A new documentary "Gideon's Army" about three young public defenders and the Southern Public Defender Training Center (now called "Gideon's Promise) premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival last week.
The above link takes you to an excellent short video about one of the public defenders and an editorial by the filmmaker, Dawn Porter.
I was horrified by what I learned about the criminal justice system. Innocent people, in prison for months or years, sometimes plead guilty to get out of jail; onerous sentences are too often given for minor crimes; people can lose civil rights, like the right to vote, as a result of criminal convictions. In America, a felony conviction can be a lifelong sentence because of this multitude of collateral consequences.
I also saw what a difference it made to have lawyers like Travis fighting hard for poor people’s rights. I saw him tell clients and their families that they were facing long sentences, outrageous bail terms or prison. But I saw him deliver even the worst news with compassion, and I saw him fight for every client. He’s inspired me to judge less and listen more, to try to put myself in the position of people who face a terribly structured system that often provides justice to neither the victim nor the accused. Thanks to Travis and the other young lawyers I met on this journey, I can proudly say I’m a “true believer” in their cause.