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A law internship in lockdown

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How OJPC’s interns made the most of a virtual summer internship

By: Lily Meyer

For some law and pre-law students, summer internships mean a precisely calibrated mix of work and socialization: imagine three months at a Manhattan law firm, balancing legal research with recruitment cocktail hours and intern-class outings.

But thanks to COVID-19, the social side of internships is a no-go this summer— not that the Ohio Justice & Policy Center’s 2020 intern cohort seems to care. When asked to reflect on their work and growth, not one mentioned the disappointment of three months spent collaborating on Zoom.

Instead, all six spoke of mission and morals. Some discovered new social purpose; others left with renewed determination to become legal advocates for incarcerated or underserved clients. Across the board, the interns aligned themselves with OJPC’s pledge to “never write people off,” and described feeling “proud,” as one put it, to have become “part of an organization that doesn’t judge clients based on their path.”

For Harvard University undergraduate Rasleen Krupp, the OJPC commitment to second chances proved a major, unexpected catalyst for reflection and growth. Krupp brought a strong activist perspective to OJPC: in high school, she spoke at Cincinnati’s 2017 Women’s March, helped plan the city’s 2018 March for Our Lives, and helped launch what is now the Young Activists Coalition. She hoped her internship might help her “gain exposure to the legal field while also giving back to my community” —which it did, but it also substantially expanded her understanding of who comprises that community.

Before working at OJPC, Krupp saw “the justice system as black and white—if you [are] guilty, you should go to jail, and if you [are] innocent, you should be free.” Her three months at OJPC exploded that idea. Now, she’s abandoned the concept “of innocent versus guilty that I had become comfortable with,” and is learning to “grapple with the ‘gray area’ that comes with justice, mercy, and humanity.”

University of Michigan law student Emily Boyk arrived at OJPC already comfortable outside binary notions of innocence and guilt. Boyk chose OJPC because the Women’s Project, which primarily serves incarcerated domestic-abuse survivors and non-incarcerated human trafficking survivors, was a “perfect fit” with her prior commitment to working with “incarcerated women, especially incarcerated survivors of sexual and domestic violence.” She was thrilled at the opportunity to help women in concrete, visible—or, more often, legible—ways, pointing to her contributions to a Motion to Withdraw a Plea of Guilty and a Motion for Judicial Release as the twin highlights of her summer. She named the latter as her “most meaningful experience,” expressing great fulfillment at getting to work on it “from the ground up: communicating with the client, getting releases signed and requesting documents, and actually writing and filing the motion. [It] was the first legal document I’ve ever written that was actually filed with a court, which was incredibly exciting.”

To Boyk, working at OJPC confirmed that nonprofit work is a useful way not only to help individuals, but also to “push the needle forward on decarceration issues and improving the criminal legal system.” Sean McGuigan, a law student at Case Western Reserve University, concurred. McGuigan found OJPC’s two-pronged commitment to small- and large-scale change both impactful and inspiring. He expressed appreciation for getting to “work directly with individuals currently incarcerated [while also] advocat[ing] on their behalf for comprehensive policy change,” and described a new understanding of the need to do both. Over the summer, McGuigan built a relationship with a proponent witness about whom he “admittedly had some presumptions… based on what I saw on paper.” His assumptions, he admitted, were “entirely wrong,” and he’s “forever grateful” for getting to learn firsthand that “we cannot judge a book by its cover.” Leaving OJPC, McGuigan described a solidified commitment to nonprofit work post-graduation: this side of the legal world, he said, is “where I belong.”

McGuigan is not alone. Several OJPC interns spoke, in reflecting on their summers, of a new consciousness of their professional identity or purpose. For some, their work offered a more holistic sense of self, helping, as one said, to “reinforce who I want to be.” Krupp’s philosophical shift brought her not to a hard-and-fast decision to become a lawyer, but to an expanded “ability to challenge my current perception of the world.” What more could a student—or a person, regardless of their stage of life—want?

Lily Meyer is a writer and translator from Washington, DC. She is a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Cincinnati and an OJPC volunteer.