Woman Who Narrowly Avoided Prison Ends Up Back In Same Judge's Court Who Presided Over Her Convictions — This Time, She's A Lawyer

She overcame her addiction and got a law degree from the University of Chicago.

Sarah Gad holding her law degree Facebook / Sarah Gad

Sarah Gad had a difficult journey from a promising medical student to a young woman trapped in the clutches of opioid addiction. Despite losing years to the addiction, she overcame it and even became a criminal defense attorney, defending people in the same courtroom she found herself in for drug use.

In 2012, before her addiction, Gad's life was following a script many would envy. A full scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh, a prestigious rotation at the Mayo Clinic, and dreams of a medical career stretched before her. Then, a car accident shattered her dreams and introduced her to the pain-relieving but addictive world of opioids.


Gad became addicted to the opioids as a result of a car accident.

"I began to wonder if I had a problem when I found myself reaching for my pill bottle first thing in the morning," Gad wrote in a 2019 article in Marie Claire.

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She isolated herself, gained weight, and eventually withdrew from school. The descent into addiction was a terrifying slide into a life she no longer recognized.

"I looked in the mirror and was shocked. I barely recognized myself. It was like I had fallen down the rabbit hole and didn't notice until I'd already hit the floor," she wrote.

Between 2013 and 2015, Gad found herself caught in a cycle of arrest, jail, rehab, and relapse. A nonviolent drug offense became a revolving door, leading to physical injury, PTSD, and unending despair. 

"Jail was not the slightest bit rehabilitative. I was booked into jail with an addiction and released with an addiction plus PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, broken nose, and a 4-inch stab wound in my thigh," Gad wrote.


Yet, Gad's darkest hour became a turning point. Arrested for her third nonviolent drug offense in 2015, she faced the horrors of withdrawal in jail.

Upon release, she returned home to find her family had removed all drugs, but her addiction drove her to a hidden stash. An overdose followed, leading to an awakening in the back of an ambulance.

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"Though it nearly killed me, my overdose ultimately saved me," Gad wrote. Treatment with buprenorphine/naloxone, known as Suboxone, became her way out, and she's been sober since.


It wasn't an easy path. After a brutal stint in a Chicago jail, her case drew the attention of famed attorney Kathleen Zellner. Gad found purpose in assisting Zellner with wrongful conviction cases.

"I found the work to be very rewarding," said Gad, recounting her time helping to free a man from a wrongful murder charge. 

After she narrowly avoided prison, Gad is now a lawyer in the same judge's court who presided over her convictions.

Inspired, Gad applied to law school and eventually graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 2020, overcoming a judge's doubts and even beginning her studies with an ankle monitor.


Now, as an accomplished criminal defense attorney, Gad's work on behalf of the wrongly accused has borne fruit. One client, Ben Richardson, was cleared of all charges while standing before Judge Barnett, the same judge who had once decided Gad's fate.

The story of Sarah Gad is more than a personal triumph. It's a stark reminder of the challenges facing those caught in the crosshairs of addiction and the criminal justice system.

Gad's journey from addiction to redemption, from a young woman on the brink to a powerful advocate for justice, is an inspiring reflection of what is possible when the right treatment is made available.


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Ethan Cotler is a writer and frequent contributor to YourTango living in Boston. His writing covers entertainment, news, and human interest stories.