A Thank You Letter to My Clients
To my clients - former and present, those fond of me and those not so much, those who I've represented for a few days and those I've represented for months - thank you. This is my second Thanksgiving as a public defender/attorney but my first after carrying any meaningful case load.It is difficult to appreciate the holiday season when on Thanksgiving Day, our Native brothers and sisters while attempting to peacefully protect their land and water were met by militarized police forces. It is not easy to muster up enthusiasm when I cannot stop thinking about our president-elect's possible cabinet and Supreme Court appointments and what havoc they will wreak on an already narrowly applied 4th amendment, abortion rights, and other civil liberties. Of course, I do have a lot to be thankful for – certainly more than to what I am entitled. A group of people that I find myself thanking a great deal this year are my clients.
To my clients - former and present, those fond of me and those not so much, those who I've represented for a few days and those I've represented for months - thank you.
This is my second Thanksgiving as a public defender/attorney but my first after carrying any meaningful case load. At this point, like most PDs in my position, I have represented hundreds of clients. I have gotten to know some of you better than others. I'm sorry if you ever felt that I was distant or didn't have time for you. You aren't wrong to feel skeptical. I'm 26 and look 16. I still have a lot of questions about what I'm doing. I've gotten a bit better about not looking so perplexed. I'm sure I seem frantic in court on heavy docket days. You got a letter or a random phone call or jail visit from a lawyer you didn't get to choose. I remind myself that it must be terribly stressful to not only be accused of a crime but also to just get a lawyer handed to you by the very Government that's prosecuting you. I wouldn't be surprised if it scared you. Your liberty is at stake, after all. Thanks for letting me be your lawyer. Thanks for trusting me. I know you didn't have much choice in the matter, but you seem to have adjusted to the reality of my representation.
I want you to know that I have learned from you. I have learned about this town, about what cops are actually doing on the street, and what the jails are really like. I have also learned from you how people should be treated. I have learned about dignity and the importance of treating people with autonomy and giving them ownership over their life and their choices.
Without you, I would not be able to confront my own biases, privileges, and understanding of the world. Sure, I like to think I would make some sort of effort to remain aware, but awareness is not confrontation. Seeing you walk into court shackled to one another for misdemeanors - that is confrontation. Looking at those of you who are still children tied up with chains around your waist and ankles - that is confrontation. It makes me sick every time. You don't deserve it; I hope you know that. You're worth more than how our courts treat you.
I don't think I really knew much about any of that stuff – dignity, human worth, autonomy - until I met you. I thought I did. I always cared about injustice and disparity and all of those nice policy terms, but it wasn't until I met all of you that I got it. I'm still "getting it." You're still helping me, especially the kids. Man, y'all are so smart and so aware of your surroundings in such a raw, honest way and you're not even 18!
There's a real humanity in your stories - a sincerity that I rarely encounter outside of the jail or client meetings. It beats talking to other lawyers, I'll tell you that much. I can go to court and feel totally drained or defeated and then have a great conversation with you and quickly remember why I chose to be a public defender. You are truly the best part of this job. You keep my colleagues and me going.
Thank you for your trust, insight and willingness to share the private details of your life with a stranger. Thank you for hiding your immediate terror about being represented by a new attorney that clearly looks like she still listens to Miley Cyrus songs. Thank you for allowing me into your life, even for a short time.
It is a privilege to represent you and I hope you know that I've always got your back.