Breianna Martinez’s story is one of perseverance and triumph. She just graduated from the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC), the first in her family to get a degree, and is determined to continue her education to become a defense attorney. She wants to help those who have been wrongly convicted of a crime — namely her father.
About four years ago, Breianna’s dad received a life sentence for a crime she says he didn’t commit, and using her education, she plans to try to help overturn the conviction someday in the appeals process. She knows all too well how quickly life can deteriorate when a loved one is sent through the criminal justice system.
“While attending UAGC, my dad was accused, tried, and falsely convicted of a crime,” Breianna says. “He was sentenced to life in prison. Over the years, I witnessed the prison system wither away at my dad to the point that he is no longer able to walk or even remember who I am.” She continued, saying, “Losing my dad has been the hardest thing I have ever experienced. But UAGC gave me hope that I could be the change for people like my dad.”
As a result of her father’s withering physical and mental health, Breianna has become his voice.
Read on to learn more about how the loss of her father to prison and its aftermath pushed Brie to work full-time while attending UAGC so she could support her loved ones.
Educator, Coordinator… Lawyer?
For the past five years, Breianna, nicknamed “Brei,” has been working at a non-profit preschool in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that partners with the Head Start government program to provide education in low-income areas. She started there on a whim through her mom, then fell in love with the kids.
“If you have a passion for it, it doesn’t really feel like you’re going to work,” Brei says. “It feels like you’re playing with kids.” Brei worked for four years as an educator, all the while attending UAGC full time.
Toward the end of her degree completion, she knew it was time for a career change. Brei originally was majoring in sociology, but when her dad was accused of a crime, she decided to add a second major in political science* to her plate.
“My degree has nothing to do with ECE, but I had fallen in love with the company I work for, and their morals, and I really didn’t want to leave,” Brei says. She switched to the corporate side and worked in enrollment for a while, where she helped families qualify for the Head Start program. Not long after, she was promoted to the human resources department and is now the human resources recruitment coordinator, heading all recruitment for the organization.
“The Early Childhood Education field struggles with finding qualified staff, so I decided to step up and help grow our future early childhood educators,” Brei says. “I come with a different perspective and offer a different insight into what can be done to help bring in the future educators of our youth.
On her 21st birthday four years ago, Brei’s dad was arrested and charged with assault.
“We had everything on camera,” Brei said. “We had proof it didn’t happen. It’s people who aren’t educated in the field determining someone’s fate.”
Despite the evidence, her father was sentenced to life in prison on her 22nd birthday.
“That’s when I added political science,” Brei says. “I decided being a defense attorney was for me. I want to be the voice that nobody wants to be a voice for. Losing my dad to the faulty justice system inspired me to try and spark a change in our system. I want to help those in society that are often overlooked or seen as unworthy of help.”
Brei shares a story that unfortunately many families in the United States are facing every day. The Innocence Project estimates that 1% of the American prison population — more than 20,000 people — are currently wrongfully incarcerated.
AS a part of finding her voice, Brei wants to partner with the Innocence Project to help her dad. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a backlog in the court system, so he hasn’t been able to go through the appeals process yet.
Flexibility at UAGC
Brei says she is grateful for everyone at UAGC who helped her during the time she was going to school, working full-time, and trying to be a voice for her dad.
“He went in healthy,” Brei says of her dad. “His health took a turn for the worse. He no longer remembers his family. He can’t walk. He can’t use the restroom on his own. So, I make sure I’m his voice.”
The flexibility she experienced at UAGC enabled her to get through the difficult time in her life.
“I had a lot of times, I was down mentally,” she recalls. “Losing my dad, it was very hard. It was hard to focus on a million things. The advisors at UAGC were patient and kind and helped me navigate through this time and for that, I am eternally grateful.”
In May 2022, Brei earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with an additional major in Political Science*. Since then, she’s received two raises.
“UAGC offered me that flexibility to push ahead while still working and building my resume at the same time,” Brei says. “The flexibility was everything. I needed that flexibility and ability to take one class at a time. Earning my degree changed everything for me. It has already opened so many doors for me and brought me closer to my ultimate goals. I no longer have to work two jobs to make ends meet.”
As soon as she passes her LSAT, Brei plans to enroll in law school. She visits her dad when she can and tries to communicate at least once a week.
“When I go in to visit, he’ll tell me things like, ‘I have a daughter you remind me of,’ or ‘I have a daughter going to school for law. I’m so proud of her,’” Brei recalls. “Even though he doesn’t necessarily know who I am, knowing he would be proud of me is the biggest push for me. I highlight that hard work and dedication do pay off and life experiences do not define you. I highlight that there can be change. I show that you can be the change and fight injustice.”
*This program is no longer accepting new enrollments.
While all academic requirements have been satisfied, degree(s) may not yet be conferred.