Brandeis-funded interns reflect on their summer experiences
Take-aways from an Incredible Internship at PDS
Are you interested in an investigative internship at PDS? Do it. If you’re thinking of going into law and want an experience that requires you to think on your feet, this internship is for you.
Is there anything I wish I knew at the beginning? Not really – this experience was a process that had to happen to me in due time. I’ve seen things, I’ve heard things, and I’ve felt things that I would have never expected. This summer I was born like a giraffe – dropped straight to the ground and quickly taught how to stand. That isn’t to say there isn’t training – we’re taught from the very beginning how to take statements, serve subpoenas, etc. But the advice I would give to someone pursuing an opportunity at PDS is related: expect the unexpected. Sure, it’s also good to read up on the criminal justice system, the lifetime of a case, etc., but ultimately there’s no real way to prepare for intensive experience that is the criminal law internship at PDS.
In terms of social justice, my eyes have been pried so far open I’ve been blinded by the sunlight, so to speak. I’ve seen poverty–real, awful poverty–right here in DC. Like the kind of poverty where children don’t have mattresses to sleep on, where flakes of paint containing lead regularly chip off the walls, and where corn flakes are for dinner without debate. I’ve seen segregation, both by race and class – segregation so stark it makes you cringe, segregation so stark that you question whether the era of Jim Crow already ended. Within DC in particular the disparity could not be more obvious. In certain neighborhoods in the Northwest quadrant, you see enormous mansions, and white people predominate. It’s rare that you seen a black person. Cross the Anacostia River south and that world flips on its head: everyone is black, the poverty rate and crime rates skyrocket, and life-expectancy nearly cuts in half. It’s a sad, sad reality.
I’ve also learned about the horrors that constitute our jails and prisons. I’ve spoken to inmates, listened to jail calls, and heard less-than-flattering stories – stories you can only laugh at or else you’ll cry. I’ve seen autopsy reports. Crime scene photos. Gruesome, sickening wounds no one should ever have.
Most of all, I’ve learned firsthand about the systemic cycle of injustice that the invisible people of our communities continue to endure, even now, into the 21st century.
Whatever I end up doing, my career must involve helping these neglected people. That I know for certain. Often in their darkest hour, just charged with a crime, I want to be there to affirm to clients of a public defender office: You are not alone. Someone cares about you.
That brings me to the Free Minds Book Club. If nothing else, look them up and see the incredible work they do. Free Minds is an organization that facilitates the reading of books and writing of poetry by juveniles who are charged as adults (usually for a severe crime) and incarcerated in jail or prison. It turns out writing is a powerful, powerful medium for people to express themselves. Free Minds came to our office this week, and we got the opportunity to offer compliments and feedback on inmates’ poems. It was moving to read the poems of incarcerated children – to see them reach such depth and become so vulnerable for the strangers who they knew would read their poems.
In closing, I thank you for reading. This summer has been a whirlwind. If you’re thinking about law, intern at PDS.