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Non-Serviam

But it's not French that comes to me about this interaction, at least not proper French. It's latin: NON SERVIAM. That's what I should have said. I will not serve. I will not serve this system that is incredibly broken. I am not here to be a smooth conduit between the police and prison. NON SERVIAM! I will not serve! I will not serve! I scream it in my head.

“I mean, if they wanted a scorched-earth defense, they should have hired a private attorney,” said the court clerk, casually to me as I filed a motion. “You're the public defender. That's just like, you know, when you want someone to work out an ok deal or something.” I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything.  The French call it  l'esprit d'escalier, “staircase wit”- the reply thought of too late, when you're inevitably climbing a flight of stairs, mumbling to yourself about what just happened.

But it's not French that comes to me about this interaction, at least not proper French. It's latin: NON SERVIAM. That's what I should have said. I will not serve. I will not serve this system that is incredibly broken. I am not here to be a smooth conduit between the police and prison. NON SERVIAM! I will not serve! I will not serve! I scream it in my head.

I was raised in a certain brand of evangelical, apocalyptic Christianity particular to my part of the country and that time in American history. My childhood was full of images of the world waiting to erupt, at any second, with holy fire. Hell was as real to me as by bedroom curtains.  THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH drunk with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. “Please,” I begged friends, “Come to church, come to church with me this Sunday, we don't know if there will be a next Sunday. It might be too late.”

And I served. I served as hard as a small child could.  What choice does one have but to serve, when there are things that see every thought in your head, when you have to fight back the demons that are real and living in your house with you, when the whole future depends on your sinfulness?  “Please, Jesus, please! Don't let the apocalypse happen tonight. I promise I'll be so good. Please, Father, please! Not all my friends are saved. There are people in the world I love who will suffer. Please don't come back yet.” I threw myself before the throne. How different my little seven year-old soul would have been if Barabbas had been crucified instead.
Once in law school, my criminal law professor said, “In most criminal defense attorneys, there's some…darkness of the soul.” This is mine: that I grew up expecting the world to end by fire each night.

American society is fertile ground for apocalypticism because of the hysteria of the media and modern life. As society grew bigger, we didn't know our neighbors and everyone who didn't look like us became the Stranger. Bolt the doors, protect us from evils, as for me and my house…But we don't just lock ourselves inside to stay safe, we lock away the Strangers to keep Them away from Us. Otherwise you don't know what might happen. Otherwise things might erupt. I will not serve this.
As a child, I pressed my dimpled knees onto the hardwood floors begging for my own forgiveness. As a grown woman, I stand before the Court in uncomfortable shoes doing the same thing, on behalf of someone else.

I struggle mightily with the role that I play in this thing. I take the government's money. I play by the rules of ethics and procedure. I smile and nod and negotiate. But my heart is a ragged wound pouring forth the hellfire I was filled with as a child.

This man standing next to me does not look like me, but he is not a stranger. Blue Bic pen scratched into his mealy, orange canvas jumpsuit, “King of the Cage.” INRI, am I right? I put my hand on his sweaty back. You are who I choose to serve. Today I am grateful for the chance to serve you.  

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NAPD News

December 15, 2018: Registration is now open for NAPD's Spring Events:
  • Executive Leadership Insitute (Frankfort, KY)
  • Train the Trainer (Frankfort, KY)
  • "We the Defenders" Investigators Conference (Biloxi, MS)
  • "We the Defenders" Social Workers/Sentencing AdvocatesConference (Biloxi, MS)
  • Team Mitigation Institute (Atlanta, GA)
Click on Events Tab for more info and to register.
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October 30, 2018: NAPD releases a video about its achievements over the 5 years since forming in November in 2013. This films was coordinated by NAPD Steering Committee Member and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and debuted at the Racial Justice Training and 5 Year Celebration in Baltimore, Maryland. You can watch the video HERE

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July 1, 2018: General Registration opens for the “WE THE DEFENDERS” TRAINING CONFERENCE,  November 26-29, 2018, Indianapolis, IN

You can watch a video about the event HERE 

Due to overwhelming demand, NAPD will again offer this comprehensive Investigator and Social Worker/Sentencing Advocate training experience! The program will include one track for Investigators and a separate track for Social Worker/Sentencing Advocates.  Hear from nationally recognized experts who will share their knowledge on a wide range of topics relevant to the work you do each and every day.  Network with other criminal defense practitioners from around the country and find your tribe. 
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January 23, 2018: In response to US Attorney General Jeff Session's reversal of prior policy on the imposition of fines and fees for criminal defendants, NAPD submitted the following letter on behalf of the public defender community. You can read the letter HERE
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