I initially interacted with the Georgia Justice Project in a huge and crowded hall with over a thousand students milling around. Amidst the low buzz of chaos, the attorneys interviewing me were warm and friendly, provided succinct overviews of Georgia law affecting criminal records and child support debt (while taking my own surprise in stride), and made time for my own questions. This attitude of brilliance and kindness permeated throughout the organization.
Being a part of GJP’s first remote intern class, my expectations were nominal (the fact that I got to intern at all was more than enough!). But I was so fortunate to be working alongside folks who got things done and were willing to teach along the way. My second day involved observing the team as it coordinated the best way to support Black Lives protestors. Despite being in New England while these conversations were happening in Atlanta, it was exciting to witness the team adjust in real time to meet the needs of the community during these protests and with a pandemic. I’ll admit, I was a little bummed that I couldn’t join the on-the-ground outreach efforts, but that feeling quickly dissipated with the other opportunities I had.
For instance, later that first week, one of my supervising attorneys invited me to observe intake interviews. Data clearly shows criminal records negatively impact job and housing prospects but hearing how such a record from years (or even decades ago) affected folks’ lives in tragic ways was so significant. Bearing witness to the emotional and mental toll of the existing criminal system on clients is something that will stay with me, and I imagine is a key reason behind the GJP staff being so willing to help and support clients (as much as each other). Seeing the collaboration between the social work and legal sides of the team was encouraging, too.
It’s tough to write a concise reflection because I experienced so much even from far away. My co-interns and I had virtual “hang outs” and we were similarly in awe by the organization’s ethic and effort. Connecting solely virtually was new, but GJP made it work. I now know a lot about what I don’t know about Georgia’s criminal law system (note: it’s a tough nut to crack). I’ve learned a good deal from different team members on topics ranging from remaining calm when faced with madness, understanding how to slice through the madness, remaining empathetic, maintaining optimism, the wonders of zoom polls, why getting dispositions can feel like a contact sport, and so much more. While I was sold on the holistic and client centered approach that the two interviewing attorneys discussed when we first met, seeing it in action gave me a new appreciation for the work.