August 4, 2017
I just finished my last week at Branch 43! My last day was one of the most hectic and emotional I’ve experienced so far. A large portion of our morning was taken up by spending time with a deaf client who required two interpreters that Katie was representing later in the afternoon. I took the opportunity to ask the two interpreters some questions about their work and how I might be able to learn a bit more about the specific challenges that deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates face going through the system. They were so eager to talk to someone my age who was interested in their work and completely lit up when I told them I was studying sociology! I plan to maintain contact with them and have considered doing an independent research project on deaf/HoH inmates this coming year. There was also a woman in a cell by herself who was protesting being locked up by clogging the toilet in her cell with her shirt and then pushing the water out under the door, all the while kicking the door for the entire 30 minutes we were down in lock-up. Needless to say, everyone was a bit high strung.
Also of note, at a trial earlier this week Katie succeeded in proving a client accused of animal cruelty not guilty. The defendant’s landlord had let himself into her home, let her dog out and allowed it to run all over the apartment and make various messes, then changed her locks. Basically, he was trying to illegally evict her by force because (it was revealed) he did not like her boyfriend, so he then called animal control and had her dog taken from her. The courts also act as the stage for community scrabbles such as this one, where the stakes are not incredibly high but they find that these issues can settle once everyone has “their day in court” as the PD’s refer to it.
That same day Katie entrusted me with taking down the information necessary for an incident report so that a case could be transferred to a different courthouse from a defendant I recognized from being present for his mitigation interview earlier this summer. I used to be amazed at how Katie remembers the names of all her clients on sight, but after a while I was managing to start remembering some people myself! In the afternoon I had the unusual task of going to the donation pile in front of the public defender’s office and picking a shirt for a defendant who was arrested shirtless. Normally if this happens the sheriff’s give them an extra smock that they give to inmates, but they were all out. Barrington insisted that he had a shirt when he appeared in front of the judge, not surprisingly because he was covered in tattoos as well as what looked like a couple of healed stab wounds.
This experience has gone above and beyond my expectations. I had the privilege of learning just about all there is to know about people’s first interaction with the criminal justice system just through being able to sit in court and listen to proceedings. I learned firsthand what it is like to work for the federal government while still at the mercy of Chicago politics; i.e. dealing with 63 layoffs in the public defender’s office, or the aftermath of Rahm Emanuel slashing funding for mental health services and public schools and how this manifests in the Cook County court system. I also had the immense privilege of clerking for two public defenders as brilliant and patient as Barrington and Katie, as well as Drew and Colleen in Branch 44, who answered all of my hurried questions in between Kuzas sentencing their clients and did their very best to put me to work and make sure my experience was as immersive as possible. I feel beyond lucky that I was assigned to Katie for this internship as someone so close to me in age and who shares so many common interests and perspectives on the criminal justice system, and I can genuinely say I left Harrison and Kedzie with new friends.
Allegra is a sociology major from Chicago, Illinois.