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GIVING BACK

Zachariah Sibley, 2014 recipient of the Audrey J. Harris Summer Internship Award, interned at the Wisconsin Public Defender's Office - Jail Intake.

Major: Chemistry and Legal Studies with a certificate in Criminal Justice
Goals: I plan to attend law school and achieve a career in intellectual property and patent law

I have spent these past few summer months assisting the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office with their jail intake duties. I served as the first point of contact between the attorneys and those in custody at the Dane County Public Safety Building. As an intern, I was responsible for interviewing individuals brought into the jail the previous day by law enforcement who now faced the possibility of jail or prison, extradition to another state, revocation of extended supervision, or any other sentencing that would infringe on his or her freedom. The purpose of these interviews is to determine if the inmate is indigent and therefore eligible for legal representation and other social services provided by the Public Defender.

Each day I had the opportunity to have one-on-one interactions with persons from a vast array of social, economic, and personal backgrounds. I’ve spoken with substance addicts in withdrawal, mentally ill inmates in unstable states, career criminals and first-timers, sexual offenders as well as violent ones, petty thieves and bank robbers, those from out of state and others from out of the country. Each interview took a unique direction and although many common factors underlie the majority of the jail population, I could never presume any details about an inmate’s life until I asked them specifically. And it can be difficult to extract sensitive information about a person’s current status, especially when so many are struggling to support themselves & their families financially and feel embarrassed to talk about it. This internship challenged me to approach each person with a sincere respect and genuine desire to help his or her situation in order to earn their trust and thoroughly accomplish my task. Some tested my patience and ability to listen but those inmates made me a stronger professional and person. My hope is that the extra time and care put into each difficult interview contributed to the best and fairest possible outcome in their case that they may have not otherwise received.

In my capacity as the jail intake intern, I was exposed to a great number of issues this country faces in its Criminal Justice System. Many of these I had already learned from previous class work. Overcrowding, racial profiling and targeting, economic factors, illegal immigration, and mental illness are all problems I witnessed during my short time. Beyond the textbooks, though, I got to work first-hand with those inmates struggling through these incredibly frustrating and confusing obstacles. Often I served as the first helpful contact they met since being in custody and I did my best to answer their endless yet reasonable questions. These circumstances forced me to learn a lot of information quickly about our local justice system in order to be as insightful and supportive as I could. However, I am certainly glad I took the time to learn the answers. I felt a great satisfaction in being the first reliable and informative source of comfort during some inmates’ most stressful moments. The gratitude inmates expressed to me in their own way each day renewed my sense of duty to come back the next morning with the same calming and caring approach. This position has challenged me to grow as a person and as a professional and it has definitely served as an extraordinary experience I will not soon forget and will reflect on for a long time to come.

Without the financial support I received from the Audrey J. Harris family, I would not have been able to show up to jail intake each morning with a refreshed purpose. This generous award truly allowed for this internship to become the learning experience it became for me and for that I cannot express enough thanks. I am honored to be a recipient of the Audrey J. Harris award and hope to continue this legacy here at UW-Madison.