Recipient of Social Justice WOW

The author of this post received a Louis D. Brandeis Social Justice WOW Fellowship. Learn more: http://www.brandeis.edu/hiatt/funding/wow/socialjustice.html

I cannot believe that my time at Lawyers for Children has flown by so quickly. As each week passed, I truly believe that I became more and more integrated in this incredible organization and felt so comfortable there. While I feel like I accomplished many things throughout my summer, my proudest accomplishment is the new children’s “give-and-go” library that I started for the office. At the beginning of my internship, my supervisor told me that one of her dreams was to create a literacy project within the organization, and more specifically, to help young mothers bring literacy home to their own children. While sometimes it may be hard to get teenagers to begin reading, it is always important to stress literacy with children from an early age. Oftentimes our clients did not have the specialized knowledge or tools to support fully their children’s burgeoning literacy skills, so it was incredibly important to my supervisor and myself that we help our clients help their families. Reading has always been a passion of mine, and I was more than happy to take on this task. Over the course of the summer, I was able to gain support for this project from my family, friends, and community members–and ultimately we collected over 2000 books. It was wonderful to me to not only have so much support from everyone, but also for me to get involved in a project that I felt so strongly about. Additionally, I was able to create a partnership for LFC with an amazing organization on Long Island called The Book Fairies. The “fairies” collect gently used and new books, organize them into age group/genre, and donate them back to those in need across the greater New York area. Now the clients at LFC will have access to wonderful books for a long time!

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I feel that I can use my experience this summer to not only further foster relationships with my coworkers and peers, but also use the incredible amount of knowledge that I have gained in my endeavors both as I enter my senior year at Brandeis and in my future. I am so fortunate to had been placed with an amazing supervisor who was always more than willing to teach me new skills or answer any question I may have had. As I move forward on the social work path, I want to learn more about one-on-one personal interactions, and possibly have the opportunity to interview clients on my own one day. I have greatly valued all of the interviews I sat in on, but I would love to get involved too! Additionally, this summer has taught me so much about social justice and the foster care system of New York City. I have learned how important it is for every individual, including children, to have a voice and have their wishes heard. Being a part of an advocacy group such as Lawyers for Children has shown me how vital these organizations are to the betterment and happiness of so many children.

For students interested in a social work internship or working at LFC (yay!) I would suggest finding a passion and sticking to it. I believe it is really important in social work to get involved in a specific task; whether that be a specific client base, a project you want to work on, or both! I loved being involved in the foster care system but also homing in on literacy. I think it is very important in this field of work so that you keep busy but also keep interested in the work you are doing.

This summer has certainly been an experimental test of my strength in the humanitarian aid world of work. Thanks to the WOW I have successfully been able to have an internship opportunity that expanded my horizons and opened my eyes to the bureaucracy and intensity of social work and humanitarian aid in NYC. My goals were thoroughly accomplished through the wide range of tasks I was set to do at ABC. 

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Everything from my tasks of referring children for early intervention education programs to doing child therapy with the kids helped me reach my learning goals for this internship. I would say that every task I had, even if it sounded as simple as getting a medical record for a child, taught me the hardships of working in and with public assistance groups. I learned what those dependent on public assistant programs have to go through in order to receive the services “our government provides to those in need.” It is no simple task to get a child in school, receive services for children with learning disorders, or get one’s monthly food stamp to buy food for their family. Learning how policies created on a city wide level effect those they are supposed to be helping was the most interesting aspect of my internship for me. I want to build off this experience at Brandeis by taking classes that teach me more about policy creation, implementing policies on a ground level, and discussing with professors the corruption that exists in US government. Beyond Brandeis I will hopefully continue to have my eyes opened to the world of policy making and humanitarian aid projects that help people in my community. It is amazing how much attention is often focused on international humanitarian aid efforts when there are thousands of people within 5 miles of my home in New York who need just as much aid and care, who are suffering from starvation and whose children have witnessed trauma and violence before the age of five and need counseling. 

For anyone interested in social work I would say ABC is the best place to intern. Social work is a balance, you must maintain self care and be effective in the office. As one of my co-workers said: if you don’t feel well yourself, you can’t help anyone else. 

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My ideas around social justice have most definitely been challenged. I have seen how difficult social justice is to accomplish in a world where organizations are run by money and public assistant groups make it difficult for anyone to accomplish anything quickly with the piles of paperwork required for even the most simplest of requests. I have learned that having connections in the world of social justice workers is vital because it helps get paperwork through the system faster and speed along the process of helping those receive aid who need it. I have also learned that although there are many people out there working for social justice, it is an exhaustive and draining task to bring about justice in today’s world. Although I already knew this, seeing how it effects people is quite depressing. Accomplishing social justice is still what I am going to work for in my future and this internship definitely helped brace me for the reality of working towards this goal. Dedication and passion are the two most vital attributes needed to accomplish social work. 

