At the beginning of my internship with Georgia Justice Project, one of personal goals was to end the summer feeling reinvigorated before heading into my last year of law school. From the very first week of my internship, GJP demonstrated to me that that goal was achievable. Over this summer, I have been struck by GJP’s intentionality and values, particularly their value of optimism. Optimism truly does permeate the atmosphere at GJP. There is a culture at GJP of looking forward, dreaming forward, and moving forward that I have fortunately been able to participate in during my 10 weeks at GJP.
For example, as part of the criminal records team, I have observed firsthand how GJP has worked to implement creative solutions to problems millions of Georgians face. Through speaking with directly impacted individuals, I have gained a deeper understanding of how the criminal legal system reaches beyond the walls of a prison or jail to maintain its grip on so many individuals. The criminal records team fully immersed me in the work they were doing, from conducting initial intakes all the way through to researching for an appeal and for policy initiatives. I was able to have my own clients, as well as assist pro se clients with their filings. I knew very little about criminal record restriction and sealing in Georgia prior to my internship with GJP, and it can be easy to feel disheartened about how cumbersome it can be to navigate the restriction and sealing process in Georgia. However, I have been encouraged by GJP’s innovative solutions to record restriction and sealing in Georgia, through policy initiatives and through the Cobb Second Chance Desk. I have gained so much through team meetings and direct supervision, where I have been able to observe the attorneys’ thought processes in action and work closely with attorneys in the office who are constantly striving for better ways to serve clients and remove barriers for Georgians.
Over the course of my internship, I have also been able to learn about these challenges and innovations through observation and hands-on experience with GJP’s other teams. Though I have worked primarily with the criminal records team, I have also been able to observe the work being done on the criminal defense and policy teams. For example, I have had the opportunity to conduct intake for our criminal defense team and observe intake at Atlanta’s Metro Reentry Facility. And GJP has been incredibly intentional about teaching its interns and staff, providing lunch and learns and presentations on a variety of topics.
At the beginning of the summer, GJP also trained the interns on speaking respectfully to and about our clients. GJP is intentional about how staff and interns speak about and speak with our clients, striving to always be dignifying and to always be putting someone’s humanity above all else. I believe this intentionality intertwines with GJP’s spirit of optimism. There is power and love in seeking and acknowledging the best in someone. And after all of my experiences at GJP, I am happy to say that at the end of the summer, I not only feel reinvigorated, but I feel better prepared to become an innovative and optimistic advocate for Georgians who have been impacted by our criminal legal system.
Emily Spears, 2022 Summer GJP Legal Intern