I learned about this internship because a Michigan alum visited an organization I attend and pitched the internship. He told us there was not a guarantee for pay, but that the work was for helping people get released from prison. I am interested in becoming a lawyer, and I knew that working closely with prisoners would benefit me in my career. I decided to apply, and received the position.
However, I was not sure exactly what to expect when beginning my internship. I work in Ypsilanti for the American Friends and Service Committee, which is a Quaker non-profit organization. I work under the Michigan Criminal Justice program for the AFSC. I figured we’d be writing to prisoners, lawyers, and wardens often trying to solve whatever problem was delivered via mail in chronological order. However, it is deeper than that. Our work tends to be more oriented towards rehabilitation than I expected. I say rehabilitation because we try to foster peace in those who write to us. On top of sending packets explaining the parole process, we may describe that, even though officers may make rude and disturbing comments, the only way it can truly matter is if, as a prisoner, you react. Further, we may pull and highlight exact policy that elaborates on misinformation that the prisoner was given. By doing that, we are able to (sometimes) shift a prisoners focus from something that is not worth their time, to something that they can control and will have a positive impact on the length of their sentence.
As I read and respond to more letters, I see just how emotionally destructive prison is. Many prisoners are subject to a never-ending hostile environment. We might be the only resource left that they have to reach out to. It makes the work we do feel, personally, more impactful. I have noticed that many people, after being released from prison, come to volunteer with the AFSC because the organization was so instrumental in helping them during a time that few others were. I always go over the letters I write with detail and scrutiny because I, like many others, know that words matter. Choosing the right word may be the difference in tone between condescending and encouraging. This could mean the difference in someone realizing that they have to stay focused on the goal of being released from prison as soon as their sentence allows, and them taking steps towards lengthening their sentence gradually. I have not received any letters back, as the writing and responding process is a slow one, but I am excited to take more strides towards helping, in whatever way I can, people serve their debt to society and become acclimatized to free society again.