- Alex Hall ’15

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Sadly, my summer with American Jewish World Service has come to an end, but as I think back on my time with the organization, I cannot believe how much I have gained from this internship. Over the summer, I completed numerous large projects, including developing several lesson plans to teach and inspire American lay leaders to advocate for the developing world. One of the greatest lessons I learned at my internship is how to work collaboratively with people more experienced than I am. At first, I really struggled to speak up during meetings because I felt that what I had to say could not possibly be important. However, after much encouragement from my supervisor, I found my voice at team meetings. I realized that I was able to bring a new and unique opinion to the team, as I came in to meetings with a fresh pair of eyes. I gained self-confidence and made a better impression among my colleagues when I started speaking up. This is a skill I will bring back to Brandeis with me. This semester I am taking two classes with which I have no experience, and I know there will be people in those classes with more things to say than I have. Nonetheless, I will feel confident to speak up and share my opinions because I know that what I have to say is (usually) worthwhile.

This internship has opened up a lot of doors to new ideas for me. Now that I have completed the internship, I would like to learn more about the issues facing the developing world, and how they come about. I would also like to learn other ways people can get involved in helping out with these big issues without devoting their whole lives to solving them. I would strongly recommend interning at a nonprofit social justice organization, and especially AJWS. I would tell students planning to intern at a social justice nonprofit to be prepared for some feelings of helplessness – you will learn that there are so many issues that need fixing and there is no way that you can come in and fix them all. Just remember that you are there to help in whatever way you can – and that is enough! Also, be enthusiastic about any task you are given. Most organizations will need some very mundane things to be taken care of, like file-sorting or shredding or making copies. Hopefully this won’t be a big part of your internship, but it is important to take on these jobs with as much enthusiasm as the more interesting tasks. These are all important things that help the organization to run smoothly, and your taking them on means that more social justice can be achieved in the world. Also, your employers will notice if you have a positive attitude.

To students interning at AJWS specifically, I would recommend making time to get to know as many people in the organization as possible. I set up hour-long slots to meet with several of my colleagues, including department managers and vice presidents who were all more than happy to take time from their busy schedules to meet with me. I learned so much from these amazing individuals and forged strong relationships with some of them too.
AJWS has challenged by assumptions about social justice by showing me the importance of a human rights-based approach to development. Before the internship, I assumed that the biggest task facing the developing world was access to resources such as water, arable land and food. AJWS showed me that this kind of resource-based approach is not effective. In order to assist the developing world, we must focus on human rights, because no matter how many resources a country has, it is not helpful unless women and marginalized communities have access to those resources and are not being abused or persecuted. AJWS’s work to end violence against women, child marriage, and persecution of LGBTQ people has shown me what it really means to be a change-maker and reinforced my own passion to work for real change.

- Jessi Puterman ’15

My final days at ETE Camp and in Hinche were filled with last lessons, performances and emotional see-you-laters. After a full month of teaching and playing for hours a day, it was easy to become closely connected with the children. Despite the difficulty in language we learned about each others personalities, interests, temperaments and experiences. Many of the children adjusted so well to the language differences that they developed their own form of communication to interact with me and the other volunteers such as grabbing our arm and pointing to the vacant seat next to them at meal times or using the few English words they knew and the few Creole words they knew we knew to form a completed thought.

During the last week of camp, we spent class time and activity time gearing up for our three big closing activities: The parade around Hinche, The Alumni Show and the Closing Ceremony. The parade was an amazing experience and consisted of all the ETE campers, volunteers and alumni marching through the city singing the songs we had learned at the top of our lungs. The city dwellers were exposed to a small piece of what these people and kids wearing matching t-shirts had been up to for the last month. The lyrics of the songs consisted of a mixture of English and Creole and were both original melodies created by different volunteers as well as lyrics adapted to the melodies of songs such as “I Can”, “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Survivor”. The ETE Camp versions of these songs were “Mwen Konnen Kapab- I Know I Can”, “I Believe I Can Fly” and “I Am A Scholar.”. These songs as well as presentations of all that the students learned this year were all a part of the Closing Ceremony (as seen in the links above). The family members of many of the scholars came to watch them display their English, Leadership and Math skills through skits, songs and mini-lessons. This was truly a moving event that brought the feeling of a “proud mama” to my heart in seeing how much these students had developed their skills and how brave they were to stand on stage and perform the way they did. The students also came up individually to receive their ETE Camp graduation certificates, a moment that brought tears to our eyes. It was the perfect ending to an amazing month of seeing the accomplishments of 60 young leaders and scholars.

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Students receiving certificates from myself and the other volunteers during the Closing Ceremony.

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The 2014 ETE Campers proudly holding their certificates during the Closing Ceremony.

 

Coming home meant being shoved face first into the recognition of my comparative wealth and place of privilege. Even as a family who immigrated from Brazil with almost no money and spent most of our time in Brazil and the US financially struggling, I have to acknowledge that this is no longer where we stand due to the privileges and blessings living in the US has afforded us.

