2009 PFIG Recipient Megan Durkee
College of Arts & Sciences
Political & Social Thought and Economics
2010 Graduation Year
Internship: Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville
Notes on the first week
So far, so good! I am spending the summer working at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville. Legal Aid is a non-profit law firm that provides legal counsel to people who can’t afford it. I am currently working with the JustChildren program and the Immigrant Advocacy program. I’m really enjoying the experience, and I’ve been able to get to know the other interns and attorneys really well.
With the JustChildren program, I’ve been helping to organize a meeting with the Virginia Crime Commission (a group of policymakers) on the topic of juvenile justice. At Legal Aid, we work with a lot of clients who commit crimes as juveniles but end up in adult courts and prisons. We hope to raise awareness of the prevalence of cases where this occurs, and ultimately change the laws that negatively affect juvenile offenders. I’ve also spent a lot of time helping out with an upcoming case that involves a teenage boy who is sentenced to seven years in adult prison for a crime he committed when he was 14 years old. We are working to reduce his sentence and improve his prospects for rehabilitation. Also with the JustChildren program, I am helping to compile data and write a report about punishment in Virginia public schools. The report will focus on the harmful consequences of out-of-school suspension and the need for alternative schooling for kids with behavior problems
.I just started working with the Immigrant Advocacy program, which provides services for immigrants in the community. I’ve been doing a lot of “intakes,” which basically means that I answer the phone or meet with new clients to discuss their cases and the services they might need. It’s interesting to hear about the issues that affect immigrants in Charlottesville , and I’m trying to put my Spanish to use! So far, I’m really grateful to have this experience. I love working with a group of smart and compassionate people who care about social justice and fairness for all members of the community.
So far, I've truly been having a great experience at Legal Aid. I like the fact that I am able to split my time between the JustChildren and Immigrant Advocacy programs, which has allowed me to deal with two different types of populations that are actually united by similar kinds of challenges. As an underprivileged child, it is very difficult to navigate the legal system, in the same way that it is for a recent immigrant who may not speak English. With both programs, a big part of my job has been to answer intake calls and assist with walk-in client meetings. I've spoken with a lot of parents whose kids aren't getting the educational support that they need, and while it's exciting to alleviate some of their concerns, it's equally frustrating when it turns out that there is nothing we can do. I've also spoken with many clients through the Immigrant Advocacy program, and in the process I've learned just how complicated—and convoluted—immigration policy tends to be. On a daily basis I deal mainly with everyday concerns involving visas and citizenship disputes, in addition to concerns regarding fair living and working conditions, but it's also really interesting to sit back and reflect on how these people's daily struggles fit into the bigger picture of immigration policy and the need for reform.
More specifically, with the JustChildren program, the other interns and I have been busy launching the "Don't Throw Away the Key" campaign, which will officially kick off with the Community Youth Justice Jam and Poetry Slam. The campaign focuses on Virginia's juvenile offender population and the current laws which place many youth offenders at risk of serving time in adult prison for relatively minor crimes. The campaign aims to bring awareness to this issue and to educate legislators and the public about the facts of juvenile justice. To do this, we are planning a "Community Youth Justice Jam" in Norfolk, which will include a panel of community members, educators, and law makers who will talk about their experiences with Virginia's juvenile justice system, in addition to a poetry contest for teens and a forum for service providers to reach out to the community.
The Immigrant Advocacy team is also planning an upcoming outreach event. We will spend a weekend in Northern Virginia talking to migrant workers about their rights as employees and answering any questions they may have about living and working in the U.S. To prepare, I've been making booklets to distribute to the workers, explaining things like fair employment laws and the recent increase in minimum wage. The Immigrant Advocacy program is always extremely busy with pending cases and new cases, so I've been trying to help keep things organized, while reading up on individual cases and helping the law school interns with their research. All in all, there has been no shortage of activity, and I am grateful to be a part of it.
I can’t believe the summer is over already. I really enjoyed my internship, and I especially enjoyed working with so many passionate and dedicated people. On the JustChildren front, our Community Youth Justice Jam turned out to be extremely successful. Our panel, which included defense attorneys, prosecutors, parents, and even a former prisoner (who has now become a best-selling author), was really effective in conveying the problems with Virginia’s juvenile justice system and the possibilities for reform. After the panel, local teens, most of whom had personal experience with the juvenile justice system, shared their own unique stories through poetry. Attendance at the event far exceeded our expectations, and a large number of attendees expressed interest in researching the topic further and in advocating for a change in the juvenile transfer laws. The Justice Jam/Poetry Slam was a great way to kick off the "Don’t Throw Away the Key" campaign, and I’m optimistic that an improved system is within reach.
I also got the chance to finish my part on a report about student discipline procedures within the Virginia public school system. My job involved researching the current school discipline practices, their effectiveness, and possible alternatives that might be more effective. In the course of my research, I found that the most common punishment for truancy is suspending the truant student from school! The report is not quite finished, but when it is done, we are hoping to share it with the media and education policy-makers to fix some of the out-dated school discipline policies that are still in place.
With the Immigrant Advocacy program, I traveled up to Northern Virginia with a group of lawyers and students to speak to a group of Latino migrant workers. One of my supervisors gave a brief presentation about the rights of guest workers and the recent increase in the minimum wage. I distributed the pamphlets that I helped put together and I tried to answer one-on-one questions. The group of workers was receptive, but at the same time, I sensed that many were a bit hesitant to speak up or ask questions. We seemed to have more success when we were talking to them individually as opposed to fielding questions from the whole group.At the end of the summer, one of the lawyers hosted a barbecue at her home to thank all of the summer interns. Over the course of my internship, the other interns and I made a skit, satirizing our time in the office. Naturally, it was based on "The Office." We filmed the skit and played it at the barbecue, where it turned out to be a big hit among our supervisors and co-workers. I love the work that the people at Legal Aid are doing, and I love the fact that those who do it are so enthusiastic about helping others and providing the best services possible. What a great summer!