough tips to pay my tuition, I didn’t take the class. Nonetheless, I finally made it through and left with a BA in Political Science.
Armed with a college degree, my first “real job” was as a legislative intern with the Indiana House of Representatives. I was then chosen from among Indiana’s top college graduates to serve as a Governor’s Fellow, where I spent a year rotating among state agencies to observe policies in effect and to suggest ways to improve services.
My first passion- before I became a lawyer- was figuring out how to get mentally ill offenders out of the criminal justice system, and how to effectively treat offenders for whom there was no other option, because I believed from first-hand experience that untreated mental illness is the root cause of our country’s worst social problems. Early in my career, I fought to convince Indiana’s legislature to pay for treatment programs for mentally ill offenders- a group few people care about- by showing how cost effective mental health treatment is, as compared to the non-ending rotating door of recidivism.
I went to law school at night at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis while I worked during the day for the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, and left Indianapolis to study abroad. I spent my last year of law school studying the commercial codes of China and the European Union, and attended classes in Shanghai, China followed by a comparative law program in London, England. I became General Counsel of Marbo, Inc. in 1993, and helped grow a small family-owned business into a world-class beverage distributor with trademark and distribution agreements all over the world including Russia, Latin America, and emerging markets in Africa and Eastern Europe.
I moved back to Indiana part time in 1997, and hung a shingle that eventually grew into a successful litigation practice. As a private attorney today, I represent the City of Chicago Board of Education in federal court; most of my cases involve either Constitutional law or education law. I also represent plaintiffs fighting to end discrimination in the workplace. When I was litigating from my kitchen table in Gary, Indiana, I tried the first successful discrimination case against the Village of Schiller Park. I also took on a formidable adversary everyone warned me I couldn’t beat- Oracle. Oracle filled my home office with boxes and boxes of documents, but I went through every single box and file, and read every page. I stuck with it and voila! We eventually won.
My family today consists of my wife, Jill, and my niece, Renee, whom I helped raise, to show her there was another way of life. I’m sorry to say she came from the same home I did, but I’m proud to say she escaped- like me, and made it to Princeton! That's her and her new husband Mark on their wedding day August 2019.
I loved delivering meals to Aids and HIV hospice patients through Open Hand Chicago, because our clients were shut-in, lonely, and discarded by society. Sometimes I was the only person they’d see that day, and they liked the company as much as they needed the hot meal. I also loved cooking and cleaning at Port Ministries on Chicago’s south side, where we cooked and served up whatever we were lucky enough to get- sometimes it was fresh turkey turned into noodle soup, and sometimes it was peanut butter. I can honestly say that I learned more from people who eat at soup kitchens than I learned in law school.
Something I wish I didn't have to do - but do anyway- is search for abused dogs who live out their entire lives at the end of a chain. It’s not only cruel, it’s senseless, because it doesn’t cost a dime to bring your pet into your warm home, instead of leaving them outside in the cold, alone and on a chain. In 2017, I started looking into how we could help those poor creatures, and I started a coalition of local animal lovers in Gary. We began by researching animal cruelty laws throughout the country, and succeeded in changing the outside tethering laws in Gary in March, 2019. If you check out GaryAnimalWelfare.org, that’s us!
The abused animal experience convinced me for the first time that I could actually make a difference. About this time, I met a man running for mayor whom I believed in, someone I thought would bring strength to Gary. It’s not easy to unseat a sitting mayor, but I knew he’d help turn Gary around. I campaigned and fought hard for Jerome Prince because he shared my values of helping the underdog. He wanted to turn Gary around- not for the politically connected, but for common people who deserve to have a decent grocery store. After the successful campaign, I became Senior Advisor to the Prince mayoral transition, reviewing documents, writing correspondence, and staffing the innovative “Reimagine Gary” process. Prince’s election as Gary’s new mayor has ushered in a new era of hope for Northwest Indiana, and good things are coming, I can feel it!
I’ve been a lawyer for 26 years. I practice in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. I’m a long standing member of the federal trial bar and my litigation history is public record thru Pacer.gov. I have represented the City of Chicago Board of Education since 2007.
I have the distinct honor of having both litigated Constitutional law extensively, as well as publishing Constitutional scholarship in several law reviews. A lot of us forget that the Constitution was wrought from extreme adversity. It was written at a time when murderous foreign soldiers could knock on your door, take your food, and sleep in your bed. It’s a living and breathing blueprint to the greatest human experiment of all time, with adaptations for the future already built in.
The flawed men who wrote it were inspired by a vision of the future where everyone would someday be equal, guided by a set of basic (and unheard of) human guarantees. I’m humbled by- and in awe of- the inspired genius of it.
Our nation is still a work in progress, with miles to go between the ideal and the real. But the Constitution didn’t happen overnight either, it started five hundred years earlier with the magna carta. The point isn’t a history lesson, it’s to stress how long it took to build our democracy to its imperfect state, and if we lose it, how long it could take to get it back. I’m running for Congress because I love our democracy deeply, and we’re seeing now that it is also fragile. Like no other time before in our nation’s very troubled history, our democracy, and our Constitution, are in need of a fierce advocate.
Indiana's Democratic Primary is May 5th, 2020
Vote for Sabrina Haake for United States Congress
Indiana's First Congressional District
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