Monique Patton, Assistant State’s Attorney (Cook County)
What drives your work, what is your why?
I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. Specifically, I attended middle school and high school in and around the Englewood neighborhood and spent a lot of my childhood in the South Shore area of the city. I know what it is like to live in those environments and I know how difficult it can be to stay on the right path. But, with family support and the help of mentors along the way, I was able to avoid negative peers and behaviors and make extremely positive gains in my life. My work as a prosecutor is driven by my desire to serve the communities where I grew up in a meaningful way. I can work to get justice for those victims of crimes, but I can also serve as a beacon of hope to those who view the criminal justice system as one designed to harm them, instead of protecting them. It is my goal that as an African-American woman who is a career prosecutor, I always use my life experiences to make wise, pointed, and informed decisions on achieving justice for our communities.
What is the moment/event/situation that inspired you to enter the field you are in now?
I do not have a specific moment, event, or situation that inspired me to become an attorney. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an attorney. But, what’s inspired me to keep going and what’s inspired me to keep striving in my career as a prosecutor is the idea that I have to make my grandmother’s sacrifice worth it – worth everything she gave up at almost 60-years’ old to take care of a 2-year old child that she had no intention on raising. My grandmother took care of me essentially my entire life. She passed away 3 days before I took the bar exam. I thought about not taking the exam and I thought about giving up. The night after my grandmother passed, a family friend called and said to me, “I know you. I know what you’re thinking. You still have to take your exam. Your grandmother did not give up on you. So, you cannot give up on you.” And that . . . that is what keeps me going.
What do you believe best prepared you to be successful in your career?
I am best prepared for success in my career because of my childhood and life experiences. Growing up in underserved communities and working to achieve as much as your peers in areas with better resources is a unique experience, and I can genuinely say that it is not an experience that I share with many of my counterparts. But, having that personal knowledge and understanding of what our underserved communities look like and how they operate and overcome obstacles, helps me to make better decisions. That perspective allows me to tackle cases and problems in a way that some of my counterparts, while extremely educated and competent, cannot simply because they do not have the life experience that I possess.
Who is the mentor that has made the most impact in your life and why? What was the best advice they gave you, and how has it stuck with you throughout your career?
I do not have one mentor that has been impactful to me in a singular way. When I think of the mentors that I have had, they have all helped me in many different ways and without just one of them, I would not be where I am today. My grandmother who raised me and taught me about life. That family friend that called me has taught me to never be comfortable; to keep seeking out the next thing to accomplish. There were countless professors who encouraged me to keep writing, keep studying, to participate and join certain groups and activities to hone my skills and broaden my network. There are mentors now at my current office in the form of old and new supervisors and more experience colleagues who understand who I am, what I want to achieve, and are guiding me to help me get there. But, either directly or indirectly, they have all instilled one primary idea that has stuck with me, and that is, there is no real success without vulnerability and truth. I have to always understand that opportunities come when you open yourself up to risks and that actual success cannot be measured in titles or money, but only in finding peace in you and your work.