The line up to the one and only pay phone stretches down the hall and around the Corner. Office phones ring and papers shuffle and fall. Men and women rush down the corridors of the busy hallway carrying briefcases or boxes on wheels stuffed full. Pagers click, keys and chains clink. The busy chatter of anxiousness and confusion fall silent to the sounds of arguments. The sound of a Court house is an interesting thing to experience, however working in one brings the experience to a new level. I have always like challenges and working hard so at the time I figured ” Hey it should be Ok”. So instead of one Courthouse, I ended up in three.
My stretch experience goes beyond words and especially words that one can only express in a blog post, but I will do my very best to share. My summer stretch experience has put me in a place that I did not expect. To rewind a little, it was coming close to the end of March and our bus leaving the PLLC event on the main campus was a little late. I still was really uncertain on what I would like to do with my stretch since even though it seemed all my friends were leaving the country and trying to help-out with bigger and brighter things. I had spent my last year in DC, New York and Germany for school and I would have liked to see if I could make a difference closer to home. I also wanted my experience to be personal and relate to my future plans and discipline of study. While waiting for the bus I had asked Dr.Stasia if she could help with a few pointers. She had briefly mentioned an organization called The Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton, a medium sized non-for-profit organization that works close to the legal system. While sending out letters to organizations I remembered the name and sent them one and waited. I have always dreamed of law school to perhaps one day becoming a Crown and thought it would be a good opportunity to get close to the profession to test the water. I oddly thought that It would have been nice to step into a court room once I was already a lawyer and done school… I was very naive to think such silly things and was surprised and happy that such circumstance never came true.
After a few weeks, I got a letter back from Elizabeth Fry and had an interview done just before the term was officially over to my relief. For my Stretch, they had assigned me to be a Courtwoker at the Provincial Courthouse in Edmonton, in addition to helping them with some court survey work. However living in Camrose and being a student, travelling and parking can get a little pricey. E-Fry then suggested I could also work at the Camrose and Wetaskiwin Provincial Courts in addition to the Edmonton Court. Later on, I even went to the Panoka Court House. Throughout my Stretch, I have worked in Adult Criminal Court, Family Court, Youth Court and Domestic Dispute Court. As a court worker, we work alongside Legal Aid-Duty Counsel and help them with organizing the court docket clients that need assistance that day. Initially, we make lists and keep court moving by keeping Duty Counsel on track. In addition, we help explain court procedures and terminology, provide legal referrals, provide return to court date cards, offer practical assistance and emotional support to those appearing in court, as well as their family and friends and also help people navigate the justice system.
This was only a small part of the bigger picture and experience during my service with E-Fry. I was the only student/volunteer to aid with the other smaller courts and it was a different field every time. I eventually was filling out forms, explaining programs, speaking in front of judges and asking Crown attorneys for discloser forms, files for the Duty Counsel or even simply just being someone that would listen to people. I also worked along side Native Counseling, Alberta Health Services, Domestic Abuse Resistant’s Teams and many others. Being In a courtroom for the first time felt like being a Butterfly straight out of the cocoon but not knowing how to fly. From the process to the rhetoric and everything in the middle it felt like politics with a straight jacket that had been spun around when trying to make sense of everything. As the weeks went on I was eventually able to predict judicial rulings on occasion and give better advice to people that I could appropriately give. I have spent time in Provincial Courts and Queens Court Bench over my summer and even had security orientations at the Edmonton Remand Center and Fort. Saskatchewan prison. During my time at the Courts and with E-Fry I have seen the Good the Bad the Ugly and the Amazing sides of the Canadian Justice system. There is only so much I can put into a blog but I hope it gives a small insight about my amazing experience this summer that has Stretched not only me as a person but helped shaped who and what I would like to be and do as a future person working in the Justice System.
Before I close, there are a few final thoughts that I would like to add about my experience and organization that I chose to work with. The Legacy of Elizabeth Fry goes back to 1780’s when a young wealthy and fortunate English woman at age 17 decided to help-out the less fortune members of society. Her work and inspiration has influenced many for generations and has evolved into an amazing organization of good people who fight to keep her Will and Spirit alive. Today the Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton has established many programs to aid people who seek help or need assistance. By creating a community of support that strives to advance the dignity and worth of all people at risk of becoming criminalized, especially women and girls. If anyone would like to learn more about The Elizabeth Fry Society of Edmonton or their history please follow the link attached at the bottom.
I decided to stay local and work with E-Fry not simply because I felt it was closer to home or because it was relating to my field of study or career path, but because I feel like we can sometimes forget the good we can do in our local community. I have taken so much from my stretch experience with E-Fry, however, the most key and memorable part I can take away is simply this. You don’t need to change the whole world to make a difference in it. The simple act of spending a second of time or more to help improve the life of another can change their world. Even if at times all it takes is reaching out and asking “Can I help you” and listen. It would often be a very long wait in line down the hall to the only pay phone in the courthouse to talk to legal aid representation that may or may not be able to help or listen. From my experience changing the world starts on the front-lines of helping others.
In addition to always remember, be kind, be yourself, be fearless and Excellent. And don’t forget to fly.