What this means is getting picked up at the airport in a relatively new, full functioning luxury SUV after communicating with my parents through our overly priced iPhones. The engine wasn’t roaring loudly and I did not fear that the car would breakdown. Their is A/C and heat in the car for a comfortable ride regardless of the weather outside (which happened to be about 65 degrees, a temperature that I consider cold after a month in 95 degree weather). Inside it I feel safe. The roads are not bumpy, they are smoothly paved. Dust and dirt are not flying into my face, hair and clothing. I do not feel nauseous from the ride home.

At home, I am greeted by a new, brand name watch and a Pandora charm titled, “The Journey of Life” to celebrate my return home. My dad shows me his new toy, a Bluetooth speaker for his phone that not even he fully understands how to use. I use the bathroom and I do not need to use a bucket of water to make the toilet flush. I take a shower and I do not fear that a cockroach will come out of the drain. I do not fear that the shower will stop because the rain water supply has been exhausted. I open my mouth and let the water in, I do not fear that it will make me sick. I do not fear that the lights will go out in the middle of my shower. The water is warm, I control the temperature I want to shower in instead of the steady stream of cold water I had showered under for the last month. 

I eat fresh homemade food left for me on the stove containing all the essential nutrients for my body. A colorful arrangement of vegetables, protein and grain. I brush my teeth. I do not need to find filtered water to do this but instead brush my teeth with faucet water for the first time in a month. I go to bed. It is a full size bed that I can sprawl out on either side of. It is warm, clean and incredibly comfortable and high enough that no unwelcome guests will crawl on me at night. I do not spray myself with bug-spray before bed since all the windows of the house have screens. There are no mosquitoes inside the house and if there were, they would be a slight nuisance but I would not fear that they are carrying illnesses such as Malaria or Chikungunya. 

Tomorrow I will unpack and do my laundry. I will not need to hand wash my clothes with limited water. I will not need to wait for sunshine to hang them up to dry. I will not be without clothes until they are done as I have I several clean options to change into while I wait for the machine to finish what is in many places, still the job of human hands.

In the fall I will return to my senior year at one of the best universities in the US and complete my nearly fully scholarship funded education. I do not fear that my school will get shut down or run out of vital resources. I will use fast pace and readily available internet and phone to make both my social and professional life much easier. I trust that my degree will add to my ability to grow socioeconomically and help to secure an even better life for myself and my family. My classroom is not too hot nor too cold. There are no illness carrying mosquitoes or flies to swat off as I learn or sleep or eat. The electricity and water does not frequently shut down. It is an excessively funded institution and a safe place to study and live. 

To say my life is “better” is a judgment call I neither agree with nor have any interest in making. To say my life is easier in many ways than what I experienced and witnessed for the last month would be accurate. To say that I am at a place of privilege over others that I do not deserve is the pure and troubling reality. I got to personally know and fall in love with over sixty beautiful, intelligent, loving and happy children who are at a systematic disadvantage from my own, despite my being an immigrant and a woman of color in the US. Logically, there is no reason why I should have these privileges and they should not. I am not a better person. I am not more intelligent, more beautiful, more loving, more in touch with God, more deserving of blessings, or more worthy. Essentially I am who they are and they are who I am. This privilege however is provided by one main, crucial factor; I am a beneficiary of the same system that has and continues to keep these and millions of other people in poverty and without many things we (probably anyone with access to this blog post) often take for granted. This acknowledgement doesn’t change the lives of anyone suffering from this system but it does remind us of who and where we are, not for the purposes of containing guilt but of realizing what each of our lives cost others. The course of action beyond that is an individual but crucial decision. 

This was my first but will not be my last trip to Hinche, Haiti and among volunteering, there are many ways to get involved with ETE Camp, simply because we can and because every child deserves the best chances to succeed in this world that they can get.

Since my last update, we had a Sao Joao (St.John) celebration. We ordered food for the festivities and had a coordinated square dance. It was organized by the department I am primarily interning with, and everyone participated, including management. A raffle was drawn, where one of the custodians won a ticket to that Sunday’s World Cup game, she was extremely delighted. Another major employee event was a conference call with all the regional offices, where the Director gave a report on the point at which the organization is, and all the changes that are taking place, so that everyone could understand the current strengths and weaknesses of the organization. It was interesting being part of that presentation and listening to the comments from people in other regions of the country.

I was then assigned to work with the organization’s Sponsorship department for a day to work on translations. There I translated letters from sponsors to the children who are part of World Vision Brazils ADPs (Area Development Program), ´A distinct geographical area where World Vision partners with local stakeholders to improve the well-being of children through multiple sector projects aimed at root causes of issues that negatively impact children.´. I also translated the Annual Progress Reports, mapping a child’s progress, in health, education, and extracurricular activities of the child to the sponsor. My work there exceeded a day, and I now help there every week for about 12 hours.

