The People I Find: Law School

Ever since Legally Blonde came out, I have wanted to be a lawyer. I love crime, not committing it, but learning about it to every extent. This week I am pleased to be sharing Bree’s story. Bree and I went to High School together. I remember her being a genius in school, I always looked up to her! Bree was always very outgoing and willing to be kind to others. I enjoyed reading her story, and seeing her passion and care for the people around her. She is going to make a great lawyer. I am pretty sure she will have my back, when I get my next perm, if you know what I mean 😉


 

This is Bree’s Unknown Story:

breeHello! My name is Bree and I am about to complete law school at the University of Michigan. When Clare suggested that I write something for her blog, I was honored. I love reading this blog and have found all of the stories written by others on here to be inspiring, genuine, and sometimes verrry funny! When Clare asked me to talk about law school, I wasn’t sure what I could share; I can’t write much detail about my clients and their problems without breaking their trust and confidentiality, but vague stories just aren’t as interesting. After some brainstorming, I realized that I often get questions about applying to law school. I’m always happy to weigh the pros and cons with students looking to apply, but you can find that same sort of thing all over the internet. So instead, I settled on showing you all an example of a law school personal statement. Below is the story I told in my personal essay. Also, if you are reading this blog and you have questions about law school, the application process, or the legal career, please feel free to send me your emails! I am so grateful for this opportunity and would be happy to share my experiences. My email is breannav@umich.edu.

The first time I visited the maximum-security prison, I remember clutching a Ziploc bag of quarters that jingled as my hands shook. Prisoners missed meals during visits, and guests were supposed to bring change to feed them from the vending machines. There were no make-up meals, even if guests couldn’t bring money. I thought about this while I walked towards the entrance, while also trying to feign enough confidence to go inside.

The waiting room looked like an airport terminal, and I paused for a moment to scan the visitors. Dressed-up preschoolers bounced on their grandmothers’ laps. Women smiled while inspecting their lipstick with compact mirrors. A man stood up, offering me his seat. The presence of ordinary people took me by surprise, and I felt my stomach release a breath I didn’t know I had been holding. My fear dissipated as I breathed, but shame soon replaced it.  With the stigma attached to prison, I hadn’t envisaged families. Perhaps I had assumed that criminals were too sinister to be humans; I didn’t expect to see actual men, with their families. I considered this, and recognized though my shame that the visitors and I were equal. I was one of them. I was visiting someone too.

I came to see my friend Kerry. Letters to and from him arrived after a delay, which intensified his feelings of isolation. I wanted to make sure he didn’t feel abandoned, especially near the holidays. We had worked together at a real estate company before his arrest; he was the man who taught me how to manage an office: how to stuff one more foreclosure file into a full cabinet without making my fingers bleed; how to calm desperate sellers who yelled into the phone because nobody made offers in the down market; how to motivate others and make them feel better during their hardest years.

Local media nicknamed this prison “The Gladiator School” after the ACLU filed a complaint alleging that guards promoted prisoner-on-prisoner violence. To conceal the assaults, the guards refused to provide medical care to the injured inmates. I spoke with an attorney representing one of the inmates, and he told me that the guards watched, laughing, as another prisoner beat his client for nine minutes. Through published security tapes, I confirmed the attorney’s story. I observed, stunned that the guards wouldn’t intervene, as a prisoner beat the client unconscious and then jumped on his head. As I watched, I attempted to process the level of abuse that some of these men had endured. The attorney’s client spent three days in a coma; he still suffers from severe brain damage.

In the visiting room, most of the inmates’ skin appeared so white it looked almost translucent under the fluorescent lights. One inmate in the corner of the room reached to grab the monopoly piece from the game at his table, pulling his jumpsuit back long enough for me to see the flesh on his arm. It appeared almost rotten, as if the skin could dissolve with water. I had never seen men with so little color. When I asked, Kerry told me that the guards wouldn’t allow them to go outside, which meant some of the prisoners hadn’t felt sunshine for months, maybe years.  Kerry — a black man — joked that at least he had no trouble keeping his tan indoors.

But they all looked thin, including Kerry. He might have been thin because of the HIV. His weight became dangerously low in prison, and the medical staff demanded that he receive a fourth meal. It still wasn’t enough. He told me that he wrapped the cheese of fourth meal in toilet paper and saved it under his pillow, so that he could eat when his hunger became unmanageable. But the guards searched his cell, found the cheese and confiscated it. I bought him a few candy bars from the vending machine before our time ran out, unsure of what else I could do.

What I saw that day has stuck with me. Of course I am not naive enough to believe in the dissolution of the prison system. I understand that prisons serve a critical purpose in our society, and I am often grateful that they exist. However, the behavior I witnessed dramatically changed my perspective on how prisons should operate. It humbled me to realize that men lived there and that families visited; this is something that seems obvious, but I think is often forgotten. These men may have been caged, but they were — are — still human. This fact has been seared into my mind by my first visit.

Witnessing the prisoner’s mistreatment not only disconcerted me, it also gave me energy. That energy has driven me to discover solutions and prompted me study law. With increasing prison populations, I expect that the conditions will remain similar to what I witnessed. I want to make certain that those who run the system account for the lives of these men.

 


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