2016 Week Three: Criminal Justice
I’m realizing how important connections are with each week of CIIP. When I originally decided to work with BSHRC, I never expected so many people I knew to have worked with BSHRC in the past. This week I met with people of various backgrounds including doctors, masters and PhD students, policy managers, and health department workers who all had a current or former connection with BSHRC and especially my boss Mark Sine. These connections helped me gain a research position, entrance into a class I want to take in the fall, and other opportunities. Seeing how much BSHRC meant to the people I met made me really appreciate the work my boss does. At times I wonder if he’s really engaging or not with the community around him and it will seem like all he does is stare at his computer for long periods of time. However, having met his various colleagues and people who have gained experience from him, I realize that everything is not as it seems when you meet some people. It might just be that my personality, being a rather extroverted person, colors my perception and expectations of what someone who is impacting the city in a positive way looks like. I realize that my boss isn’t super extroverted or an in your face kind of guy. He lets his work speak for him in a quiet yet effective manner and I think that’s an admirable quality. A lot of people I know would want all credit for their accomplishments and the things they do in the city to be extremely public. However, unlike other people my boss leads by the example of working diligently but quietly in the shadows while making large and effective change in the city and it has been a wonderful thing to witness.
This week, I became more accustomed to how I fit into the workplace here. I have been calling clients on my own now, and I feel a lot more confident in my ability to relay advice and guide tenants in the right direction. I has been extremely valuable for me to learn common practices that landlords use to exploit their tenants. I have also been doing considerable research on the Rent Court legislation, and this has provided me with insight into how we can reform a broken system, that once sought to defend the rights of low-income tenants but has succeeded in evicting them. Learning about this legislation and being a part of it has been amazing, and I can’t wait to see what more I have to learn about housing policy and landlord-tenant law, and how both on the ground and policy changes can work together to achieve a common goal. I have also been a part of the effort to get 10,000 signature by August 8 to get a Housing Trust Fund for Baltimore city. PJC has dedicated to a certain number of signatures and I have been reaching out to our networks to try and obtain these. Overall, each week has been getting better as I have been getting more accustomed to how I might be able to make a contribution to this organization and the effort for affordable housing in Baltimore in general.
I could not imagine police officers patrolling the hallways of my school while I am in class. I could not imagine one of my classmates getting into a fist fight with another one of my peers. I also could not imagine my school recommending me to be arrested, instead of sending me to mediation. As someone who wants to be an attorney, I was initially shaken because I realized that my job would be to defend these kids who have been recommended for arrest by their school. And while I may be able to help get their case dismissed, it does not change the fact that they were arrested in the first place. However, I realized that attorneys do not only change lives in the courtroom. One of my supervisor’s coworkers put me on a project to collect data on the school to prison pipeline. She uses that data when she meets with the school board in Baltimore in order to discuss policy changes in terms of law enforcement within schools. Her meetings with the board have directly caused some policy changes within Baltimore City Schools, and I am grateful that I have some part, however tiny, in helping my coworker do that.
I have a passion for re-entry efforts targeted toward helping formerly incarcerated individuals return to their communities. It is important to provide for second chances after an individual has served his or her sentence and spent time developing him or herself. Throughout this week, I have had the chance to aid in the re-entry efforts of two individuals whose cases are under consideration by our division. First, I have been helping to draft a Motion for Modification of Sentence, which, if granted by a judge, could lead to a client getting released earlier than anticipated. Second, I finished a draft of a collection of materials designed to assist a client as he goes before the Maryland Parole Commission. Each of these projects focuses on the importance of a cohesive re-entry plan for returning citizens; the motion and the packet of parole materials will serve to convince a judge or the parole commission of the efficacy of the client’s re-entry plan. I am excited to work on these projects because I can have a direct impact in assisting a client in returning to his or her community. It challenges my persuasive writing ability and my desire to assist each in crafting that re-entry plan. One factor that I find particularly troubling in the realm of re-entry efforts is housing. Barring the presence of family member who is willing to help, many of these individuals lack a home or an affordable apartment to which they can return. While researching transitional housing options throughout Maryland, I found that the overwhelming majority of transitional housing designed for formerly incarcerated individuals is centered in Baltimore. While I’m happy to be a part of a community so accepting of reformative efforts, I find it troubling that a similar focus on re-entry exists in lesser status throughout the state. I spoke with a representative of a group called “Prince George’s House,” a transitional housing organization that focuses on ex-offenders located in Prince George’s County. When I asked where else I should call to find transitional housing options in Prince George’s County, I was told that theirs was one of very few options. I would hope to see a greater emphasis on housing throughout the state, so that when men and women leave prison or jail, they have numerous options through which they can convince arbiters like a judge that their re-entry plan is a safe one. I was happy, however, to be able to contribute to the re-entry efforts of the Office of the Public Defender by working alongside both attorneys and social workers. I hope to do the same when I have a platform as a working professional in the future.
For the past few months, FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland has been working on this merger celebration that happened yesterday on the 30th. But really, it’s in the last month that most of the work has been done- I know, I was here. All of the scrambling to find checks for the caterer and A/V guy, hours of cross-checking the guest list to make the master list, and prickles of alcohol marketing research to come up with the perfect cocktail names (Vibrant Venable Vodka and Red, White & Blue Jay were the winners!). That’s what it’s been like for me. Staring into a computer screen, the clicks of my very loud mouse, and the droning of the desktop tower. The clattering of heels as I shuffle to gather volunteers to hand them donation clipboards, veggie sandwich in hand, and hair looking better than ever. Sitting in on meetings with the event planner to call the baker, the violinist, and the photographer. Everything had to run smoothly. A highly-respected organizations’ lifeline was at stake, and we needed to raise money to keep it going.
