I have never been a great actress, or even a mediocre one. I did take a Drama class in high school once (and not because I wanted to but because this option sounded somewhat less painful than the engineering/robotics elective) but that class witnessed one of my most embarrassing moments of my 21 year old existence---that of forgetting my short monologue in front of the entire class and teacher followed by me snapping my figures in an attempt to remind myself of the next sentences. And to make the situation even worse, my high school crush was in that class. The agony of that is still quite fresh my mind, unfortunately. I only recount this story obviously not for my benefit but to explain my natural inability to lie or feign a character that I am not. My inability to act or remember simple lines (this is quite sad, actually), forces me to be an honest actor in my interactions. I notice interactions and behavior a lot because reactions are always fascinating to watch. You see people’s true colors through the time (or inversely, lack of time) they take to get to know you, through kind and/or sarcastic comments, through silence or loud exclamations etc.
Last week, I helped a lot at the receptionist desk which, was useful in seeing who and why people came through the door as well as get to know the receptionist, Muriel who by the way, is a very kind and welcoming person. I have an affinity for people who feel comfortable enough to begin sharing about their lives and who care enough to ask about mine. Muriel and her daughter Rachel, who sometimes goes to work with Muriel, made me feel very comfortable with them. This made me think about the dynamics between clients and Muriel, clients with lawyers, lawyers with other lawyers and lawyers with interns.
Muriel’s tri-lingual tongue is incredibly useful to Catholic Charities Legal Services. Her knowledge of Creole, Spanish and English give her the opportunity to communicate with almost everyone that walks in the office as well as be used as a translator by lawyers. And she does her job with a smile and a grace that only belong to loving grandmothers like her. The firm’s lawyers, from what I have derived from my short time here so far, are compassionate and thoughtful people. Lawyers get painted as money hungry wrecking balls but the lawyers in this office are the opposite. Coming in at 8am and leaving later than 5pm, the CLS lawyers display characteristics that I admire. Besides dealing with clients all day, the lawyers interact with the 7+ interns (a mixture of 3 duke students several law students, another undergrad and other random people) in the office. Throughout my time at CLS, procedures and protocols have been explained to me with such patience and bright smiles. The positivity of the space is easy to work in. One lawyer even commented, “I was an ignored intern when I was your age so that’s why I want to talk to you all and get to know you. I know how it feels.” Going to work every day knowing that I am welcomed and needed in the office invigorates me. Interactions are so important, especially when the “action” component of the word is positive.
Another part of my role at CLS is to act as a Spanish to English translator when needed. Some of my interactions with clients have made me sad. The two men I have translated for have had criminal history. One had drug possessions and a DUI. The other had a DUI and history of domestic violence against wife. And if you know me, domestic violence is an issue that hits home and that I do not stand for. Once that detail was revealed about him, I had a hard time looking at him the face. I even considered leaving the room but didn’t because I knew the translation was necessary. After the meeting was done, I wondered if I could defend him in court if I was his lawyer. I don’t know if I could, to be honest. Who would I be if I named him a good citizen in front of a federal judge? How could I defend someone who I believed was not a safe and valuable part of the community? I have spoken to a couple lawyers in the office about this. They all are in agreement when they say that they have to remind themselves that they are not there to judge or ask questions of their clients’ criminal past. They are there to do their job. And, this advice was helpful but I know I will struggle internally with how my own interactions will be like with future clients.
2 weeks remain in Duke Engage, which is incredibly crazy. This program was a tease of sorts. I definitely would like to come back to Miami to live here a longer amount of time. There’s obviously a lot that is still left to discover in this city and in South Florida, in general.