Judge Wanda Dallas used to be known as the social worker DA. “I don’t think anyone purposefully sets out to become criminals,” she says, “they fall into this because something is missing in their life. I try to look for what’s missing.” To Wanda being a judge isn’t just a job, it’s a service. “I have to make sure I never have a bad day. I can’t give less than what people deserve to have.”
Here are some insights from Wanda about life, work, and the future.
When did you realize you wanted to be a judge?
I never knew I wanted to be a judge, but I knew I wanted to go into law at a very young age. As a kid I found some law books at the library and couldn’t understand a thing. I never wanted to be something I didn’t understand, so when I was 11 I realized I needed to go to law school.
You did a variety of jobs when you were younger—from delivering papers, to tobacco farms, to factory work. How did these experiences affect you?
I think they made me aware of the importance of working hard. Nothing was ever given to me. Sometimes I think young people who only go to school miss something. That’s only one dimension. When you work hard and get through school too, you have a different perspective on life.
I understand you had a difficult childhood. What would you tell your younger self that you now know?
I would probably tell my younger self “don’t lose hope.” If you lose hope you lose sight of the help that’s out there for you. If you reach out and get support it keeps you grounded and focused.
Did your childhood affect your parenting?
Yes. I wanted my children to have something I felt I didn’t have. I don’t like to talk about my mom and her limitations, but she had them based on the obstacles she faced. I felt like the best service I could give her memory was to be a good mom.
Wanda and her daughters
There are many single mothers out there who are struggling, what would you say to them?
It’s very, very hard. My fourteen-year-old daughter told me she doesn’t want me to be a single mom anymore. She said, “How will I know what a normal relationship looks like, if I don’t see one?” I thought that was so profound. She sees fragments of her mother and father, but I want her to look at one unit and see it can be successful.
As single mothers we have to be there for each other. If we can support each other we can raise successful children. They will not be more challenged, simply by virtue of the fact we’re raising them alone. You can take the best of who you are and the best of what you’ve been given, and give that to your child.
What do you like most about your job?
I love when young people come in my court. I’m always trying to figure out, “What am I supposed to say?” I love finding the right words and seeing something spark inside them. I tell them I want them to go back to school, that I want them to focus on what they’re doing with their life. Everyday they tell me, “Wow, I did not expect this.” To me, that’s the biggest compliment.