Criminal Justice Internship leaves me wanting more

It’s hard to believe my internship at the LCADP is over. Although I’m not in New Orleans anymore, it won’t really be over. I feel very connected to this organization, so I will be keeping in touch, and finishing some projects over the next few weeks.

One task in particular was a challenging one for me: I created a phone app this summer, based on a calendar that was developed last year for Catholic Churches and High Schools to become more involved in social justice. This was new for me because I was not brought up in a religious household. I was able to accomplish the task however, and in doing so, I learned a lot about a part of peoples’ lives I knew very little about, and also learned how to work well with a different community. I was able to reach out to religious leaders and get feedback, advice and encouragement. This was a unique and wonderful experience that could have only happened by working for this organization in Louisiana.

This experience has given me an excellent platform to continue my entrance into the criminal justice field. I have made many connections this summer that I will carry with me both at Brandeis and in the outside world. I have applied to work for an Innocence Project housed at Brandeis because of this experience, and intend on looking in to Investigative Internships for next summer because of the work I did with investigators this summer.

After getting a taste of work in this field, I want to learn everything there is about criminal justice and human behavior. I am truly inspired and am actively seeking out more information. There is so much for me to learn, and I am very excited for all of it. I am keeping up to date on executions in the U.S., and continue to read through material I received this summer. A lot of the work I did was with defense attorneys, so I’ll be keeping in touch with them and following their work. I will also be keeping in touch with the inmates I met this summer, because they mean a lot to me, and I was lucky enough to become pretty close with them during my time in Louisiana.

My advice for students looking at this type of work would be to be prepared for very long hours. The people who work in the law offices I worked with do not sleep. It is very intense, hard, depressing work, so people with a sense of humor and a sense of justice are required. The humor is to stay sane, and the sense of justice is to remind you why you’re putting in 70 hours a week and not sleeping. It sounds horrible, but the work is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever experienced. I would also suggest doing more listening than taking. The people in this field know so much. They’re the best of the best because they’re self-selected to work as hard as they possibly can because most of the time they lose cases. They have to be smarter and better than the average lawyer and investigator, because they’re up against society’s norms and standards.

My goals and spirit for justice has been reinforced this summer, more than any other time in my life. I am positive that criminal justice is something I want to fight for. I was challenged a lot this summer by being in Louisiana. It’s a hard place to be when you’re fighting for the rights of poor people. What kept me going was the passion I felt, but also the grit and determination I observed from my boss and co-workers. It was beautiful, inspiring and refreshing. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer.

Links:

The botched execution in AZ hit me really hard. I had been following Joseph Wood’s case and went through an emotional rollar-coaster as he was granted stays then denied stays over and over. In the end, he was brutally killed, his execution taking over an hour involving a lot of pain. Read more: http://www.thereporteronline.com/opinion/20140802/botched-arizona-execution-proves-death-penalty-is-torture

More attention is being brought the the injustice of the death penalty! Let’s keep it going!

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Should-death-penalty-go-Law-panel-begins-review/articleshow/40862013.cms

 

No internship is complete without seeing a cute pup on the street.
No internship is complete without seeing a cute pup on the street.
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Great book to check out. This is an early edition given to Sister Helen, but it’s coming out soon, so look out for it! Bryan Stevenson is one of the leading Capital Defense Attorneys in the world; truly an amazing human being.

 

First Post from New Orleans!

At work in the Law Library
At work in the Law Library

I’ve been in New Orleans for about a week. I could say I love it, but it’s more complicated than that. This new world I’ve stumbled into inspires me. The love inspires me, the hate inspires me, and the fact there is so much I don’t just know, inspires the hell out of me. Everything down here is extreme. Things are very different, but to just label them “different” excuses the northeast from the problems of racism and sexism it still experiences as well. That’s why I say things down here are “extreme”.

My first day on the job, I saw a Senator greet two male interns with a handshake, and overlook the outstretched offer of a woman’s hand. I’ve heard the cheers of the Senate after a conservative bill has passed. There’s nothing that seems to break up the Old Boys’ Club that is: Louisiana Government. This week in a committee hearing, I sat behind the mighty Warden Cain of Angola Penitentiary, as he influenced others with his presence. All of this reassures my decision to come work for the Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (LCADP).

