Gregory Robinson grew up attending church in a God-fearing family, along with his brothers and sisters. The ambitious young person made money honestly doing odd jobs in New York until a friend he wanted to help wound up in trouble. The streets pulled him in another direction after a friend was locked up for selling drugs. Displaying loyalty to the wrong people in his teen years challenged the morality of his upbringing.

“You can befriend Satan, and so that was kind of my problem,” Robinson said. “I remember telling God one night when I was sitting in the car, I said, ‘Lord, you know, I wish I could get locked up. But if I get locked up, that will really help because I can’t do this myself. I need to find a way to get out of this life because I am tired.’”

Another friend suggested that selling drugs would raise enough money to get their associate out of jail. The situation led Robinson to start dealing drugs.  At the age of 18, the price that Robinson paid for taking that advice was his own freedom.

“I know miraculous things happened in that trial, and I ended up being found guilty. I think it was 36 out of the 39 counts. I was found guilty of the three counts, and those were lesser counts, … it was a constructive possession charge. And everything was constructive meaning I didn’t do it myself for these particular charges. Someone else did it, but I had control of those other people who did it, and then they found me guilty and sentenced me to 12 and a half to 25 years,” Robinson said. “The first time they put me in cuffs (handcuffs), I felt relief.”

Prosecutors ultimately wanted Robinson to serve 144 and a half years. He was able to be released early on parole after serving eight and a half years, although he was sentenced to serve 12 and a half to 25 years in prison. Later the Court of Appeals overturned his gun conviction and his sentence was reduced to 10 -20.  While being detained in Clinton Correctional Facility, which is a maximum-security state prison in New York located in Dannemora, Robinson found himself shielded from shootouts and street life. In his late 20s, he enjoyed the best sleep he had in years, although it came behind bars.

Motivational seeds blossomed. Robinson became intrigued by the law and how it worked. His earlier dream of becoming an attorney resurfaced.

“My first time getting locked up, I just was intrigued with the men coming into the cell to the bullpens in the back, they were attorney’s public defenders,” Robinson said, mentioning that he observed Black men and women in the role. “I was looking at them like ‘I can do that.’”

Another pivotal moment of Robinson wondering about being on the other side of the law was sparked when he prepared for his release from prison. While completing different classes and courses in a pre-release at the classroom, Robinson spotted a bulletin board in a corner. Yellow stained newspaper articles displayed stories on it. Accounts about imprisoned people who served time for various offenses, but later became attorneys and even a judge, were shared. Even murder did not stop one person from entering the legal profession.

“Once I read that, I knew that God was letting me know, ‘you could do it,’” Robinson said, referring to his dream of becoming an attorney.

Although Robinson took college classes before he was incarcerated, he dropped out. He was inspired to return after prison and later graduated with a bachelor’s in English from John Jay College (CUNY).

His sister, Wanda Robinson-Burns, played a critical role in supporting her brother’s journey to restart life after incarceration. She offered a job to Robinson at a daycare center that she ran in her home.

“I made him (Gregory) one of the daycare providers,” Robinson-Burns said. “He could really relate to children… all the way up to the elderly.”

Gregory Robinson in 2018.
Photo courtesy of Gregory Robinson

Robinson-Burns said that she was legally permitted to allow Robinson to work at her business if she remained on the premises. Robinson ended up working as Robinson-Burns’ Parent Educator in a supervisory role, although Robinson-Burns had been discouraged from taking a chance to allow her brother to work around children. Robinson pushed forward relentlessly, balancing work and school. His current wife encouraged him to focus too. The CUNY alumnus decided to apply to law school. Robinson moved to Arizona after navigating through Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) challenges.

“Phoenix School of Law which later became Arizona Summit Law School, which [sic] was the school that gave me an opportunity,” Robinson said.

He earned his law degree in 2017. An opportunity to become an Administrative Law Judge in the Inspector General’s office in Arizona arose in February of 2021, although Robinson is not yet licensed. He reportedly worked in the position for 10 months. He also became a father and decided to study for the bar exam.

“I think that I’ve learned a lot and it has helped me determine that … I want to have my own law practice,” Robinson said.

Gregory Robinson appears at the law library at Phoenix School of Law while taking a study break for the bar exam.
Photo courtesy of Gregory Robinson

Robinson currently works for a law firm in Arizona. No matter what else Robinson decides to do professionally, Robinson-Burns will continue to feel proud of her younger brother.

“I love him, regardless if he was not a judge, or whatever,” Robinson-Burns said. “I love the man of God that he is. I love the man that he has become, so I will always support him.”

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