Issues,  Law School,  Legal Practice

Summer Series: Breaking the Prison Pipeline

Our Summer Series continues! This series highlights different Latina students and law grads as they embark in their summer jobs and/or bar prep all across the country. We hope to provide a variety of work experiences, options for a healthy work-life balance, and general motivation through different guest contributors to help you to take charge of your summer and professional goals!  Today we hear from Crystal, a rising 3L from California, who describes the vital impact attorneys make in the lives of our Latinx youth:

Growing up, my oldest brother, Christian, was in and out of juvenile detention centers. Among many other reasons, his experience is why I pursued law school. Even when I was faced with challenge after challenge in my path to Golden Gate Law School, I had one goal in mind that continuously pushed me forward: helping someone like my brother, Christian, in the way that his public defender, Mr. Garcia, had helped him. It wasn’t until he met Mr. Garcia that he turned his life around. Mr. Garcia gave Christian a new perspective on life because he invested time into my brother’s life. He worked tirelessly on Christian’s case and dropped by to visit with a bright smile and a stack of books every other week. Mr. Garcia gave Christian the realization that there was a life outside of the neighborhood gangs. More importantly, Christian trusted him. He changed Christian’s life in ways he did not imagine. After Christian was released from the juvenile detention center, he moved away to San Jose for a fresh start. He worked in a storage facility and eventually worked his way up to becoming manager. He married his high-school sweetheart and they had two feisty boys.

            But, this is not the common story of a young Latino youth caught in the system. Generally, once you’re in the system, you stay in. However, there was one factor that changed the outcome of my brother’s story and it was his public defender, Mr. Garcia. Mr. Garcia saw and treated Christian like he was a person; he was not just a number or another Latino youth caught up in the system. He saw Christian how I saw him: a young man with endless potential. This recognition changed how my brother saw himself and how he envisioned his future. Without realizing it, Mr. Garcia had changed my life as well. For the first time in my life, I had seen the power a public defender held and how Mr. Garcia had used his power to help another person’s life.

            I mention this because I have had the honor of working with inspiring, passionate federal public defenders this summer as an intern at the Federal Public Defender’s Office (Northern District). In particular, I saw the importance of treating a client with kindness and respect, when I was assigned to a gun possession trial. Soon after I was assigned to the trial, I had the opportunity of briefly meeting our client. I immediately noticed how young and soft-spoken he was. The second thing that came to mind was how similar his personality was to Christian’s. I saw my brother in him, but I also saw the thousands of young Latino and African-American youth caught up in the vicious, never-ending cycle of the criminal justice system. In the first and second chair public defenders I saw who I wanted to be one day as a public defender: dedicated and kind.  

            The one thing that Christian still tells me to this day was how important it was that his public defender listened to him. It was simple really—it showed him that someone cared about what he had to say. This same sense of respect is what I have seen in the interactions between our client and the first and second chair public defenders. When they talk about or with our client, they show him compassion—they listen and treat him like a human being. But more importantly, they are fighting for his case, something everyone in the criminal justice system deserves, but doesn’t receive.

            Overall, my brother’s incarceration experience planted a small seed in my mind that grew into the belief that humans make mistakes and those mistakes do not make them bad people. The seed also grew into the understanding that all people, regardless of race, gender, or citizenship status, are entitled to zealous representation. As a summer intern with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, I have further realized my true purpose and passion for the law. This summer, in working with brilliant federal public defenders and resilient clients my passion to fight for people like my brother by being a public defender has further strengthened.


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