For the Good of the Gulf: UNC Law Winter/Spring Break Pro Bono Project

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The real story...

Let me begin by saying how much I love this city ... New Orleans has always been and will always be to me the home of excellent jazz, incredible people, and one of my favorite NFL teams. However, this particular trip has given me new insight as to the happenings in this city and the devastation still experienced by the people of this city. A New Orleans native said to me today something that I will always carry with me, no matter the tragedy or location. She said that the people of this city are utterly grateful for the volunteers giving of their time and efforts to aid in the recovery still yet to be had in NO. However, she brought to my attention the injustice that occurs when the volunteers become the spotlight and not the victims themselves. In the same vein, I am not going to innundate you with the day to day efforts of our group, their efforts being amazing notwithstanding. I want to share with you the story of the victims, and the recurring obstacles they face in their respective trials for normalcy.

I interviewed a client in prison today, we'll call him Mr. Doe. Mr. Doe told me of his "storm story", and relayed to me that he was not removed from NO's maximum security prison until nearly five days after Hurricane Katrina hit. He was without food and water from a day before the storm until he was rescued. Although water was plenty in this time, he made sure that I understood that he was standing in it, nearly chest high on his 5'7" frame. This was not drinking water. This, he said, could have been his death. Mr. Doe also wanted me to understand that my pity was unwarranted- he committed a crime for which he had been convicted and he realized his wrong. However, no matter how heinous his crime, he is still a human being, and articulated that he did not deserve what happened to him during the hurricane. This was an incredibly humanizing experience for me- no matter what crime Mr. Doe had been convicted of, I realized that his suffering was that of any other human being trapped in circumstances beyond his/her control and definitely beyond his/her wildest imagination. I think that Mr. Doe's story of the storm is what I will take away from this trip ...

We must realize that we, as human beings on this planet cohabitating in the same environment and using the same resources, deserve to be treated as such. We deserve food and water. We deserved to be rescued. And, when that doesn't happen, we deserve to be able to voice our concern and our tragic memories to those who will listen. I am but a 1L law student, not nearly a lawyer, and yet I was completely humbled by Mr. Doe's story. All he wanted were the basic needs of our existence, and someone to talk to. I am honored to have been able to provide him with an ear to listen. I think we all should, and perhaps even have the responsibility to provide the people most tragically affected by the storm our unwavering support, patience, and empathy. In my young life I have never experienced such pain and uncertainty as Mr. Doe, and I do not wish that for anyone. However, I am incredibly grateful to have heard his story, and to pass it along to you. Do not let the victims fade into the background. They are the main characters, the bit-part players, the directors, and the audience. Listen to their stories, and advocate for them to be heard. Please don't forget that our efforts, however incredibly valiant and praise-worthy, pale in comparison to the victims' stories. The victims, like Mr. Doe, should take centerstage, and deserve all of the attention, publicity, advocacy, help, and support that they can garner. Remember the victims- they are our number one priority here.

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