 

The numbers on the map show the locations of World Vision´s Area Development Projects in Brazil.

The numbers on the map show the locations of World Vision´s Area Development Programs (ADPs) in Brazil.

 

Doing this has had a profound impact on me, seeing the children’s photos and reading the progress which proves their fight for a better future, took my mind back to growing up in developing countries, Mozambique, Malawi and Swaziland. In these countries, I saw poverty everywhere. In rural areas, and in the urban areas where street children surrounded the city. Poverty was so prominent that people even became numb to its reality. As I read the  letters and reports that I translated, it was like getting to know the children and their circumstances. I found that things most take for granted, such as the act of sending a birthday card to a child is something so special to them. What has also impacted me is the dedication of the sponsors, who are everyday people. They have inspired me to realize that anyone can take part in being a positive change in this world, and we can all change lives in major ways. Working for an organization such as World Vision, which hopes to eradicate child poverty, has shown me the innocence that accompanies those in impoverished conditions. People don’t choose to be extremely poor, and children lack the opportunity to remove themselves from the poverty cycle.

In the department of Pessoas & Cultura, I usually perform day to day tasks such as filing and sorting through employee data that is submitted to the office.

During my internship, I have been seeing what my supervisors tasks are, which are ongoing because she deals with not only the planned systematic employee needs but also all the issues that occur on a day to day basis. For my internship, I had hoped to learn how human resources works in a new and different environment, and to immerse myself in a new cultural reality. With about 60 employees here, it has been great to learn from my colleagues about the organization, and having the opportunity to interact with newly appointed employees. I write weekly notes, which help me analyze my experiences and what I have learned.

At this point, I am mostly proud of being able to be integrated into the organization and of the relationships that I have had the pleasure of forming with employees and other interns. Forming relationships with people especially of different cultures is at the core of what I would like to do in whatever my future career may be, therefore, building on these interpersonal skills is very important to me. Nothing can substitute these experiences because I know I will be able to utilize what I have learned not only professionally, but personally.

The Logo for an Area Development Project in Brazil. ´Novo Sertão ´ which means New Sertão´  Sertão is a place in the North East of Brazil, but when translated it means Backyard or Outback.

The Logo for one of World Vision´s Area Development Program locations in Brazil. ´Novo Sertão ´ which means New Sertão
Sertão is a place in the North East of Brazil, but when translated it means Backyard or Outback.

- Linda Phiri ’16

 

The past eight weeks have gone by in a blur. Amidst a flurry of projects and public events, my internship was nothing short of an incredible experience. In the waning weeks of my time at NCL, I made visits to the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center as well as a NGO conference regarding consumer internet security and privacy. The visits and conferences greatly enhanced my understanding of the challenges and issues that ordinary people face on a daily basis in the field of internet privacy and the confidentiality of their personal information. In addition to the conferences, I also contributed to and edited a consumer Bill of Rights with regard to data security in the public arena. The project that my fellow interns and I completed has significantly improved my written skills as I learned to compose carefully-worded amendments for the Bill. The frequently-assigned research projects and reports have also helped me gain a deeper insight as to how public policy affects the general consumer population.

This internship has given me a very solid groundwork on policy research and analysis. I seek to integrate the skills I have developed and honed in the classroom when I return to Brandeis. I want to continue to build on those skills in the classroom. The research skills that I have developed will be extremely useful for writing papers in my courses because the majority of my classes will be writing and research-intensive. I believe that the research skills that I have acquired from this internship will also serve me very well in my professional endeavors as I seek to become an international lawyer in the future, a profession which requires well-developed writing skills.

 

Me at an NGO conference regarding the National Security Agency's practices of espionage on citizens.

Me at an NGO conference regarding the National Security Agency’s practices of espionage on citizens.

Working at the National Consumers League has given me a first taste of researching domestic policy and how it affects the general consumer population. I want to expand the scope of the research that I do to include international policy and law. Moving forward, I would like to gain experience in foreign policy analysis and research. In addition, I would like to work at an international organization so I can gain experience in the inner workings of international governance and law making. I believe that additional experience in the areas of international policy and governance would be extremely beneficial for my future career.

In my personal view, the National Consumers League’s work atmosphere is balanced and not too uptight . For those who are interested in working for the League, one piece of advice that I can give (which I learned from my supervisor on my first day) is to always ask all your questions before you start a project. This makes your work go much smoother and faster, and also makes the director’s life easier. In addition, making connections with your fellow colleagues is also very important. From my experience, the League’s staff are all extremely approachable and easy to talk to. Those interested in working at the League should take the opportunity to get to know all the staff. The field of consumer advocacy and public policy advocacy and analysis is a very stimulating field of work for those interested in policy analysis. Students who are interested in doing policy research and reaching out to policy makers will find working in this field  to be very fulfilling. It may seem to be difficult at times due to the fact that you’re trying to influence the upper echelon of the federal government, but I have also learned that advocacy groups are actually quite influential when it comes to affecting public policy; they reflect the public sentiment, which policy makers definitely take into account.

