Tuesday, March 11, 2014

i win.

I am amazed, I am awed by the fragile purity these women display. They, who have seen the worst the world has to offer, are the most lovely, the most trusting, the biggest-hearted people I know. How do they do it?

It may be true that this job allows me to be of some benefit to them, but honestly, I'm selfish in my desire to keep doing the work. Humility, resilience, and courage. A capacity for giving second chances. A willingness to acknowledge a way beyond what they want to be true. I see them every day. I'm taught them every day. I never want to stop learning from these women. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

grown ups.

Once when I was younger - maybe not super little - I asked my mom at what point a person starts to feel like a grown-up. I remember her telling me that she thought it happened the day a person brings their first child home from the hospital.

I wonder, though, if it's not so much about having a baby, but more about being responsible for another person. Because ever since I've been taking care of these clients, I feel truly like an adult for the first time in my life. For the first time ever, there are women depending on me in a way that I cannot get out of. And the more we work together and the more we talk and the more secrets of theirs that I know, the more I feel tied to this, not as a lawyer, but as a human being.

I don't think it's about parenting. I think it's about being responsible for a life. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

the worst part, for me.

Something else you should know about me is this: I am a Christian. And because of the teachings of my faith, I believe that my job is to love the person in front of me to the best of my ability. I'm meant to love them and serve them like they were my sister, my father, my husband. So as the weeks pass and you read my journals and it appears that I've become unnaturally attached to these women, know that I know it's happening.

I find that the best way to help a person is to try to see the world from her perspective. Sometimes it means going to the dark and scary places with her. Sometimes it means getting on your face in the dirt with her. Sometimes it means literally holding her hand at her first-ever doctor's appointment, or driving her to therapy, or remembering to bring the tissues to the interview. Let's call it holistic lawyering - they don't call you "counselor" for nothing. I am a Christian before I am a lawyer, and as such my job is to love the one in front of me.  The worst part for me is that I'm not allowed to comfort her. I can listen to the worst, most gruesome, heartrending story for hours, but the instant she starts to cry and I just have to sit there and wait for her to stop, I want to start crying too. I have to literally bite my tongue. I try really hard to seem in charge and professional. In the prison, we have to sit on opposite sides of the table. Handshakes are okay, said the guard I asked on my first visit, but "no hugging!" In real life, I would scootch my chair over and put my arm around her while she cried.

For me, that's the worst part.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


"Some women are lost in the fire. Some women are built from it."

I read that quote this week.

I don't know which one she is yet.

She cries at the drop of a hat, and she thinks her salvation is at risk because of her 'sinful' desire for self-preservation. 
But she did what she thought was right. Her story is incredible. She is a strong one.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


So I'm on the treadmill today thinking about how lucky I am. Not lucky in a warm-and-fuzzy sense, but in a glad-I-dodged-that-bullet sense. I think of the women (and men) I've met recently and I feel lucky.

'You mean blessed,' corrects the little voice in my head. Sometimes I correct myself out loud in this way, so using "blessed" in place of "lucky" is starting to take root in my subconscious.

'No,' I think. 'Not this time. This time it's just lucky.'

Blessed implies, at least in my head, 'somehow better than.' It seems unfair. I haven't done anything particularly good or brave to warrant being blessed. And my recent acquaintances haven't done anything bad to warrant their shitty luck (other than being, you know, girls). It's just by sheer luck of the draw that we're not sitting on reverse sides of the table when we meet.  

Then I start to think about purpose. Like, in an Esther 'for such a time as this' way. I know God wants me to serve. But I cannot believe that I'm somehow more equipped than F would be. Or Bandana. It's just about opportunity, and opportunity is a factor of where you're born, which is just fate. 

I'm here, and I'll do it with a full heart. I just don't think blessed is the right word. And sitting in the attorney-client room at the prison, it sounds real pretentious.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

this summer.

I can’t tell you a lot about what I did this summer.

The attorney-client privilege keeps me from telling you about the unbelievable clients I had. Let me instead explain, in more general terms, what I learned from my internship with the immigration office of a refugee resettlement agency.

The human capacity for patience. At the office, we would sometimes whine to each other about that lady who keeps calling over and over again to see if there is any change in her case. But honestly, the lady has  probably been waiting for fourteen months for immigration to approve the petition she put in for her children. (Wouldn’t you be a little antsy?) But you know what’s incredible? For every antsy mom there were ten who waited patiently for weeks, months, years for their petitions to be approved and never complained or cried. I can learn something from these families.

The dual nature of people’s lives and personalities. I don’t want to be gullible or jaded.  It’s difficult not to be one or the other in this kind of work. People lie. But people also have a deep capacity to change and adapt. For every client I immediately loved that later shocked me by revealing arrest or imprisonment for a pretty terrible crime there was another client I viewed with suspicion who melted my heart with his desire to do good and be better.

That a lot can be explained by cultural differences. At first, I was put-off by some clients’ endless take, take, take. They turned their noses up at making any kind of payment, no matter how much I explained that an “actual” attorney would charge them much, much more. And they were constantly asking about free stuff: food, clothes, or help getting a job. Then someone explained to me that, where they come from, the government is expected to provide all of these things. But the government there is “bad,” so it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. These arrivals have heard that the U.S. government is “good,” so they expect that it will provide for their every need. It’s difficult to undo that kind of perception, and it explains a lot about what can be construed as deep-seated personal greed.

The presence of a deep sadness that you would never know. (Or that you do.) One of my co-workers was particularly good at breaking bad news. This always impressed me. One day when she was letting someone down gently, the person said in halting English, “When you are telling me this, my heart has a crack in it.” I thought about that person for weeks afterward, and my co-worker said so did she. This client walked in with an air of heaviness that made me think long and hard about the extremely personal nature of the problems that walked through our door.