When Kattina Anglin tells the story, she imagines she can still feel the principal’s hands on her back, literally pushing her out of the school gates.
She was 14 and pregnant when she was formally expelled from the Cayman Islands High School.
But she didn’t take the punishment lying down. She bought a copy of the Education Law and campaigned to be re-admitted to school.
“I didn’t see anything in there about not being able to go to school if you were a teenage mother,” she said.
Anglin believed the law gave her the legal right to an education and she returned to school for the 1986 school year. The principal disagreed and escorted her off the premises.
With the law in hand, she went up to the government administration building, the Glass House, and refused to leave until she was re-admitted to school. The pressure paid off and she was allowed to complete her senior year.
The lesson stayed with her and kindled an ambition she held throughout her tumultuous life – to become a lawyer.
“I was not the first teenage mother to get thrown out of school, but I was the first to go and get a copy of the law and ask them to let me back in,” she said.
The story has been both an inspiration and a weight she has carried ever since.
Until recently, whenever it came up, it was in the form of a well-meaning reprimand.
“My mother would always say to me, ‘Why did you go to all that effort to get back into school if you were just going to throw your life away?’” she said.
For the better part of three decades, Anglin struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. For a while, she was homeless.
“Everybody would always talk about how smart I was and how I should have been a lawyer,” she said.
It was a reproach as well as a compliment.
The chances of a professional career seemed long gone until what she describes as a “divine intervention” changed her course in life.
“I was walking along Birch Tree Hill. I had on a pair of size 13 slippers I had gotten from an old man and I had a conversation with God. I said, ‘I have been a real bad manager of my life, I am going to hand it over to you and let you fix me.’”
That was five years ago.
Anglin says she hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol since that day. In 2017, she signed up for the entry exam to enter Truman Bodden Law School as a mature student and was accepted to pursue her law degree.
In May this year she completed her final exams, filing her assignments by email from home in the midst of the pandemic.
And last month, she got the news she had been waiting her whole life to receive. She had passed with honours.
“I went straight up to my mother’s room and I said, ‘Mama, I’m a lawyer.’ She said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’
“She has lived this with me. She has spent many nights praying for me,” Anglin admits.
Now she is starting an administrative services business and preparing to take the professional practice course – the next step towards being called to the bar in Cayman.
She hopes she can use her qualifications and her understanding of all walks of life in Cayman to help others.
‘There is always hope’
She also hopes her story can serve as an inspiration.
“Over the last couple of years, I have looked back on my life and realised how much of a volcano, tornado, hurricane, earthquake life I was living,” she said. “There was always something reacting or exploding.
“Five years ago, I had just spent the last of my savings. I was broke, I was homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol, and I was walking on the road thinking I had blown it for the last time.
“I was so far down in a hole and so many people had given up on me… I had given up on me, too.”
She added, “If enough people hear my story, maybe they will understand there is always hope. As long as you are alive, there is opportunity for change.”
Mitchell Davies, director of the Truman Bodden Law School, said Anglin’s success showed it was never too late to pursue your academic dreams.
The school has a mature student entry exam aimed at people who may have the intelligence and the analytical skills to study law but lack the formal qualifications.
Rhian Minty, who was her personal tutor for three years of law school, said Anglin had “blossomed” during her time at the school.
“She is a real tough cookie,” Minty said. “She has always been incredibly receptive to learning but she really found her confidence in her second year here.
“Because she has had such a journey already, she is equipped with the tools she needs to succeed.”