Me at the Panel on Industry Self-Regulation with regard to protecting consumers' sensitive personal data.

Me at the Panel on Industry Self-Regulation with regard to protecting consumers’ sensitive personal data.

After working at the League, I believe that my fundamental philosophy with regard to social justice has been dramatically reinforced. Through the research projects and papers that I completed, I have had the opportunity to examine the nuances of a plethora of policy fields including technology, health, and child labor policy. The work that I have done has shown me just how much ordinary consumers need advocacy groups. The research that the League and other consumer advocacy organizations do is critical in helping to create a more informed society. In addition, through the various projects that I completed, I have learned much about how to effectively advocate through writing. After learning from the League, I believe that I can become a more effective citizen by informing others about the effects of policy and its implications. I believe that pushing for collective action amongst the citizenry to influence government policy can be extremely influential. To be a more effective citizen of society, I need to let others know about the important issues that affect them. The time that I have spent at NCL has taught me much about the issues that pertain to ordinary citizens, and I plan to take the new knowledge and expertise that I have gained to make my friends, family, and community more knowledgeable about issues that affect their daily lives and well-being.

The Truth about “Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity.”

People have always been fascinated by individuals with mental illness. Legal movies have especially glamorized mentally ill criminals who plead not guilty by reason of insanity. They are portrayed to do the crime and not do the time. But in real life, it appears that NGI clients are doing anything but “getting away with it.”

The truth is, NGI clients have it bad. But before I get into the details, here’s a brief summary of how it works. When someone is brought to criminal court, they have the option to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. This means that if the court finds them not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI), it opens a mental health case. Subsequently, NGI clients are committed to a hospital for psychiatric treatment. This commitment is indefinite.

Let me clarify what “indefinite” means; the patient stays in the hospital for an undefined amount of time, meaning that for the foreseeable future they are given a sentence without an expiration date. The point of this type of commitment is the treatment for the defendant’s illness, as opposed to punishment for a crime.

The minute this happens, the legal rights of the mentally ill shrink to a mere opportunity to petition the court for release every 6 months. In reality, this petition rarely works for the advantage of the NGI patient. One of my mentors informed me that in the Public Defender Service for the past 30 years there have been 2-3 NGI patients that won through petitioning. So the chances of an NGI patient being released because of one of these hearings are minute.

 

The “Other” Death Row

Committing people who are not dangerous for a week or a month seems unjust.  So then what do you call it when people are committed for what is practically a life sentence without even knowing it? During my training at the Public Defender Service , my supervisor Carolyn Slenska, Investigations coordinator at the Mental Health Division, informed me that the average stay for an NGI client is 30 years. Throughout my internship, I have read about and even met NGI clients who have been committed for 30 years and counting.

Last week, there was a film showing on NGI patients in the D.C. Superior Court. In the documentary, “Voices from Within,” Joy Haynes follows the commitments of four NGI patients at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. She and her crew gave cameras to patients at St. E’s who volunteered to participate in a video diary project. They trained them and asked them to record their stories. The documentary presented the real lives of 4 mental health patients who collectively spent 160 years in commitment after being found NGI.

Click on the image for the "Voices from Within" documentary trailer For more information, visit the project's FB page: https://www.facebook.com/SEHVFW

Click on the image for the “Voices from Within” documentary trailer
For more information, visit the project’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/SEHVFW

When you sit down and watch the documentary, you forget that you’re following the lives of patients who are supposed to be dangers to themselves or others. You see four high functioning, coherent, cooperative, funny, and relatable human beings. You see men that don’t belong in the hospital. So why are they there? And until when do they have to stay?

Lew, one of the NGI patients, said, “I’m sitting on death row, I just don’t know it.” Tragically, after 47 years of commitment, Lew passed away at 71 years of age. In fact, three of the four men featured in the 2010 documentary have since passed while still in commitment.

 Lew also shared a disturbing conversation he had with one of the staff members at the hospital. He states that a staff member told him, “You just stay crazy, you’re putting my kid through school.” All four men featured in the film wanted their freedom. The commitment in the psychiatric hospital is supposed to be about treatment. But after these men get better, after they no longer pose a danger to themselves or other, why are they still there?

 

Which Side Are You On?

Source: http://www.jemeksolicitors.co.uk/

The other day I noticed there is a quotation framed on the walls of the Psychiatric Institute of Washington (PIW). It reads: “Take my will and my life. Guide me in my recovery. Show me how to live.” (Note: Coincidentally, I recently visited PIW and after certain renovations, the plaque is off their walls!)

Then I read the quotation in the back of our business cards: “The mission of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia is to provide and promote quality legal representation to indigent adults and children facing a loss of liberty…and thereby protect society’s interest in the fair administration of justice.”

