Class of 2013
Hands sweaty and stomach fluttering, I jolted over the pothole-strewn prison road to the main building. It was my first night of interviews, and I admit to a certain measure of dread. Who was I - a twenty-year-old college girl - to invade the consciousness of hardened criminals? I began to regret the fervor that led me here. Looking out the car window, I watched a line of men in blue jeans march across furrowed fields, scythes over their shoulders, while guards on horseback fingered their rifles. Clutching my lime green butterfly notebook on my lap, I panicked; the void seemed too great. What gave me any right to ask for their story?
It had taken me two years of negotiations before the maximum-security state penitentiary agreed to host my project. My idea was this: to live in the prison for a week and conduct one-on-one interviews with inmates. From these interviews, I planned to write a collection of creative nonfiction accounts profiling the incarceration experience. With a professor to mentor my writing and a chaperone to accompany me during prison interviews, my team was complete. I was the first unaffiliated journalist, as they insisted on terming me, and certainly the first college student to attempt such a project.
The idea of the project stemmed from two previous experiences. The first occurred during my gap year between high school and college when I spent a semester volunteering at the Monrovia Central Prison in Liberia; the ingrained squalor and corruption awakened me to the limitations of human justice. The second experience was a spring break trip to a men's maximum-security state penitentiary, the same prison that later hosted my academic project. After the first visit, the inmates' stories and desperation had haunted me; I wished the greater public could also experience these stories. I was convinced that giving voice to these silenced inmates could promote a measure of restoration in our larger society. I still hold this conviction, although now I recognize the challenges of the task.
An adversarial warden and an arthritic prison bureaucracy opposed my project. Three times during the week, I was forced to advocate for continued access to the inmates. It was worth it. My experiences with the prisoners surpassed my expectations and radically changed my perception of the American penal system. Their stories are now woven within my own and have come to influence my academic and professional pursuits. They led me to a clerkship with Jane Doe - an attorney specializing in reversing wrongful convictions who recently freed Joe smith, a former Missouri inmate released after serving almost a decade for a crime he did not commit. Ms. Doe's work exemplifies a commitment to legal restoration, recognizing the right of each human being to true justice. I hope to emulate this commitment in my own legal career.
This project also directed my decision to attend law school. In addition to wrongful conviction work and military law, I am interested in prison reform policy, hopeful for a reformation that could preempt the causes of crime within our society. The [law school's] Center on Poverty works toward this same end, focusing on holistic social transformation. Its commitment to excellence and acceptance of ingenuity is inspiring. I wish to join [law school's] student body because of [its] unique approach to and perspective on legal solutions.