Strength to Make a Better Life
Jamie Paine puts her perseverance to use on behalf of kids in need
Published in 2023 Colorado Super Lawyers magazine
By Carly Nairn on March 1, 2023
Soon after Jamie Paine turned 7, her father suffered a series of life-threatening strokes. “I went in to wake him up and he just wouldn’t wake up,” she says. “That really was a pivotal movement in my life. I mean, my trajectory changed completely.”
The strokes left her father in need of live-in care, and Paine says her mother, Cathy, just wasn’t up to the task. Instead, she moved Paine and her sisters from North Carolina to Colorado, then started using drugs and acting erratically, moving the family frequently after forgetting to pay her bills. Years later, the family learned she suffered from bipolar disorder.
“We were in and out of shelters, random men’s basements, friends’ houses,” Paine says. “We never really had a stable place to live. And if we had a stable place to live, it was just kind of with whatever guy she was with at the time, and whether they wanted to have kids around or not.”
A few of the families they stayed with she loved and keeps in touch with, but one was abusive.
“Taking a fork, putting food on it that I did not care to eat, and shoving it down my throat to the point that I had blood marks in the back of my throat,” she says. “There was overly aggressive spanking and also inappropriate sexual things that I didn’t realize at the time was sexual abuse.”
School was a refuge from the chaos. In eighth grade, a teacher named Ms. Young became a mentor. “When you think of a person who’s molded and shaped your life, and someone looks back and is like, ‘I had this teacher,’ that was her for so many kids, and especially for me,” Paine says.
Ms. Young headed the mock trial team and encouraged Paine to try it. During one session, a law student came up to her after her argument.
“He said to me, ‘You need to be a lawyer,’” she says. “’You are very intelligent. You had very thoughtful arguments, and you were respectful, and it’s clear that you spent a lot of time researching.’”
With a clear career path ahead, Paine entered high school with confidence, yet her home life remained tenuous. Her mother qualified for Section 8 housing and food stamps, but in order to keep the lights on, Paine worked to pay the bills.
“I was basically the parent at that point—trying to parent a grown woman and an 11-year-old,” she says. “Meanwhile, I’m 14, I’m a freshman in high school, and all I’m trying to do is stay alive.”
Paine got a job at a pizza parlor at 15, then at Old Navy, working 40- to 60-hour weeks while maintaining straight A’s. For most of high school, she didn’t live with her mom, and she eventually persuaded her grandmother to take over her little sister’s care. Seeing the effect her mom was having on her sister’s emotional health made it clear she couldn’t be in that environment anymore.
Paine moved nine times during her senior year and was often without a permanent home. One afternoon, on shift at Old Navy, she received a phone call. “Two weeks before my 18th birthday, my mom did actually kill herself,” she says. “And I remember, again, being at this crossroads of like, ‘Am I going to go to college? I have all this crap on my plate right now, and I don’t really know what to do with it.’”
She pushed forward, attending the University of Northern Colorado on a Reisher Family scholarship for first-generation college students. After graduating from Campbell University Law School in North Carolina, Paine worked stints in DA’s offices and in civil practice before joining Griffiths Law in Lone Tree as a family law attorney.
Now married with two daughters—she also sees her father regularly, and visited him in North Carolina for Christmas 2022—Paine is also a court-appointed special advocate and volunteers with children in tough legal situations. “Because of my life background, I was very passionate that I wanted to do that for other kids,” she says.
Paine’s mother wrote down some thoughts before she died that have stuck with her to this day. “It said, ‘Jamie, I’m sorry I couldn’t do this anymore. If I was half as strong as you, I would never feel like this.’
“And I just remember thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, I am strong, and I can do whatever the hell I want to do to make my life better.’”
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