It then became so clear that the mental health system has not escaped the grasp of the adversarial system. There is a clear application of the adversarial process in mental health cases – as in any type of case. On one side, we have the Public Defender Service who tries to get its clients out of the hospital, and on the other side, we have the hospitals that detain and commit people as psychiatric patients. One fights against the loss of individuals’ liberties and the other fights because they know what’s good for the patient. It’s the ultimate battle of lawyers vs. doctors.

An Impossible Burden — Michael Jones v. United States (1983)

Attorneys around the office often bring up this monumental court case, Michael Jones v. US According to this Jones v. US, a patient “has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he is no longer mentally ill or dangerous.” (Source: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/463/354). The significance of this case, however, lies in the decision that the length of the commitment to a psychiatric hospital is not related to the length of time that the defendant would have spent if he were convicted.

Here’s an example: John Doe steals bubblegum from a candy store and the court finds him not guilty be reason of insanity. He gets an indefinite sentence at a psychiatric ward. In an alternate reality, Mr. Doe would have been found guilty for the misdemeanor. Let’s say Mr. Doe is a repeat offender and gets jail time for 2 years. Regardless of the fact that his criminal conviction would have yielded a 2 year sentence, the psychiatric commitment can “until such time as he has regained his sanity or is no longer a danger to himself or society.” (Jones v. US, 1983). This decision makes sense — the whole process sounds fair enough on paper. Well, in reality the burden that is placed on the patients is immense and nearly impossible to meet.

I see the process as having 3 stages. First, an NGI patient has to be examined by his or her treatment team. If the treatment team recommends the patient’s release, we move onto the second stage. On the second stage, the clinical board reviews the patient’s case and makes a determination. If the clinical review is for the release, we move to the last stage. On the third stage, the clinical review board submits the petition to the court asking for the patient’s release.

The three stages of NGI commitment and release ( This is a graphic that I created, this is not a publication of the Public Defender Service)

The three stages of NGI commitment and release ( This is a graphic that I created, this is not a publication of the Public Defender Service)

Here’s where things get complicated: NGI patients have committed crimes. This means that the government is involved in their case. On the third stage, the government can agree or disagree with the hospital’s recommendation to release the NGI patient. If they agree, then it’s up to the court to decide whether the patient can be released or not. If they disagree, it’s still up to the court, but it’s practically impossible to win release. In other words, the government’s agreement is integral for a real chance at NGI patients’ release.

A Necessary Battle

It would be easy to see the situation as a black and white, good vs. bad, where what we do at PDS is good and what the doctors do is bad. But that’s simply not the case. In the real life of mental health cases, lawyers vs. doctors is a necessary “battle.” PDS has developed strong relationships with the majority of psychiatric and medical doctors in D.C. mental health hospitals and psychiatric wards. The adversarial process is set so that each side fights for the client’s best interest. The attorneys at PDS are assigned to represent the clients. Many patients want to be free, many of them want to get out no matter what. So the attorneys do the best they can to advocate for the clients’ decisions. On the other side of the system, if the patients are in risk or hurting themselves or others, someone has to fight to keep them in the hospital until they get better. So medical staff members do the best they can for the clients’ well being.

Source: http://www.practicelink.com

In conclusion, when an individual with a mental illness is in court, the judge or jury should be deciding between the two best alternatives for the client – that’s what the adversarial system is supposed to accomplish anyway. Sometimes the court deems it necessary to detain a patient until their mental illness is not a danger. Other times, there is no danger and the court honors the patients’ choices and freedom.

Even so, it seems that NGI patients are giving up their entire lives just waiting to “get better.” There also seems to be no standard for what “better” looks like — it’s a very subjective evaluation with very little accountability attached to the evaluators. In NGI cases, the necessity of a vigorous advocate is evident. After a month at the Mental Health Division of PDS, I have come to appreciate the attorneys’ ability to advocate for exactly what a client asks for, without the insertion of their personal beliefs, the doctors’ recommendations, or a subjective bias. In order for the system to work, I guess each player must do what he or she does best – lawyers fight to get clients out, and doctors fight to keep them in – in the hope that the adversarial process is saving more lives than it condemns.

 

-Gina Gkoulgkountina, ‘15

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I’m past my midpoint here at GRAG and thinking about the learning goals I put down two months ago.The summer has been a good one, both because of the sunshine sweeping down on Dakar and the office atmosphere that’s always so positive. Even the long afternoons during the holy month of Ramadan, always slowest around the usual time for lunch, haven’t done much to deter the assorted GRAG staff. July was full of completed program funding bids and new projects to take on.

My academic and career goals have become intertwined because of the nature of my internship. GRAG is first and foremost a research organization, so my academic goals (augmenting my classroom knowledge of West-African development with firsthand involvement) and my career goals (gaining more experience in crafting advocacy materials and promoting NGO/research findings) are being met every day that I sit at my desk and draft a proposal section or edit a survey questionnaire.

