Every voice deserves to be heard
I believe that every person in this world has the intrinsic right for her voice to be heard. That seems simple enough. People talk about it all the time, and I know for years I sure did. I recently went through a box of my old school papers, and I read an eight grade essay, notes from a high school speech, and a college newspaper editorial, and in all three I wrote about how, in some way or another, we must give a voice to the voiceless. But it wasn’t until a hot June day in 2003 when I was a student attorney for Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office that I actually came across someone that I had been speaking of and writing about all those years in school.
It was the summer after my second year of law school and “Julio” was my first real client as a student attorney. He was 19, half Hispanic and half black and in prison awaiting a hearing on drug charges. I met with Julio for exactly 60 seconds, argued his bail reduction motion, lost, then moved on to the next case. But then my supervisor, who was representing him at the hearing, asked me to meet Julio at the prison to interview him for the hearing.
‘ I went to the state prison and met him, and he was elated to see me. There he stood in a small attorney room in an orange jumpsuit. He had a huge grin on his face. I was the first visitor he had ever had in prison. I forgot the whole client interviewing technique I had learned in law school and just let Julio’s words flow. He spoke to me about how he could not read, and he dropped out of school when he was twelve to help take care of his ill mother. The she passed away when he was a teenager. Julio had no father. He raised his two younger sisters. He sold drugs as a way to support his sisters. The whole time he kept thanking me for coming to see him and for listening. He said nobody had ever really listened to him before. Every few sentences was a thank you to me. As I got up to leave he hugged me tightly, this 19 year old teenager, worn out tired, and smelly from weeks in prison awaiting a hearing and not being able to afford bail. And I was a 23 year old law student who didn’t want to let go.
I never saw Julio again, but he left a mark on me. I was the first person who listened to his words and gave them life. For on hour that day he had dignity. I gave him respect. My whole life I believed that every person has the intrinsic right for her voice to be heard. Julio allowed me to practice my belief.
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