Egyptian American University of Chicago Law student Sarah Gad says her own personal experiences from seven years ago involving drug addiction has motivated her to understand the challenges facing many Illinois residents and to support pro bono legal work for those in need. Gad was seriously injured in an auto accident and became addicted to opioids to overcome the pain. That addiction led to her being incarcerated and influencing her to focus on changing a system to help those in need.
By Ray Hanania
An Egyptian American University of Chicago Law student, Sarah Gad, is running to represent the residents of the 1st Congressional District in Illinois, unseating Congressman Bobby Rush who has been criticized for failing to represent the entire district.
Gad said she will make providing healthcare one of her top priorities, adding that as someone who has been unemployed she understands the challenges that many families face trying to pay their bills.
The University of Chicago law student cited her work founding a legal foundation that provided pro bono legal work to assist families and individuals in need. Gad said she is motivated by her own experiences which included being incarcerated for addiction to opioids that began after she was in a serious car accident. The drugs she had to take while in the hospital became addictive and she was later convicted of opiod use, a problem she is using to showcase what is considered an insurmountable challenges she has overcome.
“I have been personally affected by many of the most pressing issues in our district and our country. I have fought to get my life back together after experiencing addiction and incarceration and faced the hurdles that keep people from rebuilding their lives,” Gad said.
During college, Sarah worked on groundbreaking HIV research at the Institute of Molecular Virology. She also spent time volunteering in HIV orphanages and community clinics in Sub-Saharan Africa and doing disaster relief work for the American Red Cross. In 2009, Sarah graduated from college with honors and a degree in Microbiology and a minor in African-American Studies. Sarah’s hard work and dedication to her studies earned her a full scholarship to medical school.
But, Sarah’s dream of becoming a doctor was cut short during her third-year of medical school when she was injured in a near-fatal car accident. She emerged from the accident with multiple broken bones, including a compound fracture of her right ankle that required multiple surgeries to repair. She was prescribed opioids for the pain, but the addictive potential of these medications wasn’t discussed. Sarah learned the hard way that she had a genetic predisposition to the powerful disease of addiction.
Thousands of individuals, especially the youth today, have experienced drug addiction in America and in Chicagoland, and the system oftentimes does not provide support to help them climb out of the challenges they face.
“I have lived through the anxiety of being unemployed and not having healthcare. I have taken on the financial burdens of pursuing higher education so I can have a better future,” Gad said.
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In less than two years, Sarah’s opioid addiction took her from the medical school classroom to a cell in one of the worst jails in the country—the Cook County Jail in Chicago. Despite being a nonviolent offender, she was placed in maximum security due to overcrowding. While in custody, she was sexually assaulted, beaten, stabbed, and denied medical care for her injuries—all of which took place with the knowledge and complicity of correctional officers.
After jail, the punishment wasn’t over. The stigma of having been incarcerated made it exceedingly difficult to re-integrate back into society in a meaningful way. That question she’d seen on countless applications in the past, though never paid any attention to—have you been convicted of a crime—became a barrier to housing, employment, and even respect—everything necessary for any citizen to lead a normal, stable, and productive life.
Drowning in debt from hospital bills and student loans—along with hundreds of dollars in restitution that she was ordered to pay so that she wouldn’t end up re-incarcerated—Sarah took the only job that was offered to her: an overnight clerk at a convenient store that paid minimum wage. But, $8.25/hour was barely enough to keep a roof over her head, pay for basic utilities, or restitution—much less, seek medical care for her injuries, counseling for her addiction and the trauma she sustained in jail, or repay her student loans.
Gad is the daughter of Egyptian immigrants and experienced how difficult it can be for a family to start a new life in a new country.
“As a person of color and a Muslim, I understand how racism can hold people back from realizing their full potential. But I am not unique—I have simply experienced what millions of Americans struggle with every day,” Gad said.
“This is what has motivated me to fight for my community for years, whether it be through the two Chicago-based nonprofits I founded, the pro bono legal work I have done or the legislation I helped draft. However, my activism opened my eyes to the fact that politicians are often the biggest obstacle to the prosperity of Americans, preferring to line their pockets over enacting meaningful change for the benefit of their constituents. That is why I decided to take my fight to Washington.”
Gad says that residents of the 1st District continue to face an imbalanced system of justice calling criminal justice, racial inequality, healthcare and financial inequality among her top priorities. Polling show that the incumbent, Rush, can easily be defeated if voters in the district became more involved in the voting process.
“I’m running for United States Congress as a Democrat in the 1st District of Illinois to fight against the injustices that have persisted in my community and around the country due to the complacency of our elected officials. My top priority is addressing financial inequality, which is inextricably linked to many problems that plague our district, including criminal justice, racial justice, healthcare access and reducing violent crime,” Gad said.
“Eliminating criminal records would reduce barriers to employment that many Americans face, particularly in communities of color who are too frequently victims of built-in racial bias in our criminal legal system. For many who are employed, their wages are insufficient to meet their family’s needs, which is why increasing the minimum wage is essential for all Americans to live with dignity.”
Gad cited the prohibitive costs of receiving healthcare one of the district’s top challenges, forcing many who experience health challenges into financial ruin.
“The prohibitive cost of healthcare forces many Americans to make the unthinkable choice between financial ruin or foregoing medical treatment. Moreover, untreated mental illness has turned the Cook County Jail into the largest mental health provider in the country, and mental health crisis calls and opioid overdoses have overwhelmed 1st District suburban law enforcement, which makes expanding access to mental health care access an essential part of any healthcare plan,” Gad said.
“Since many forms of crime stem from financial inequality, remedying these injustices and providing Americans with the tools to improve their lives makes it far less likely that people will turn to crime, which makes us all safer.”
Gad said America needs to refocus internationally adding the country must “move away from a military-based security role towards increased diplomacy in response to global threats.”
Saying America needs to be more proactive, she added. “We should be more proactive in combatting global security threats, rather than simply reactive. We should increase investments in development projects around the world to address the root causes of terrorism and violence.”
Gad said America must showcase its democratic ideals and stress our commitment to peace and our respect for the sovereignty of all other nations, adding America’s foreign policy must be based on “an unwavering commitment to international law,” including by insisting our allies maintain the same commitment. This shift in our foreign policy would make our country—and the whole world—safer while costing a lot less than our endless wars.
“My personal experiences with many of the struggles plaguing my community have prepared me to take on these challenges,” she said.
“Less than seven years ago, I was incarcerated for a nonviolent drug offense and lost everything. Today, I am finishing law school at the University of Chicago, running two nonprofits and representing people in the same courtroom where I stood handcuffed years ago. I fought my way back from rock bottom to be a voice for people who feel like they don’t have one. Unlike most politicians, I am motivated by personal loss, not gain. That is how I can assure my constituents that I will keep fighting and never abandon them or my principles if elected.”
For more information on Sarah Gad visit her website by clicking here.
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