Looking back on my co-op experiences, I am appreciative of all the wonderful and diverse employment opportunities. I have decided to pursue a law career aimed toward public service because of a co-op job! Currently, I am working as a research assistant for Dr. Emily Steinmetz focusing on how people with intellectual disabilities are intentionally excluded and ignored in our legal system. Dr. Steinmetz is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Antioch College and intends to use this research as foundation for her book. My days are spent reading/researching articles, writing/re-writing annotated bibliographies. I asked Dr. Steinmetz to help me become a great writer. I don’t regret this request but I definitely did not expect to spend an hour on four sentences. However, I am so appreciative of the diligent efforts that my professor has exerted to support my learning. Every time I write something I asked myself, “Who is doing the doing? Can space hold this? If you read it aloud will it make sense? IS your point clear and concise?” At this point, I cannot help it because it is engrained in my brain.
The first week I was asked to read the book Disability Incarcerated edited by Liat Ben-Moshe, Chris Chapman, and Allison C. Carey. Each chapter is distinct in its perspective on the current imprisonment and disability status in the United States and Canada. The foreword written by Angela Y. Davis highlights her experience as a political prisoner. In her essay Davis recalls labelled as “emotionally or psychologically disturbed” due to her resistance. Within the first few pages, I began reflecting on how I view disability. In the opening chapter, Jihan Abbas and Jijian Voronka focus on the spatial impact of constructing a psychiatric institution and the assumptions that are held in the space. The effort to repurpose psychiatric institutions sought to erase the histories of disabilities and provide the public with a new perception for these sites of incarceration. By continuing to erase the experience of people once housed in these institutions, the people remain subjects of confinement through erasure.
Similar to Davis’s experience, Nirmala Erevelles references Michael Foucault’s (1977) Discipline and Punish to support her argument that when students are labeled “at-risk” it becomes a disability that feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Erevelles witnesses a white parent reprimand a young black boy in a cafeteria for acting out rather than saying, “Oh, boys will be boys” if he had been white. Erevelles hopes that we can adopt a transformative praxis with the understanding of how disability has been historically created and focus on those conditions first. The idea of transformation is carried throughout the book.
There was one chapter in particular that greatly discouraged me. Mansha Mirza compares asylum detentions and refugee camps since both confine displaced peoples with a front of humanitarianism. Masha argues that both people, whether disabled or not, experience “disability” through legal and political circumstances that deems their status as less than. Since their local mobility is limited their ability to self-advocate is close to none. After reading this, I thought “No one is safe.” I reflected on my desire to work as a civil rights paralegal. Most law schools teach the same fundamental texts but what is most important are the clinics they support. I am applying to law schools that focus on the Innocence Project, an effort to exonerate innocent prisoners.
The concluding message is written by Liat Ben-Moshe who put emphasis on the need for transformative justice practices. She highlights alternative ways to address mental health to prove the potential for abolishing institutions. Ben-Moshe theorizes that abolition is an opportunity to dream of something better rather than a “burning the house down” philosophy. She moves on to suggest that the way to accomplish this is through transformative justices practices. Transformative justice, from her perspective, is a process through which people fundamentally change the way they interact with and perceive each other. As this builds, we will see societal transformations in which total institutions are no longer part of the common sense.
On top of researching and writing, I am taking the LSAT on September 24 of this year. Fortunately, I was able to receive a discount on in-class tutoring sessions and will begin attending next week. I hope to attend law school next year with a focus in public school law. There are several public service fellowships that I will be applying to this coming fall. Ben-Moshe’s assertion of inner transformation as the key for a transformation in society, is encouraging because I determine how I will impact my environment. Through working as a research assistant I have been able to develop strong research skills and the ability to synthesize difficult and lengthy material.