By Anna Allen, '16
Most people recognize that there are two sides to a story. While interning with the juvenile division of Maryland’s Office of the Public Defender, Abbey Beichler, ’15, discovered that there are two sides to a crime as well and many perspectives aren’t heard — especially when the defendant is a minor.
The experience was Beichler’s third summer with the Baltimore office. But this summer the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement awarded Beichler a Civic Fellowship to fund her internship and the accompanying research she undertook under the guidance of her faculty mentor, Dr. Laine Briddell of the sociology department.
Beichler worked directly with a supervising attorney and with youth in juvenile detention facilities who could not afford an attorney. The internship was a match for Beichler, a criminal justice major and anthropology minor who has an interest in working with children and the law.
She was in the courtroom every day and was able to participate in everything short of arguing the cases. Most days consisted of going to court and preparing cases for the afternoon, the next day, or next week. “There was never a dull moment,” she says. “My day was filled with cases, research, investigation, and prepping new cases.”
Interacting with her clients was her favorite part of each day. Throughout the summer, she visited youths who were housed on site, as well as those housed at off-site facilities. She not only came to know and help the clients she worked with, but their families as well.
While Beichler grew more comfortable with her work over time, she also continued to face new challenges, particularly in relating to the clients—an important skill in her role. “I knew I had to try and convey how I could help,” she says. “When you’re solving a crime, there has to be a rapport between you and the person you’re working with.”
Both trust and education are key points to focus on, according to Beichler, who took the necessary time to inform her clients about opportunities available to them. From explaining educational pamphlets, to mentoring, there was always a child who needed assistance. “Anything where these kids can feel supported is essential for progress,” she says.
Progress is rarely easy to achieve. “Crime is second nature to a lot of these kids, because they come into contact with it or see it on a daily basis,” Beichler says. “The programs we have for juveniles are put in place to help disrupt the cyclical nature of crime.”
After dedicating so much of her time to her work, Beichler couldn’t help but notice that she was seeing breakthroughs with some of the kids. She says being exposed to the different sides the justice system programs and its opportunities was extremely fulfilling.
Though her internship is over, Beichler’s commitment to juvenile defense is far from finished. Through her work, she found that each young person had his or her own story to tell and that no two stories were alike. Now, she aims to create better public understanding about the individual backgrounds of each youth in the juvenile justice system and help them view each child as more than a court case or a record.
“Outsiders tend to look at kids in the justice system and see their situations on the most superficial level, but there is so much more behind every one of them that people do not get to see,” she says.
With three years of experience behind her, Beichler’s interests in working with children and the law are only stronger. She’s now considering law school and a career as a juvenile public defender. “These kids had as much to teach me as I had to teach them,” she says.