The Special Few
There are the very special few. Public Defenders. You guys. You seek out those hands. You grasp them, hold them, work to pull them to safety. You often cannot succeed. Your clients are so frequently swallowed in injustice. But you are by their side as it happens.Editor's note - This post is a response to yesterday's post by Jacinta Hall . Both originated as emails to the Gideon's Promise listserv and have been reworked slightly for NAPD.
Your email is sad. But it is also such a powerful reminder of why you guys are so so special. It is a reminder of just how hard this job is; how important it is; and how few people are truly cut out to do this important work.
You and your colleagues signed up to spend your days (and nights) in the epicenter of some of the greatest injustice of our times. You confront it every day. And in doing so, you watch people get swallowed up in the injustice every day. Doing this work drives many to become desensitized...to stop caring. You guys have a strong, client-centered foundation, and a supportive community, that keeps you from "not caring." This is a burden; and a gift. The burden is that your empathy takes an emotional toll on you. You carry an emotional burden that few people will ever know. It makes it harder to sleep, to relax, to "let it go." Confronting injustice, seeing the human toll, and refusing to "not care" is hard.
But it is also an incredible gift. You live a life that has purpose, and meaning. You sacrifice to make so many others' lives just a little more bearable.
Our clients are drowning in injustice. They sink a little more each day. Their hand is reaching out grasping for anyone who will grab it and try to pull them to safety.
Most lawyers (in fact, most people) position themselves to never see the outstretched hands. They live comfortable lives with nice things, and can pretend the injustice is not right outside.
Others actually see the outstretched hands and choose to ignore them. They watch them sink out of existence every day. They participate in the process that ensures they will drown, and lose sight of their role in the injustice.
Then there are the very special few. Public Defenders. You guys. You seek out those hands. You grasp them, hold them, work to pull them to safety. You often cannot succeed. Your clients are so frequently swallowed in injustice. But you are by their side as it happens.
As I read your email I thought of how sad it must be to die alone. To be on one's death bed with no family, no visitors, no one who cares. One day we will all go...and we can only hope we are surrounded by people who love us, and care for us. They can't keep us from dying. But they can make the transition so much more bearable.
You do this for you client's every day. You did this for this particular client. You could not rescue him from the injustice of the system. But you were by his side, grasping his hand, the whole time. This matters. How sad it would be to not have that.
Yesterday was certainly a sad day. But it is also a reminder of how needed you are. How important your work is. You could have chosen a job that insulates you from these moments. And you would quickly become oblivious to reality. How sad would that be? For you, for us, for all your clients.
We don't always save people from an incredibly cruel system. But we make sure none of our clients are forced to navigate it alone. They will never reach out for help and not have a hand grasp theirs in reassurance. Reassurance, not that they will be saved, but that they are not alone.
We are lucky to have you. Usually you are providing the support. Let us know if there is anything we can now do to support you.