Earl London: Champion of Second Chances for 32 years

Earl London, Director of Judicial Services, retires after 32 years of service building SouthLight’s Court Deferral Program.
Earl has been a gentle giant, an unwavering and formidable advocate for those in our society deemed as lost causes. He is a champion of second chances. 

By Kim Stone

It began on Monday, December 11, 1989. Earl London walked into a SouthLight office, launching a 32-year journey. It has become a path that allowed him to change the lives of virtually thousands of justice-involved individuals.

Adorned in suit and tie, Earl has boldly stood in a Wake County courtroom offering hope and possibility to those tangled in addiction and the criminal justice system. 


Earl graduated from NC State in 1978 with a degree in Sociology – even had a cameo on the NC State Basketball team. At that time, he had no idea that his educational pursuits would not directly inform the career path he would follow. After graduation, Earl got involved with the Governor’s Crime Commission, which sparked a passion for the re-entry and diversion initiatives. Earl wanted to make a difference. And he did. 

Just three short years later, he would embark on a path that would change the course of history for SouthLight and the Criminal Justice system. Under Earl’s direction, SouthLight (then Drug Action) brought to life the diversion idea pitched by Wake County’s long-time promising District Attorney, Colon Willoughby. SouthLight introduced the first Felony Diversion program, the first Alcohol Diversion program, and the first Pre-Trial Diversion program. 

One of the most influential people in Earl’s life and career was Judge George R. Greene, Sr. Judge Greene was the first African American elected as a Wake County District Court Judge. Earl recounted that “Judge Greene was a unique, wonderful man who treated every person the same. He was ahead of his time.” Judge Greene taught Earl how to “Feed everyone out of the same spoon; it doesn’t matter who they are or where they are from.” 

Joesph Smith, Deputy Director of Judicial Services, shared that under Earl’s leadership, Wake County Diversion became a leader in the criminal justice system for the state of North Carolina. “As Director, he grew the program into the largest diversion program in NC serving thousands of defendants in the Wake County.”

Q&A with Earl

What are you most proud of? 

The best part, he said, “I’ve always really loved what I do. I never woke up with any regrets! I take a great deal of pride that I was able to help design and implement court programs that have lasted for years and will flourish well into the future. It has been my pleasure to witness the impact that our programs have had on the lives of the defendants that we have served in my time with SouthLight.    

It has been my pleasure to witness the impact that our programs have had on the lives of the defendants that we have served in my time with SouthLight.    

What are you grateful for? 

I am grateful for 30 years of marriage to my beautiful and talented wife, Elizabeth. We have two children Spencer, a social worker in Seattle and Katie who works in retail in Lexington, NC.  

What one piece of advice would you offer to the SouthLight family/team? 

“To borrow the words of George Bernard Shaw “Don’t wait for opportunity. Create it.”  

Earl London, SouthLight’s very own Gentle Giant! Thank you for the incredible history of service to our community. Thank you for teaching us to believe in second chances and one another.