My internship with the Georgia Justice Project greatly expanded my understanding of the criminal justice system. I learned how child support is used as another tool to separate families of color; I witnessed how a decades old offense can plague someone as they look for housing and employment; and I learned how records can be filed under incorrect information, making it extremely difficult for someone to learn their criminal record. However, witnessing the dehumanization of individuals who have interacted with the criminal justice system impacted me the greatest.
On my first day in the office, I learned how to return calls to potential clients of our Criminal Records Program. In one of the first voicemails, a potential client described his criminal record and the anguish it had caused him: “I should be a regular citizen … my background doesn’t even begin to describe me or give a glimpse into who I am … I’m hungry and I’m ready to start living.” The pain, anger, frustration, and sadness that I heard in this man’s voice find no expression in his criminal record, which reduces him to a few sheets of paper that highlight his worst moments. For me, this internship highlighted the importance of reaffirming the personhood of individuals whom the criminal justice system works to dehumanize.