By Priscila Santos, 2L
Suffolk University School of Law
When I applied for an internship at Harvard Law School’s Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), I was a bit nervous. The internship is hands-on and you get the responsibilities of a lawyer with a student attorney title. At PLAP, students take either disciplinary or parole hearing cases and, with the assistance of the supervising attorney, they handle legal cases from beginning to end. Students handling disciplinary hearings visit clients in prison, conduct discovery, perform cross-examinations, argue motions to dismiss or consolidate, and make closing arguments. Students working on parole hearings prepare clients to be examined by the Parole Board. They also prepare written submissions and give opening and closing statements at the hearing. The internship has taken me out of my comfort zone and helped me improve my writing skills and ability to make better oral arguments.
My first case involved a parole revocation hearing. While going through my client’s paperwork, I was surprised to see a dark childhood experience of abuse. Yet, when I met my client for the first time, I found a loving, kind, and intelligent person who unfortunately had turned to drugs to cope with depression, leading to a prison sentence. I very much wanted to make a convincing argument so that this person could have a second chance in life. But this was my first hearing, and my client’s faith in me made me nervous. I prepared for the argument by thoroughly going through the case file and strategizing with my supervising attorney. We showed our client’s plans for treatment for substance abuse and ultimately convinced the Board to grant parole.
The biggest learning curve and the biggest challenge so far, has been speaking, writing, and acting like a lawyer. In most places, an aspiring 2L does not have a chance to work at a hands-on organization like PLAP. I feel humbled to have this opportunity and to work on prisoners’ rights. The trend of neglect, poverty, and drugs is saddening. Every time I meet a prisoner, I think about what went wrong and how can I help to change the status-quo.
I was once told that the meaning of life is to shine a light in dark places, and I feel that is what we do at PLAP. We provide services to people that have been neglected by society and sometimes even family. We forget that these men and women are human beings with real feelings. I believe that understanding their past, showing compassion, and defending their few outstanding rights, might just be the trigger that will help them lead a better life after prison.