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