Georgia Justice Project Summer Reflection
August 20, 2010
When asked to write about my experience at Georgia Justice Project this summer, I was overwhelmed with so many thoughts and emotions that the task quickly became overwhelming. How was I supposed to put into words the experience I had there? How could I ever begin to quantify the friendships I made, and the impact these people had on me? The answer to those questions is easy: I can’t. I know no way to fully express the effect this experience had on me, so please bear with me, read between the lines, and understand that there is so much more I wish I was eloquent enough to say.
When driving to Atlanta for my interview I told my two classmates (yes, we were carpooling to go interview against each other for a job!) that they were probably better suited for a job like this because I had the heart of a prosecutor, fully believed in consequences for poor behavior, and even worse – I’m a CONSERVATIVE! (Gasp!) As we got off the exit at Edgewood Avenue in South East Atlanta, I reiterated that I was certain they were better suited for this job because I “wasn’t comfortable” with this part of town. (Whatever, I’m totally a local now.)
Something (although very small) changed in me as we pulled in the parking lot of the converted old gas station. I began to think of the history of this neighborhood, and wondered how many great civil rights leaders might have stopped to get gas here, or maybe buy a Coke. Walking in to the building sparked that curiosity even further, and I allowed myself to fully acknowledge that this organization had a specific purpose for being here, and I couldn’t help but be intrigued.
The interview started with a short video highlighting clients, their families, organization board members and volunteers, as well as staff members. By the time eight minutes had passed, I wanted so badly to be a part of this… this thing, this community presence, this change, this progress, this force, this idea that had grown from something so small into something as important as Georgia Justice Project is today. My interview with Ron Boyter solidified that desire. I felt like I just had lunch with an old friend, and I felt like I belonged there. (Sidenote: I was certain I did not get the job because I was totally honest about my prosecutor heart, and because the interview felt more like chatting with a friend than an interview. I mean, I wasn’t even asked to share my 3 strength and weaknesses as they pertained to this position. Every real interview has that question, right!?!)
A few weeks later I received an e-mail from Professor Tim Floyd congratulating me and offering me the job! Because of a mix-up with resumes, I was certain this was a mistake. I visited Professor Floyd’s office to clear things up, to which he assured me there had been no mistake. I (again) explained my concerns about being the right fit to which I got a response that resonated in me. Professor Floyd told me that he was absolutely certain I was the right fit for the job, and that this was going to be a summer I would never forget. He told me he was excited about the experience I would have with this organization he had been closely involved with for years. This professor I didn’t know well at the time had fully put his faith in me and my abilities, and was excited for me! I felt a lot of pressure at this point to meet his expectations, as well as to represent my school the best I possibly could. Thus begins my career with GJP.
From the moment I walked in the front doors on day one I felt one hundred percent part of the GJP family. Upon meeting Doug Ammar for the first time, (I was nervous for about the first thirty seconds) I quickly realized that he would be a great source of education and constant encouragement. I was thrilled to learn that I would be working on real cases affecting real people and was so eager to take part in a justice system I respect so much.
Never in my life did I believe my opinion would be respected so much, but I experienced that all summer long from every single person I encountered; everyone from the clients and their families, to fellow interns, to the social work, fundraising, and landscape staff, to seasoned lawyers who had been doing this work for years actually listened, cared, and considered my thoughts. I mattered there, but more importantly the work I was doing there mattered.
My work at Georgia Justice Project taught me so much more than courtroom etiquette and procedure. It taught me that the preconceptions I had about criminals were nothing but misconceptions. This experience taught me that the only difference between me and our clients was a few decisions made along the way. It taught me that I can look in the eye of an alleged murderer and genuinely want nothing but the best for them because they are a real person, with a real family just like mine, and a mom and dad at home who just miss their child. I learned that wanting the best for your client does not always mean you want them to walk. I also learned, however, that I should never forget the other side no matter what kind of law I practice, especially if a victim is involved. It taught me that I believe so strongly in the system of justice in our country that even when it doesn’t work out how I want it to, I still respect it. I also learned, however, that more often than not the system will not work out exactly how I think it should. I learned that there are more flaws in our system than I can count, or ever attempt to remedy, but we put our faith in it every single day because the face of a client’s child is burned in our mind.
Georgia Justice Project broke down barriers I didn’t even know existed inside me, and I will be forever grateful. I now see success not as a favorable verdict in the courtroom, but as a former client finishing a long day of landscaping with their head held high heading home to a family they can help support and be an active part of, all the while knowing that they have another family at GJP cheering them on with every single step.
You can also check out Elizabeth's blog at: http://lizpoolcool.blogspot.com/
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