This post is the final piece of a five-part series of interviews with my Jesuit Volunteer housemates in Baltimore. Parts I, II, III, and IV can be found here.
The last, but certainly not the least (none of them are, of course), of my housemates is Amanda White. Amanda is completing her second year of JVC here in Baltimore and is, comparably, the old, crotchety woman of the house… minus the crotchety part. In reality, Amanda is a confident, driven woman and her experience, positive spirit, and get-it-done attitude are an asset to the community. She hails from Louisville, Kentucky, has a sometimes-subtle southern accent, and attended Georgetown College in Kentucky. Amanda works for the Public Justice Center in Baltimore as a Legal Advocate and will pursue a career in law. I’ve learned a lot from Amanda’s work and she’s helped to open my eyes to a totally different population than I expected (more on that below).
I sat down with (e-mailed) Amanda with a few questions to tell you more about what she does. Here goes:
What’s the Public Justice Center?
The Public Justice Center (PJC) is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization founded in Maryland in 1985 that seeks to enforce and expand the rights of people who suffer injustice because of poverty or discrimination. The PJC advocates in the courts, legislatures, and government agencies, and through public education and coalition building. Current projects focus on tenants, workers, immigrants, prisoners, homeless children, families needing medical assistance, and creating a right to counsel in civil cases.
You’re a Legal Advocate at the PJC. What does that entail? What types of projects do you work on?
This year I am assisting lead attorney, Wendy Hess, on the Prisoners’ Rights Project. The goal of the project is to improve the poor medical and sanitation conditions within the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC). The project takes a two-prong approach: a class action lawsuit and individual advocacy. In 2003 the PJC joined forces with the ACLU to bring a class action lawsuit against the BCDC. Rather than seek a monetary award, the lawsuit was intended to affect the medical treatment and sanitation standards at the BCDC. Currently, the State and ACLU/PJC are working on a settlement, which we hope to have finalized in 2010. The only issue left to litigate will be heat, or the issue of adequate temperatures within the jail. My role in this part of the project is fairly limited, but I mainly help collect the necessary legal documents and information, such as taking detainees’ declarations.
During the course of this lawsuit, the PJC has also offered individual advocacy for men and women being detained at the BCDC. Staff and trained volunteers meet with detainees who experience urgent medical issues. After conducting an intake interview, the Prisoners’ Right Project Team (a.k.a. Team Awesome!) makes a judgment call on the best course of action. Sometimes that might be educating the detainee on the best way to obtain adequate medical care. Other times that might be actually sending an advocacy letter on behalf of the client. I assist in conducting these interviews, training the volunteers, maintaining the client files, and attending Inmate Council Meetings (weekly meetings where representatives from each housing unit come together to discuss current detention center issues.)
Outside of these responsibilities, I tackle other side projects as needed. Right now I have been focused on researching the issue of trying juveniles as adults for our project “Just Kids!” Along with our partners, the PJC hopes to help issue a report with recommendations regarding this issue. I also sit on the Baltimore Open Society Institute’s Coalition of Criminal Reform Advocates, and I have worked with the Maryland State Bar Association’s Criminal Reform Section.
The diversity within my job responsibilities has been a great learning experience. What I love about the work has been the eye opening and humanizing experience of putting faces to a generally forgotten population.
You’re in your second year with JVC. Why a second year? What did you do last year?
When I first entered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I knew that I wanted to do at least two years of service before applying to graduate schools. There hasn’t been a question in my mind since I graduated that I not only wanted to make a career out of serving others, but a life. My first year as a JV really set a great foundation for the lifestyle changes I was hoping to make, but I thought a second year would cement the values. This experience is unlike anything that I will probably ever do again in my life, so I want to get as much out of it as possible. So far, the year and four months I have spent as a JV have been some of the most transformative months of my life. There is so much to learn and so much to just take in. I like to think of it in the sense that my first year was about observing and studying the structures that keep individuals stuck within the cycle of poverty. My second year is a continuation of that process, but also time to start analyzing the ways in which I can begin to affect the different phases of the poverty spiral.
Last year I worked at a neighborhood center in Syracuse, NY. I was the Program and Tutoring Coordinator for an elementary after school program. From 2-5pm Monday through Friday, I and three other co-workers entertained and attempted to educate 60+ children ages 6-12 years old. For one year, I lived and breathed the lives of my kids and the neighborhood I worked in. I held conferences with their parents, ran a food pantry twice a week for neighbors, attended local school performances, and organized holiday parties. Now my new office is covered in pictures of my “babies.” I try to call them once a month, and look forward to heading back to NY to visit them.
Fun fact time!
I was a Girl Scout from the second grade through my Senior year of high school. I sold cookies to pay for a whitewater rafting trip on the New River, a long weekend in Gatlinburg, TN, and a Spring Break cruise to the Caribbean. But my favorite part was the annual fundraiser we held – a Father/Daughter Square Dance! Yee-haw!
Yee-haw, indeed! Thanks, Amanda!