I was an intern at Georgetown Universitys Criminal Justice Clinic when I met Meosha Jones. It was the summer of 2018. We shook hands and sat together in the visiting room of the Washington, DC Juvenile Detention Centre, formally referred to as The Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. I would soon come to realize the irony in the name. I was 20; she was turning 18. She didnt seem to mind our closeness in age and my novice experience. I guess she had no choice: she needed help and our services were free.
A five foot two girl with long cornrows, and a faded star tattoo next to her left eye, she pleaded me to get her out.
Meosha was detained for second degree burglary and evading her bench warrant. Seven months prior, she was caught breaking into an apartment and attempting to steal valuables. She had been on the run ever since. This is what her case docket said. I was insistent that I be staffed on Meoshas case for my entire work term and I visited her monthly, sometimes more.
Despite our unusual pairing, and the concrete precincts of the prison, we developed a close relationship. I learned that Meosha was the victim of sex trafficking. At only sixteen she had been charmed by a man more than double her age, who commercially exploited and indentured her. She intended on breaking into an empty home to escape.
I had chosen to work on Meoshas case in the first week of my work term.
She reminded me of myself: a young girl, nearly the same age, with absentee parents. While her parents were addicted to alcohol, mine were consumed by work. She had the same grit that comes only by raising yourself. Yet, Meosha faced more adversity and trauma than I ever had. My familys wealth had insulated me from the unprecedented poverty and deep racism of America that bred such variety and unpredictability in experience. Many assume that privilege is natural or self-evident, but I recognize the lottery of life. Meosha and I were the same, but had been dealt a very different hand.
As I continued to work with Meosha, analyzing pages of court filings and establishing grounds for her release, my empathy evolved into a commitment to juvenile defense work. I became permanently assigned to the Juvenile Justice Clinic and my clientele was largely young African-American boys, the result of a system focused on mass incarceration and criminalization. Every day I was working against institutional and systemic forces, and even more fundamentally, with peoples hopes and fears. I learned that juveniles interactions with the judicial system has powerful and lasting impacts on their lives and generations further, yet it has been left undeniably broken. I began to see the indefinable quality of justice in the faces of my clients walking free.
This greater sense of purpose was new to me. I was a business student with an unlikely start as an investment banking intern in New York City. In this role, I examined every dimension of a business, generated pertinent analysis, and prepared it to be sold. I developed an eye for detail and methodical processes, skills that later allowed me to succeed in many of the legal cases I took on. The rigour and fast pace of the work was enthralling, and for a time I thought I was on a linear career path to finance. It was only in the quiet moments after, with my excel files closed and my work email terminated, that I felt the hollowness of what I had done.
My conception of success is not a measure of dollar values, but of relationships built and lives changed. Success is a question of whether I have alleviated human suffering, in any way. This is not an easy life to lead. Legal counsel and representation, especially in pro bono work, is a thankless job. There are no champagne toasts or inflated bonuses, only the small victories found in cases dismissed and family group hugs. With this understanding of my purpose, and having experienced the emptiness of indulgence, I know that I am fit for a career in criminal law.
On the last day of my work term, I watched Meosha have her handcuffs removed for the last time. She was granted release and it was the most gratifying moment of my life. I realized that my work, filing a motion, finding a witness, or stopping by the prison to speak with clients, could mean the difference between freedom or incarceration. In the face of Meosha, I could see evidence of my impact, and perhaps, the potential for the system to be fixed.
Where others may see Law School as an intellectual playground, a forum to speculate about the nuances in legal jargon, I consider the implications for peoples lives. My first pro bono cases will follow me throughout my career. They will remind me of my purpose to alleviate suffering and motivate me to make valuable contributions to the London community. I intend on bringing my practical experience to Pro Bono Students Canada and the Western Business Law Clinic to provide quality legal counsel. Whatever the case, I will see Meosha in the law.