It is an afternoon of contrasts – ice cream and cake sprinkled with tragic tales of border crossings and details of due process.  Summer interns in the AFSC Immigrant Rights and Healing Justice Programs held their annual “Ice Cream Social” at the Newark office July 10.  Pat Simpson, a supporter who sponsors many of these interns, got to meet them. Everyone in attendance (ice cream guarantees a full house) learns who has done what at the midterm point of the internship.

                Newark/NYC interns do very little of the coffee-fetching and copy-making of other internships.  One staff member describes their experience as “throwing them into the deep end of the pool.”

                One intern found her day started early, as she began meeting with day laborers at the muster zones where they wait for the day’s work.

                One has been working with detainees at the Elizabeth Detention Center, which he called “an amazing nitty-gritty lesson,” impressive words from a mature law student who was the former NY Times’ Mexico City bureau chief.               

Two interns learned that their families’ oft-repeated immigration stories were not representative ones. I see now that the lack of resources left behind in the home country, one added, is the other side of immigration.

                “Something different every day” including helping a client successfully prepare for the history portion of the citizenship exam, one said, which brought back long-forgotten lessons from school.

                Working with immigrant clients, detainees and activists was valuable for one, bringing in “the human element you can’t get in a classroom setting.”

                With real-life clients come real-life challenges, however.  When dealing with a client whose case tested her personal beliefs, one learned that she could continue to hold her values while still providing quality representation.

                Clients eligible under the Violence Against Women Act have survived their own challenges, one said. She found it “all weighs so heavy on the heart,” moved by the way the clients were strong and ready to move on.

                The emotional weight -- and worth -- of the work was shared by the Healing Justice interns who work with Bonnie Kerness in Newark and Lewis Webb in the NYC office. One kept a poem by Audre Lorde on her office wall (“The masters’ tools will not dismantle…” )  as a reminder of the value of these draining days. The internship, she added, continued to leave her “gratified, lucky and challenged.”

                Another HJ intern said she had come to realize the politicized nature of the US prison system, something that was rarely discussed in her many criminal justice classes. Her internship involved logging prisoners’ letters and replying to them, in the process learning that AFSC is one of the few organizations with the capability to respond.

Letters arrive from all over the country, she explained, often on behalf of other inmates. Many of the letters are from inmates who request a copy of AFSC’s “Survivors’ Manual”, which contains first-person accounts of survival in solitary confinement.  She reminded staff and fellow interns that solitary is 23 hours spent in a windowless 6’ by 13’ room.  (Editor’s note: In prior years, HJ interns mentioned that spending four hours in one’s bathroom is a prerequisite for the internship. Try it -- no books. No windows. Horrifying.)

Elected officials are also being put into a database. One NYC-based intern is compiling information on NY state legislators and their voting record on prison/justice-related issues.

                IRP Director Amy Gottlieb congratulated the interns, noting they are developing thick skins since the work that goes on in all aspects of IRP and HJ is hard work, adding “one staffer says we’re in the lifesaving business.” She had reminded the interns that the internship was a job but also a way for them to connect and become part of a community.

                Sponsor Pat Simpson said this day with the interns was always one of the most important for her and praised them again for making an important contribution to “people in real need.”

                Hugs and some tears began.

And then the ice cream was served.


The 2013 summer term Immigrant Rights Program interns are:  Jenny Cheng, Pina Cirillo, Lorraine DeOliveira, Sam Dillon, Carolina Guzman, Stephanie Lopez, Grace Paras, Stephanie Robbins, Gloria Rodriguez, Ruhee Vagile, Lindsey Warne.