I’ve read a lot about the different ways to go about international aid and over the past 2 months I’ve seen a lot of them in action. GRAG builds a knowledge base by doing its own studies based around target populations, but it also evaluates projects being done by other NGOs and government offices. Working on the outside evaluations has been especially helpful. I’m gaining more of a logistical look into the realities of aid programs and the various things that can go wrong, ways they can be improved, and in general more of a scope for understanding these ventures. Academically, this glimpse into the industry has answered a lot of questions I had about projected versus achieved results. There are more factors going in than I had thought or read about and now I know more about the multitude of difficulties that can and do arise during implementation.

Senegalese Initiative for Urban Health; one of GRAG's current evaluation projects

Senegalese Initiative for Urban Health; one of GRAG’s current evaluation projects in conjunction with the Senegalese government

I have farther to go before I’m prepared for an actual career in an organization like this one — assuming I even choose to work in this industry — but I’ve taken big leaps in some areas. My technical writing skills have definitely improved and I’ve gained a lot of experience drafting different proposals — for funding, for proposed projects, and for proposed evaluation reports. A lot of elements go into each document, and details are especially important for the advocacy materials and the study questionnaires that we distribute. Tact is essential, plus simplicity of questions and language use. Many of the materials go to poorer communities outside of Dakar so they don’t necessarily have access to the French education in public schools here. There are as many as 7 local languages at use in some regions of the country and many people here are bilingual or more, so a lot of translation work happens at the office. And sensitive issues like gender roles or sexuality can quickly cause a problem if confidentiality agreements don’t hold. I’m still learning exactly where to toe the line with subjects like that but it’s been an interesting education on the topic.

In terms of personal goals, it’s been interesting seeing the amount of focus everyone maintains in the office while working on sensitive subjects. Just yesterday my supervisor was telling me about the implementation of a project that was started before I got here on integrated health services in Senegal, and he spoke about how he is now suggesting that they take out the issue of domestic violence from the study. Researchers understand that many of the issues afflicting poor communities are intertwined, but there’s also the danger of over-saturating a survey and losing the focus of a particular research mission. In attempting to tackle too many issues at once, you run the risk of too little in-depth analysis and in fact not helping to solve any problems in a major way.

One of my learning goals was to find that emotional balance necessary for NGO work, especially during fieldwork, to juggle the heavy subjects that are the center of such studies. The GRAG team doesn’t completely separate themselves from the human elements of their research or else they wouldn’t be able to fully account for the needs of the target populations. Instead, attention is shifted to concentrate on the particular issue at hand and take the larger socioeconomic problems case-by-case. I’ve been doing the same in a lot of ways. There are always smaller pieces of a problem to work on and each project brings us closer and closer to bigger changes. My contributions don’t look like much on a day-to-day basis, but they’re part of a bigger whole and it helps to keep that in mind.

I wasn’t certain that I could do much in an international research organization back in May. When the Francophone nature of the office was added in I was almost positive that I was jumping into a place that I might not be able to keep up with. It was a surprise to discover that GRAG could teach me a lot about the field, but also that my supervisor and co-workers took my opinions to heart and my intermediate language skills didn’t end up being a problem. I am proud of the fact that I took the initiative to dive into a new experience without as much surety as I’m used to and still managed to have a great time and learn so much in the past months.

Only a few more weeks to go in Dakar until I pack up and leave both GRAG and Senegal! Things here have been heavy and confusing at times, but they’ve also taught me to keep on my toes and work on tight deadlines. Overall I’m enjoying my time in the city and trying to take in everything I can. This summer has definitely been an interesting one and I’m sure August will bring its own flavor to the mix.

-Natasha Gordon ’15

I hop in the car and pull out of my house on Shakespeare Road, driving past Brandeis and onto the interstate as I make my way into Boston. The early summer sun shines hot through the windshield. I look out the window at the highway, shimmering upwards in convoluted waves, and I feel a surge of appreciation for my interns who will be spending three hours outside today canvassing for our endorsed candidates.

Six weeks after my first blog post, my job at NARAL has swelled to encompass a new set of managerial responsibilities. In addition to doing substantive work – helping my supervisor brainstorm creative field operations, draft LTEs, and strategize political campaigns – I now manage a team of nine interns, and am responsible for distributing them to our four-plus priority campaigns. This task is surprisingly complicated; I have to take into account more variables than I initially thought when I began drafting my interns’ schedules. On a daily basis, I have to consider whether or not the interns have a car, how far away the campaigns are and whether or not they are accessible by public transportation, how many hours we should be devoting to each campaign based on its priority level, etc. I spend the better part of my office days with my eyes glued to Google Calendar, attempting to utilize our interns as best we can.