View of Baton Rouge from the top of the State House
View of Baton Rouge from the top of the State House

The work I’ve been doing at the State House involves interviewing Legislators on how they feel about the death penalty in general and in the context of a few bills that have been brought to the floor. Earlier in the session a bill was written that would bring back the electric chair. My organization worked really hard to put major pressure on that bill, and since it has turned into a “secrecy bill,” saying that the records containing the names of the compounding pharmacies that provide the lethal drug will be sealed and secret to the public. I went with Sidney as she testified against the bill in a committee hearing. We will find out next week what happens, but it’s not looking too promising.

LCADP is housed in downtown New Orleans in a building dubbed “The Justice Center”. It is called such because of its incredible inhabitants. Along with LCADP, the Capital Appeals Project, the Louisiana Capital Appeals Center and the Promise of Justice Initiative are located in this quirky building of hard working, passionate individuals. I’ve never felt more like I belong somewhere than I do here.

My orientation to The Justice Center was with the other interns in the building. They are all law students working for the other organizations, but we were all placed together for a one-day training. We learned about the building; how to lock up, turn off the alarm, navigate the maze that is this building, etc. The session also included learning all about capital defense, which was so interesting to me. This kind of law is very intense and fascinating. It’s definitely some of the most challenging work lawyers do, described by the staff as literally being made up by their own sweat, blood and tears. So learning about the litigation was important because although I won’t be doing that type of work this summer, I’ll be working very closely with lawyers and the other interns, as well as the fact that I might want to do this exact work in the future. The last thing we went over was the need for all of what we do to be extremely confidential. They were very clear that we are quite seriously dealing with life or death situations, and nothing can leave the office. That was comforting… After the collective introduction I met with my boss and went over some more information specific to LCADP.

LCADP is finishing up with the House and Senate sessions, so we will shift our focus from lobbying to community organizing. One task we have is to expand our vision to include helping victim’s family members. I have been put in charge of reaching out to victim’s rights organizations, support groups and District Attorneys offices to foster relationships with these communities. I am looking forward to traveling around the state to meet people in charge of these groups, and start working together to make things safer, more comfortable, and hopefully more just for all involved in this difficult process.

“Process” is a word that comes up often. Everything we go through is a huge process. Litigation takes so much time with capital cases, which is one reason it is much more expensive to even attempt to carry out the death penalty than it is to keep a man in jail his entire life. The journey that brought me here is one that I’ll always be more than thankful for. When Sister Helen Prejean came to Brandeis, I feel in love. I heard her stories and listened to her messages, but what really got me was not something that can be pinned down. It isn’t anything I heard or saw, but instead everything I felt. Sister Helen spoke directly to my soul and there was no snuffing the fire she lit in my heart. I knew I needed to be in an environment where this passion could be fanned and explored. I knew Sister Helen was the person to help take me there. So we met and we spoke, we laughed and we connected. Through the next month, we formed a friendship, and she set me up with an interview with subsequently, my current boss, Sidney.  Things fell into place because our hearts were in sync, and our passion, unyielding.

It’s only been a week, but I know I’ve found a place that I can feel inspired, fulfilled, and challenged. I thrive in dysfunctional places, and I’ve definitely found one here. But for all the difficulties Louisiana faces, there is magic to it; it’s powerful and unique and so full of life. I know I’ll get frustrated with the politics and the social norms I’m not accustomed to, but that’s the whole reason I’m here. I will and have already met amazing people from Louisiana. It has certainly moved into a special place in my heart. In addition to falling in love with the city and the people, I will also learn how to work with certain people I don’t see eye to eye with, and I will learn how to grow and help others grow. I will make sure to be humble, and learn a whole lot more than I ever expect to teach.

Good news: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/06/new-low-in-preference-for-the-death-penalty/

 

Mid-Point Post from New Orleans

I have now been in New Orleans for over a month. Working at the Louisiana Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (LCADP) has certainly opened my eyes to things I could only imagine. My time here has been full of long hours, incredibly interesting material, good experiences, and inspiring coworkers and clients. My role has changed drastically since the beginning of the summer. This is partly due to the staff with whom I’ve been working, and how interested I am in the law.

