I began this week reflecting on whether or not my work this summer will be useful – something that was really brought to focus last week as well. As I have continued researching the substance abuse programs within North Carolina and the surrounding states, the question of how my work will impact the Criminal Justice Resource Center, the criminal justice system as a whole, and my future career continues to weigh heavily on my mind.
One of the driving factors for joining this project was my interest in becoming a criminal lawyer post Duke and law school. I sought a project that would provide me with experience within the criminal justice system in any facet possible with hope that my work would allow me to better relate to and understand the individuals whom I would one day be representing. However, as my project has progressed and the voices demanding defunding of the police and prison abolishment louden, I question my career path that I have laid out for myself thus far.
My initial thought in pursuing both this project and a career in criminal law was that I would assist individuals who have been dealt difficult circumstances, been victims of an unfair system, and made honest mistakes. However, I question whether my current work with the CJRC and my future career ideals are just placing bandaids over a system that inevitably needs to be dismantled in order to be just. I struggle greatly with the idea that by pursuing criminal law, I would be consequently supporting the very system that I am seeking to change. For example, I cannot imagine playing a role in causing an individual to become incarcerated if I believe in more beneficial alternatives such as rehabilitation. However, is it better for one to assist individuals that are currently stuck in the system if change is not in the near future? Or would I assist more individuals by not participating at all in the system that is currently hurting them?
I could not have predicted that this summer project would result in reconsideration of the future that I had planned for myself, however, I am extremely grateful to be partaking in work that evokes my passion for justice and interests in the criminal justice system so greatly. I admire the individuals at the CJRC for their immense compassion and dedication toward bettering the lives of the inmates in Durham, though I know that they must at times be so tired and feel so defeated by the lack of change both within the inmates they assist and within the system in which they are stuck. I envision a future where individuals like the CJRC workers will see their clients heal with better access to resources and alternatives, and the system will become just and equal for all. I envision a system where there is better communication between those prosecuting and CJRC workers in order to better negotiate the needs of the clients versus just locking them away. So, will I keep placing bandaids, or will I find a path that will result in the greater necessary changes?