Last week, I finally managed the interns’ schedules such that they are traveling to work on each of our priority campaigns at least once a week. This is no small feat; NARAL’s Political Director reported that our Political Committee was thrilled that we are able to assist our endorsed candidates in such a way. Today is the first day that our interns are traveling throughout the state in groups of two or three. Two are in Bedford, knocking on doors for Representative Kenneth Gordon; two will be in Cambridge making calls for Representative Marjorie Decker; and two will spend four hours this evening traveling to Methuen to phone bank for Representative DeCologero. I am acting as a chauffer for the Bedford folks, and will bunker down in a coffee shop to work remotely while they are in the field.

Of course, this is just a typical Monday. Tuesdays are similar, with interns in the field; Wednesdays begin with a weekly intern meeting, facilitated by me, that features a brown bag lunch and guest speaker plucked from the ripe Boston political scene. On Wednesday evenings, our intern team helps conduct research for NARAL’s (c)(3) committee; on Thursdays, our interns are in the field, collecting signatures for our campaign to have Massachusetts Congressmen Lynch and Neal sign on to the Women’s Health Protection Act. On Fridays, interns are working for campaigns yet again. Sometimes, we break our typical schedule to participate in special events, like tabling at Boston Pride or having organizing and canvassing trainings with Planned Parenthood.

It is an utter whirlwind, and I am consistently amazed by the amount of organization and attention to detail my job requires.  Serving at NARAL in this capacity has increased my managerial abilities tenfold. I have grown to feel comfortable delegating tasks to my intern team, although some are older and more experienced than me. The staff has been exceptional in their eagerness to accommodate my needs and treat me as one of their own. I sit in on staff meetings, assist in building strategy and blueprinting campaigns, and am privy to exclusive conversations among the Political, Communications, and Field teams.

More than anything, this internship has given me an in-depth look at the machinations of the political non-profit sector. Though I previously worked at NARAL for a year, I have never understood the extent to which fundraising and membership building are critical to the maintenance of a non-profit. Sometimes I become disenchanted by the reality that a significant proportion – if not a majority – of NARAL’s work is dedicated to maintaining the structures that already exist instead of directly propelling forth a pro-choice agenda. In this field, progress comes more slowly than I expected, and victories are few and far between. (It becomes even more discouraging when the Supreme Court strikes down laws and provisions that were originally NARAL victories, like the Buffer Zone Law and the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that private employers coverage of birth control.) Though the fight for reproductive justice was and is my foremost passion, I often find myself wondering if the political non-profit venue is the most effective means of pursuing electoral and legislative success.

Doubts aside, my internship is precisely what I had hoped for. Though the headaches that comes as a result of managing nine interns are quite real, the successes of doing so – the gratification of knowing that we are helping four pro-choice champions get re-elected throughout the state – make it all worth it. I make an effort to check-in with my interns consistently to ensure that the internship is meeting their expectations. Although they tell me that spending hours canvassing isn’t always the most enjoyable task, they understand its significance and understand that without their boots on the ground, NARAL wouldn’t have the clout it does among elected officials and special interests alike. I hope to make this experience as challenging as rewarding for them as it is for me.

Wow, I can’t believe I’m over halfway through my time with United for a Fair Economy.

It’s been a very interesting, educational, and positive experience. I really enjoy interacting with all of the other people at UFE. They make me feel supported and appreciated, and I can’t stress enough how important that is at a job or internship. They are also supportive in teaching me things, giving feedback on my work, and collaborating to accomplish tasks.

After the end of fiscal year gift processing died down, I was able to accomplish a lot more on my individual projects – the projects I chose at the beginning and some more that came up along the way!

MataHari, with whom we share an office and consider a “sister” organization, had a great success recently with the passage of the Massachusetts Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights! We went to the signing and I wrote a blog post about it.

DWBoR1I also created a donor survey to find out more about who our donors are, their feelings and thoughts about UFE, what we’re doing well and what we can do better, etc.  Suzanna, the Director of Development, gave me some materials on donor surveys and helped me formulate questions. We’ll be launching that soon and tracking the results.

I also got to design a one-panel info card to replace their outdated brochure! It’s double-sided: English on one side, Spanish on the other (I even got to create a Spanish version of the UFE logo, which was quite a challenge! I’m still not sure I completely understand how paths work in Adobe Illustrator, but I managed). We tried to keep it simple and informative, attractive, and readable. After my first draft, I sent it out for feedback from the staff and worked with the new Communications Coordinator to make it consistent with UFE’s branding. I’m proud of the final product. And the Popular Education team is heading to an event this weekend, and bringing copies of my info card to hand out!

New UFE Brochure 3 New UFE Brochure 3-p2

I’ve learned more about the economy, as well. Suzanna lent me a copy of Inequality for All, the new documentary by Robert Reich on income inequality in the U.S. In meetings and other conversations, I’ve learned about interesting ideas such as post office banking. And one day, one of the Program Coordinators screened this great clip from John Oliver about the wealth gap.

I can’t believe I’m approaching the end of my time at UFE. Certain people have already started trying to convince me to stay instead of going back to school. :) Although I won’t be able to do that, I’m appreciating the time I do have left.

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