I am the only intern for LCAPD, and the only undergraduate intern in the office. The rest of the interns, who are all law students, work for a non-profit law office dealing with capital cases, called Capital Appeals Project (CAP). We all work together in the law library, and I’ve been able to learn a lot from them about the appeals project. I have enjoyed this tremendously, and am incredibly grateful that I’m getting even more out of this internship by working so closely with other offices. This has really fulfilled my personal learning goal.  Each day I am learning something new just by talking with the other interns.

Another goal I had this summer was to learn if community organizing is something I want to do in the future. So far, I’ve been able to get a glimpse at that life. Although it’s something that I respect greatly, and enjoy, I think I’ve found that it may not be for me. Lately, I have been reaching out to murder victims’ family’s rights organizations and grief councilors. Our organization’s hope is to form a relationship with these community members so we can better help grieving families. This was challenging because our stance on the death penalty initially sets us up to not seem sympathetic to victims and their families. However, after I was able to introduce myself, I explained that we are against the death penalty partially because of the extreme cost. If all the money used in the appeals process could be redistributed, then the families who need financial assistance could have some relief. This was very affective, and those we met with agreed with us, for the most part. I am thoroughly enjoying meeting with councilors and organizers. It’s a long road, however, because by meeting with them, I’m realizing that their issues with the system are just as grand and challenging. This makes it harder for me to stay focused, and makes me feel a little unsure of things because in order to work together we need to communicate openly and often. I feel like a lot of these relationships are shaky and difficult, because there seems to be only so much people are willing to do for others because they have so much work to do themselves.

My academic goals are expanding and shifting to fit my internship. I have been working on an important project involving a calendar that was created last summer called the “Respect of Life Calendar.” It was marketed to Catholics who wanted to get more involved in Pro-Life issues. The goal is to expand the idea of “pro-life” to include environmental justice, criminal justice, and human dignity issues. My job is to take this framework and expand on it to make something practical that can be used regularly. I have been researching and writing content for a hand out and phone app for Catholic high schools in Louisiana, and bulletins and inserts for Catholic churches. The focus on Catholics in Louisiana is due to the fact that if the death penalty is voted down in this state it will be because of them. The Catholic Church is opposed to the death penalty, and there is a very large Catholic population in Louisiana. If we can help inspire the Catholic community to speak up, we might be able to make some lasting change.

One thing that I’ll take away from this summer is how proud I feel. I am proud of the work we are doing. I am proud that we are dedicating our time to a job that most people don’t want to do. Working directly for people who have been described as the “worst of the worst” is something I’ll never regret, or ever think is not 100% worth my time. I’m not better than anyone I’m meeting. I am a person, and I’m excited to be doing what I’m doing.

Because of the intensity of this work, I am learning how to conduct myself in a serious, respectful and supportive way. I am learning how to hold back at times when I shouldn’t reveal everything I know, and I am learning how to form bonds and connections with community members and inmates. I am also learning how to manage my time. In this field, there is always something next. There is always more to do, and it has been challenging for me to stop working at the end of the day, and not get overwhelmed. It is hard for me to compartmentalize and leave work at the office, so that is something I’ve been working toward. I’m not there yet, at all, but this internship has helped me to identify what I need to start focusing on in order to make sure I don’t burn out.

Overall, I’ve learned a lot about how to present myself in certain situations, and how to find information through research and outreach. In addition, working with law students has really taught me how to fully commit to something. I have not worked as hard as they do (and as hard as I am this summer) in all my schooling. I am excited to see what I can learn when I apply myself as much as I am now.

 

For more on the Capital Appeals Project:

http://www.thejusticecenter.org/cap.php

 

One of the great community groups I had contact with this summer:

http://silenceisviolence.org/

The Law Clerks and me in the library, aka: our office
The Law Clerks and me in the library, aka: our office.
Louis Armstrong memorial at Algiers Point, New Orleans.
Louis Armstrong memorial at Algiers Point, New Orleans.