by Alyssa Handel '03
The gavel knocked on the hardwood, sealing the fate of the defendant. Convicted at the federal level, his punishment—30 years for distribution—was hard to stomach, even for Assistant U.S. Attorney Josh Hanks '97.
While moments like these are not so rare for a prosecuting attorney, Hanks can’t help but reflect on this particular case. “The guy had a birthday the same week as mine. We’re almost the same age!” He solemnly admits, “Sometimes, it’s hard to think about those things, because you are a prosecutor. But even though they did something wrong, we’re talking about very long prison sentences.”
Yet, even in those difficult moments, Hanks is confident he’s where God wants him. Besides his often-difficult career, the Cedarville graduate is also married, a new father to a very hands-on eight-month-old, and serving in his hometown church in Charleston, West Virginia.
While at Cedarville, Hanks studied English literature, a choice that offered him versatility for graduate school. He’s quick to credit the outstanding education, solid Bible training and fresh perspective he gained during his four years at the University. After graduating, he went on to earn his Juris Doctorate at West Virginia University College of Law, where he figured out early on that he wanted to be a federal prosecutor. Then, while interning, Hanks met his wife, Angela, who also practiced law as a state prosecutor. She’s now a stay-at-home mom to their son, Charlie.
After working two years as the assistant prosecuting attorney for Kanawha County, West Virginia, Hanks applied at the U.S. attorney’s office. Today, he prosecutes violations of federal criminal laws related to narcotics and organized crime, such as drug trafficking, firearms, money laundering and organized criminal enterprises. He’s actively involved with all aspects of a case, from the investigation with federal agencies and local law enforcement/drug task forces to the trial and any appellate actions.
It’s no surprise, then, that these tense cases can be hard to leave behind at the office. “It’s something you have to learn to do,” Hanks says. “One thing I appreciate about the job is that I don’t very often deal with crimes that have victims [in the sense of injury or assault]. In that respect, it’s easier to do my job as a prosecutor. It’s a lot harder to be a prosecutor in a case where a child has been abused or a woman has been assaulted or victimized in some way. It was harder to leave that at work.”
Still, he realizes regular prayer and Bible study are vital. “I really make it a point to think about things that are good and pure, because there is a lot of baggage. In any given day you work with some not-very-nice people, it’s something that you always struggle with, I think, but as time goes by you learn how to handle it better.”
Another antidote in dealing with the emotional stress is the opportunity to confide in his wife, a fellow prosecutor with a specialty in abuse and sexual assault on children. The daily challenges of working in criminal law have given the Hanks’ family a reason to hold tight to their faith.
“Being a prosecutor is always looking at bad things,” he says, “so it has driven my wife and I to spend a lot of time engaged at church activities or ministry opportunities, spending as much time [as possible] on things that are uplifting.”
In general, it’s that feel-good sense of contributing to society, or wearing the “white-hat,” as Hanks puts it, that enthralls him the most. “I’ve really enjoyed working with local investigators who are ridiculously underpaid and ridiculously good at their jobs. They do important work—protecting society, cleaning up neighborhoods and making the place safer. I’m surrounded by the best of the best and it encourages me to be the best I can be, making a subtle difference where I can.”
It is Hanks strength of faith and family that enable him to perform a difficult job with grace and compassion. And just the kind of graduates Cedarville strives to produce.