Take Aways from My Time at the Hartford Public Defender’s Office

This past Friday, I completed my final day as an intern at the Hartford Public Defender’s office. While I am excited to enjoy the rest of my summer and prepare for my semester abroad to Peru over the next month, I am a little sad to be leaving behind an office that I have grown to love.

Logo from the Connecticut Public Defender’s website

Through my time here, I have learned a great amount about the criminal justice/legal system in our country and the great inequities that continue to exist within it. As far as social justice work goes, I have learned that it takes a lot of patience and willingness to make sacrifices. It can be hard at times when I consider the future career paths I would like to take, but also the reality that those paths typically involve being paid a great amount less. While there are many lawyers that work in the private sector making at least 3x the amount as the public defenders in my office, the lawyers I work with choose to do the work they do because of their passion for the job. Additionally, I have learned that it requires you to learn and work with people who often come from different backgrounds from your own.

View of Hartford from inside the courthouse

Something that I wish I had known when I started working at this internship last year, now having worked there for two consecutive summers, is the amount of emotional labor that goes into the job. Everyday I would hear stories from our clients and the people I met in lockup, telling me about their circumstances and how they ended up in their situation. I can be a very emotional person so it was hard at times to hear these very painful stories, or hear about the very little means many of the families in Hartford live off of. It was also hard at times as I learned some of the people I would talk to would often lie to myself and other interns if they thought it would help them have a better outcome in court. This was hard because while I have a great desire to help others, not knowing whether some people were being truthful or not made the job incredibly difficult at times.

If I were to give advice to someone else who wanted to start interning at the Hartford Public Defender’s office or at another public service law firm, I would tell them to come in with an open mind and ears. Most of our clients struggle just want to be heard as they often feel they have little voice when it comes to their case. By giving our clients an opportunity to talk to myself and the other interns at court, I hope it allowed some to feel they were listened to and valued.

Picture of the outside of Hartford Police Department during a visit I took while delivering a subpoena with one of the investigators from our office.

For people accused of criminal charges, it may feel like they have no one to support them and that they are looked upon as less than because of something they may have allegedly done. For many of the reasons I have discussed over the course of this summer, I believe the work done at the public defender’s office is some of the most important work done in the legal field. While I am sad to be leaving this office and its amazing staff behind, I look forward to visiting everyone in the future and continuing to do social justice work throughout my career.

Thanks for a great summer!

– Olivia Kalsner Kershen ‘19

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