Former W360 ‘Justice in Action’ student Nicola Bradford writes about her experience of working on our prison project and the new insights this gave her.
Before I started the Open Justice module, I thought I knew what completing pro bono work meant. After all, television programs such as The Good Wife and Suits have portrayed pro-bono work as the ‘free legal work that no-one wants to do’ and “how we as a firm show that we care about more than just ourselves” (Suits, 2011). I knew that it wouldn’t be exactly the same, as these are fictional American programs however, I’ll admit that I naively thought that the only thing I was going to gain from this experience was the ability to put into practice some of the skills I’ve been developing over the last three years.
For my pro bono activities, I was able to visit Oakwood Prison to present to a group of peer mentors. Before the visit, our group researched and prepared a presentation on how ‘social media is fueling gang violence’. My part of the presentation was to research the topic from an American perspective. Most of my research was centralized to Chicago due to the high gang activity in this State. In some areas, I felt that the prisoners gained a lot of information. However, I felt that in some of the discussions we had with the prisoners, I learnt much more from them than I did in the two weeks prior through my own research.
I really enjoyed this visit, as we got a bit of insight into what life was like for individuals in prison. We had a short tour, which included the ‘enhanced wing’ where the prisoners who have good behaviour, such as the peer mentors, are housed. My perception of prisons has also been what is portrayed in the media. It seems silly, but I was shocked to see that the prisoners had doors rather than bars on their cells and access to games consoles.
The prisoners were also very insightful on how they think prison has affected them personally and their families and asked for us to research this topic more for the next visit. I think the visit was beneficial for both myself and the prisoners
I think I’ve learnt a lot more from this experience than I was expecting to. I now know that Pro bono work is much more than free work to promote the image of an individual or firm. It gives people access to the justice they deserve but do not have the power or means to seek themselves. Pro bono work has changed my perspective on the prison life and prisoners. Unfortunately, our group experienced issues with our activities as ( due to issues at the prison) the visits were cancelled multiple times. However, as a group I think we have been understanding of the issues and are now looking forward to the rescheduled visits at HMP Dovegate. I think this experience has given me more drive to do more pro bono work in the future as I’ve now seen the benefits it brings.