Episode 22 – My Mama, My Lawyer, My Shield




Happy Mother’s Day! Illy is flying solo on this episode as we celebrate the matriarchs of the family household, mothers. This episode is dedicated to all things motherhood but, specifically motherhood as it relates to our punitive criminal legal system. We have two guests joining us this episode who will speak to the challenges, triumphs, and everyday life of working moms and mothers of incarcerated children.

Jacinta Hall, who serves as Assistant Federal Public Defender in Jackson, MS and who is also a member of the Gideon’s Promise faculty, talks about life as not only a single mother but, also a public defender navigating through our justice system. Ms. Shirley Billingly is the proud mother of three children. Two of her three children ended up getting trapped in the system. Ms. Billingly speaks about the struggles of traveling to see her kids, how she found strength within her community, and how to pay it forward to other mothers struggling to stay connected with their children while they are incarcerated.




Shirley Billingly is the mother of Serena Nunn. At 19-years old, Serena Nunn was arrested in a 24-person federal drug conspiracy. A jury found her guilty for conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. A federal judge sentenced her under the Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Guidelines to 16-years, 188-months, in federal prison.

After serving almost 11-years, President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence. Then, in 2016, President Barack Obama granted her pardon request.

Serena obtained her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and earned her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Serena, a former Public Defender in Atlanta Georgia, continues to use her story to inspire and advocate for criminal justice reform.

Ms. Billingly, along with her incarcerated son, helped create the name for a Facebook group called, Parents of Prisoners. Parents of Prisoners offers support to mothers of incarcerated children to stay engaged with and connected to their children while their children are imprisoned.



Jacinta Hall is a 2005 graduate of the University of Mississippi School of Law. Her legal career began as a clerk to the current Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, Leslie King, while he was the Chief Judge of the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

Jacinta then transitioned to the Hinds County Public Defender’s Office, where she remained until October 2013. While at the Hinds County Public Defender office, Jacinta served as the Intern Coordinator and as a lead trial attorney. Jacinta then moved to Memphis, TN, to serve as an Assistant Public Defender with the Law Office of the Shelby County Public Defender, where she represented adults and juveniles.

Jacinta has served as a board member and Vice-President of the Mississippi Public Defender’s Association and is a graduate of Gideon’s Promise where she currently serves as Alumni Faculty. Over the years, Jacinta has given numerous CLE’s courses on various topics concerning criminal law, including as a public defender Mentor in Residence at Yale Law School.

She has also been recognized as a Leader in Law by the Mississippi Business Journal. Currently, Jacinta is an Assistant Federal Public Defender in Jackson, MS, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law.




  • How did Gideon’s Promise support you as a mother during the beginning of your career?
  • The challenges that come with being a working mom in such a demanding career?
  • How to support your child if they are incarcerated?
  • The story of Serena Nunn from her mother’s perspective.

Gideon’s Promise: The Podcast can be found on Apple PodcastsSpotifySoundCloud,  YouTube and on the Gideon’s Promise website.



Gideon’s Promise: A Public Defender Movement to Transform Criminal Justice (2020) by Jonathan Rapping.