Thursday, June 30, 2016

Amicus has placed me in a capital defence office Louisiana. I started my internship in May this year. The office is the biggest capital post-conviction office in the state. Everyone here in the office is very nice to me and I like them a lot. 

There are five other interns here besides me. Sometimes we go for drinks after work or go to a restaurant together. I work on many different cases. The attorneys here make sure that you get to see many aspects of the work they're doing. I mostly write memos, do legal research or help the investigators with their work. It has all been very interesting. I also go to court. I even went to Alabama and Tennessee to interview people related to a case. I have also been to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as 'Angola', to visit a few clients. 

Before you do this internship, you have to realise that this internship can be difficult sometimes, emotionally. Angola is nothing like prisons in Europe. It is nothing like you would expect. It is worse. Angola used to be a plantation. Even though it is not a plantation anymore, it still very much looks like one. Prisoners have to work outside in the fields and guards watch them on their horses. Death row inmates cannot work and have to be in their cells for 23 hours a day, without air-conditioning. You will meet with clients who have been on death row for many years. They will be very happy to see you, because most of them do not get many visitors. After I left Angola, it took me a while to process it. We were able to leave the prison and go back home - they don't. So prison visits are not something to be taken lightly. 

In addition to Angola, I have also been to the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. I was visiting a man with whom I have been corresponding for quite some time now. As he is not a client of the office I work for, I have always been very transparent and open about this to everyone at the office. They were fine with me visiting him in Texas. If you are in a similar situation, make sure to always be transparent about it and tell the office if you have plans to visit someone that is not a client of the office. 

The states of Texas has the highest number of executions in the US. Texas death row is notorious. In Huntsville, a town relatively close to the Polunsky Unit, there is the Texas Prison Museum. It is very interesting to go there and I definitely recommend it, but I noticed the museum is very one-sided. When you go to the deep South, you have to realise that people do not have the similar opinions and thoughts as we have in Europe when it comes to the death penalty, prisons, or prison sentences. In the Texas Prison Museum they have a prison cell. You can go to the front desk to get a striped jumpsuit and take pictures in this prison cell while you wear the jumpsuit. Next to this prison cell is the electric chair that was used for decades to execute people. I was shocked by the juxtaposition - this prison cell effectively making fun of prisoners and just a couple meters away a tool used to horrifically execute people. To me, it clearly shows that people here do not care as much about prisoners as we do, and have very different opinions about how to treat prisoners.

The work is very rewarding though. The clients are so happy with the visits, and some of them even call me at the office sometimes just to have a chat. The work we are doing is so important. The State of Louisiana has not executed anyone in the last 14 years. My office and a similar office, both founded in 2001, started their work around 15 years ago. I truly believe the amazing and outstanding work of these offices and other offices, has resulted in this 14-year halt. I am still very grateful that I can be a part of this important work and help people on death row.