Yesterday, I arrived at the Baltimore Museum of Industry (the venue) promptly at 3PM – which was 2 ½ hours before the event would begin. We arrived early to set up the VIP reception area with high-tables adorned in alternating magenta and indian ocean teal tablecloths, a champagne station, and a highly-esteemed violinist. The rooms was flashing lights, neon signs, walls painted in colors that not even the rainbow can stand. Fast forward 3 hours and the room would be packed with more people than you could imagine possible, with charming music that melted worries and cured sadness, with chatter and an unnecessary amount of hors d’oeuvres. In the main room, it was like a kid’s dream come true: vintage ads depicting a cartoon war tank, a replica of a mini-mariner plane and screens playing a loop of propaganda movies.
Mayors, delegates, attorneys, pricipals and deans, and countless non-profit managers and workers were there. Judge Carrion and Judge White, Del. Madaleno, Joanne Rosen, Alfredo Santiago, Lois Feinblatt. They were all there, and I met them all. I have to tell you, I’d been admiring plenty of these people from afar for quite a while- people I could only dream of meeting, shaking hands with, and laughing with. But it happened. And I am so lucky!
And it’s difficult to describe what it was like- you had to be there. The space was so open, maybe because it overlooked the bay or maybe because the ceilings were exposed. Everyone was standing around, meeting new people, and chatting with old friends in between bites of cupcake and sips of dry Italian champagne. There were waiters walking around with plates of food, passing out bundles of goodness to all who smiled. I ate at least 10 chocolate whoopee pies. There were babies at every corner, their giggling lightening up the space and instilling a calmness in a sea of chaos- well, the event wasn’t chaotic, but my mind was going at about 100 mph.
And then the speeches began. Saida beginning with a poem to commemorate the lives lost during the Orlando shooting that moved everyone in the room. A moment of silence so sharp it could cut a steel pole. Opening remarks by Board President Jessie Weber (whose baby is the cutest sack of flour around), followed by a beautifully-made video (link here: http://freestate-justice.org/announcing-freestate-justice/) that brought the room to attention with its stories of how FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland have impacted the community and where we need to go, continuing with a speech from my supervisor Patrick who ten revealed our name, mission, vision, and logo. We are now FreeState Justice as a homage to Equality Maryland’s past (it used to be called Free State Justice) and as a move towards a comprehensive justice-oriented organization unlike anything seen before.
We ended up raising over $70,000 and couldn’t be happier. We couldn’t be happier for the same-sex parents who can adopt children, for the trans people of Baltimore who can change their name, for the LGBTQ teens who can feel safer in their homes and at schools, and for the nation who has one more partner working towards LGBTQ inclusivity and justice. Because that’s what we really want, a lived equality and justice for all LGBTQ peoples. We all deserve to live safely and with dignity. We all deserve equality.
I look forward to working with FreeState Justice for the next few weeks and to see how it grows over the next couple of years. I can’t wait to hear more people discussing LGBTQ issues, standing up for their neighbors, and living proudly as queer. I can’t wait to experience my lived equality, because, working as hard as these people do, I’m sure it’s not far into the future.
They tell you it’s all about the journey and not the destination. I’m not sure where that got started and why we have to choose between the two. It’s not like when you’re eating an Oreo you have to choose whether to eat the cookie or the cream, right? And while I do love the journey, the hours of work behind the product, the learning, the mistakes, and more mistakes, the product is just as sweet.
Freedom is surprisingly scary, ironically enough for an intern working in criminal justice. At OPD freedom, in the form of release from detention, is frightening due to potential flight risk of a client, or the state of a client’s home life that leave you with the inevitable feeling that you will be seeing them on special arraignments again in a few weeks time. As zealous advocates for the expressed interests of our clients, attorneys at my office have to ask for release of their clients should their clients ask for it. It is a core tenant of the client centered approach that OPD takes, and it means that even if our attorneys fear our clients will slip up or flee, they must still attempt to persuade the court to release our client.
On a much more mundane level, my particular form of freedom came in the form of a boss on vacation. For two days I was left to perform tasks given to me by other attorneys at the office, or projects left by my boss. Thankfully I was able to find ways to fill time, from reading a motion to reconsider shackling one of the office’s clients in the courtroom, based on brand new case law only weeks old, to reading through accumulated files and filling out memorandums about them. Browsing these files, I was awed by the amount of trust placed in attorneys and their assistants by clients. The contents of a case file often contain information of the most sensitive nature, from criminal histories that spell out a client’s past, to medical discharges and diagnoses that describe a client’s present condition, to evidence and pending charges that will come to shape a client’s future.
These past few weeks have shown me that I very much enjoy researching case law and attempting to apply it to cases, so the opportunity to freely explore both new case law and new cases was welcome. The lack of structure was strange at first, but it allowed me to interact more with other attorneys in the office, attorneys with different styles and philosophies on practicing law than my supervisor. My coworkers have welcome myself and my fellow intern wholeheartedly, something I could not be more grateful for. My greatest fear for a summer internship is to spend my time getting coffee and dry cleaning for my coworkers. Although I have a fair amount of filing, I have not gotten a single cup of coffee for anyone. To the contrary, plans are even in place to go to an Orioles game with several members in the office. There is a kind of camaraderie in the office, built on everything from shared exasperation over the actions of overzealous State’s Attorneys and Magistrates to fantasy baseball to shared food in the lunch room. Everyone there is on the same side, fighting for our clients, flawed though they may be, the children of Baltimore.Tags: 2016, Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, BSHRC, CIIP, CIIP 2016, Freestate Legal, Office of the Public Defender, Public Justice Center, Week Three