Every morning at the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office, a group of interns sit around and discuss “the list”. The list is a collection of names, dates, and charges compiled by every police department in Rhode Island earlier that morning. Our job is to interview these men and women to figure out if their current financial situation qualifies them for our legal support.
Part of our unofficial job description requires the interns to understand the community we are serving. My Boston College education has played a tremendous role in enabling me to do so this summer. Professor Seraphim, through “Asia in the World II”, taught me that history is often written by the victor thus erasing entire timelines and groups of people. To truly understand a time period or a situation, we must examine all sides and remove any bias we might have. The bias that may exist when we talk to potential clients or examine certain cases has been institutionalized through racism and classism. Professor Concepcion’s “Race, Law, and Resistance” taught me how these components have become systemic throughout American society thus hindering the mobility of groups of people while simultaneously endangering communities with identifiers such as low-income or Black/Latino. My Boston College education has provided me with the unique skill of being able to assess our clients’ situations from a holistic viewpoint, truly understanding everything that could potentially affect a client.
Beyond what I have taken away from classes, I have had the opportunity to help raise awareness on certain issues through student organizations. Most recently, I participated in a collaborative effort between the Organization of Latin American Affairs and Asian Caucus in which we used photographs of students standing side by side who identify with the immigrant experience whether directly or indirectly through their families. The campaign received overwhelming support and I soon came to realize that students were simply unaware of their classmates’ stories and backgrounds. Similarly, a lot of our clients have never been given the opportunity to share their story. I have learned that every small detail they choose to share with us about their background or the case eventually plays a much larger role throughout our time defending the individual. For example, a short story about previous interactions with police ends up becoming crucial knowledge about the client’s mental history that we would not have noted otherwise.
My current position is the first opportunity for the Public Defender’s Office to gain the maximum amount of knowledge about our clients before assigning a lawyer to their case. For this reason, I am incredibly fortunate to have had Boston College provide the necessary education and experiences to do my job well.
Written by Rafael Torres, BC Class of 2018