2019 Summer Intern Reflection – Whitney Westbrook

I’ll start this reflection with the classic, “where do I begin?”  Because it’s true.  As you all are probably well aware of by now, I have lots of energy.  In my freshman year at college, I crafted a lifestyle for myself where I ran two to three times a day, and even though I had internships and class, I was never in the same place for more than four hours.  Needless to say, I was terrified of having a 9-5 job.  I was worried that I would be expected to sit at the same desk for eight hours and not be able to move around.  After the first day I quickly realized these fears were unfounded.  The hours of the day slipped away because I felt constantly engaged (don’t get me wrong, you all are still very glad that I ran 7-10 miles before work each morning).  I loved learning the ins and outs of the way GJP operates, and I loved learning how I could play a part.  I also greatly appreciate the fact that I was included in all of the field trips and exposed to so much.  I think my favorite experience with GJP would have to be our full-staff visit to the EJI museum in Montgomery.  The memorial and the museum were both equally powerful and it was an incredible reminder of just how important organizations like GJP are.  I also found the Medical Examiner’s office to be both interesting and informative (not to mention memorable, for obvious reasons).  The variety of experiences I was able to take part in as a result of my internship with GJP was truly one of a kind.  I thank you all very much for putting together a schedule rich with opportunities for us.

I hope that I made an impact on clients, even though I wasn’t the one helping restrict their records or defending them in court.  Even when I could tell right off the bat that GJP wasn’t going to be able to help the client, I would listen to them tell their story anyway.  I discovered that sometimes, all people need is someone to listen to and empathize with them.  One particular call found me listening to a young man tell me about how his probation was prohibiting him from leaving the state of Georgia, but due to his terminal illness all he wanted to do was go to California one last time to see his hometown and entire family.  He was nearly in tears, and his hopelessness was so tangible I almost broke down as well.  I’ve had several people break down like that in front of me, and I hated that I couldn’t do anything to help them.  This has made me sure that I will go to law school upon graduation.  I want to provide legal assistance to the vulnerable – immigrants and minorities in particular spark my interest, as they are the ones traditionally given the shaft by the American criminal justice system.  I think I always knew that there were people whom the law affected disproportionately, but after Client Services meetings, independent research, conversations with both attorneys and social workers, and our staff book club in particular, I really began to wrap my mind around the injustices that the American legal system breeds.  I think having a summer book club is such an amazing opportunity to foster open discussions about difficult topics in a safe environment.  I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to read The Sun Does Shine and to discuss the themes alongside my colleagues.

This summer would not have been the same without the Back to School event!  I loved the degree of autonomy that both Martha and myself were given to coordinate the event.  The event itself is incredible.  I loved the opportunities that all stages of the event, from preparation to registration to the actual day to distributing backpacks afterwards, afforded me to interact with our clients.  It was also wonderful to see the entire GJP staff (and the greater legal community!) come together to make the event such a success.  It was pretty amazing that people were willing to drop their work and help stuff backpacks, and then spend the bulk of their Saturday facepainting and playing spikeball with kids.  Atoyia, your dedication and hard work is admirable, and I hope you feel as if it paid off. 

I loved the opportunities to work closely with several members of the GJP staff, as this gave me a chance not only to get to become familiar with all the different types of work that GJP does, it also allowed me to get to know each of you as people.  That’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world, because while it is true that the work GJP does is one of a kind, what really makes this office such a wonderful place is the people that work here and the environment that fosters.

Dominque, your kindness lights up the entire office.  You always had a smile to share with me from day one.  Erin, you were always so sweet when I ran into your office every five seconds on certain days asking questions (sorry, you were the closest attorney J ).  Your knowledge is expansive and I thank you for being willing to share it with me.  Doug, you took time out of your day on the very first day of our internship to eat pizza and talk with us.  Your generosity and humility are wonderful qualities and I have been touched by them throughout my time here.  Ross, you jumped at the opportunity to talk to the summer camp kids from Morehouse at a moment’s notice when I asked if you would.  Your willingness to help anyone and everyone astounds me.  Katherine, you were so kind when guiding us through cycle summaries.  Your patience is unparalleled.  Callen – I owe you everything, so thanks for showing me the ropes up to the very last day (and we all know you started the finger guns – sorry, Ross).  None of it went unnoticed.  I could say a million wonderful things about each one of you, because you all made a significant impact on me within days.  Hopefully your personal notes do that justice (ha, ha).

I feel so lucky to have worked with each and every one of you this summer.  To that point, I admire each of you a great deal.  You all have taught me that a wonderful workplace is a reality – that it is possible for people to truly like one another and therefore want to work for and with one another, and that rewarding, valuable work is not only possible but made far easier by such an environment.  Thank you.