The start of a life focused on social justice for Colorado College graduate Dorothy Budd ’80 began with lessons learned in philosophy professor John Riker’s ethics courses.
“I’d always had an interest,” Budd said from her home in Dallas. “It really was sparked by Dr. Riker’s classes.”
That desire manifested itself while studying law at the University of Texas at Austin. She interned as a juvenile defender and realized she could make an impact working on cases involving children.
That experience led to jobs as a defense lawyer and child sex crimes prosecutor in Dallas. Budd is also a founding member of the UT Center for Women in Law.
She said she was successful because of the self-discipline required by the college’s Block Plan.
“That was great preparation for getting through law school and later, preparing for cases,” she said.
The demands of raising children with both parents working the irregular hours of trial lawyers prompted Budd to leave that career in the mid-1990s. She worked for Habitat for Humanity before being ordained as an Episcopal deacon, a role that focuses on community outreach helping the poor and mentally ill.
“She’s always had a spiritual calling,” said her daughter Peyton Budd ’12, a senior English major at CC.
While serving at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, her past and current careers converged.
The big news then was that new Dallas County district attorney Craig Watkins was reopening old criminal convictions involving potentially faulty DNA testing. Twenty-two men have been released since 2001 in that county alone — by far the most of any Texas county and more than all but two states — after new tests cleared them of wrongdoing. An additional five people have been exonerated outside of DNA testing. Most of those exonerations occurred during Watkins’ tenure, which began in 2007.
A Bible study participant told Budd that she saw the Holy Spirit at work in Watkins’ efforts. Budd had been paying close attention to the news, happy to note that none were from her time as a prosecutor.
Hearing that viewpoint made Budd realize the freed men’s stories had to be told. Her contacts with the district attorney helped her arrange a meeting with former prisoners.
“They weren’t too happy to see me when I walked in and introduced myself as a former prosecutor,” Budd said. “But we soon learned to trust each other.”
A series of interviews led to “Tested: How Twelve Wrongfully Imprisoned Men Held Onto Hope,” (Brown Books, 2010), co-authored by Budd and her daughter Peyton, which told the stories of how the men managed to survive, both in body and mind, being incarcerated for crimes they did not commit.
Budd is happy to have had the chance to work closely with her daughter. Most importantly, the book contributed to her life’s work, which started in a CC classroom.
“It really did converge with the book,” she said. “It’s amazing how college experiences can shape your life long after you’ve left.”