Matt Rutter, Hope College, Fall 2010.
Coming to Philadelphia in the fall of 2010, I had an interest in public sector law but had no experience in the industry. With initial interviews at an independent child advocacy firm and at the District Attorney’s office, my third and final interview was with the Homicide Mitigation Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. My interviewer at the Defender’s office offered me an internship on the spot and I began working for them the next day. During the first week, my supervisor trained me in how to complete office documents and paperwork, how to navigate the state prisons, and how to conduct meetings with our clients’ families. The following week, I was given my own case load – every new client from that point forward under the age of twenty-five.
I would travel to the state prisons by myself to interview my clients on their medical, psychiatric, criminal, educational, and familial history. It was my role to detail the client’s “story” from birth until shortly before the alleged incident, write up a briefing of this information for the client’s attorney, then act as a relational liaison between client and attorney. When my clients would go to court, I would sit with their families to explain what was happening in the courtroom and provide emotional support.
One client’s family I became particularly close with. His trial lasted for over three weeks and he was facing either life in prison or execution. I sat with his mother and sister (my client’s only other supporters in the courtroom) for most of that three-week period – a time when this family faced much persecution in the courthouse and in the media. With many hours of waiting time in the courtroom, I would speak with my client’s mother regarding anything from sports to religion (she was a devout Muslim and I am a passionate Christian). My client ended up being sentenced to life in prison (a very bittersweet “win”), and as his family and I parted ways, his mother hugged me and gave me a gift. Out of appreciation for my support and our conversations, she gave me her personal Qur’an with a letter written on the inside covers explaining the significance of this gift.
Back on my college’s campus, I have been involved in incredible activities and opportunities. However, the hands-on responsibility I was given in Philadelphia is unprecedented. Learning in the classroom, around the city, in jail cells, and in a courtroom, I am forever changed by my new ability to listen and love. My time with The Philadelphia Center was a period of holistic growth that could not happen on a college campus. I am continuously blessed by my time in Philly and encourage students considering the semester to take a chance and join in an unimaginable adventure.