Stories from the Front

Aubrey Anderson – State of Louisiana v. Aubrey Anderson

Shane Goranson – Public Defender, Greenwood, South Carolina

Jacinta Hall – Assistant Public Defender, Jackson, Mississippi

Gloria Johnson – State of Louisiana v. Gloria Johnson

Melvin Meredith – State of Louisiana v. Melvin Meredith

Daniel Spiegel – Assistant Public Defender, Mecklenburg, North Carolina

Aubrey Anderson

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Aubrey Anderson greets Staff Attorney Lauren Boudreaux in the Orleans Public Defender (OPD) lobby with a smile and his bike in tow. Lauren wants to know where his helmet is. “I know, I know. I was worried about being late, and I just forgot it. I’m sorry Ms. Lauren.” Lauren assures him it’s OK. “I just want you to be safe.”

Lauren remembers the first time she saw Mr. Anderson in August of 2008. She happened to be the section attorney. Mr. Anderson was shackled on his ankles and wrists, a gushing wound on the top of his head, some of his teeth missing, and he was crying. He was charged with simple burglary; an arrest that resulted from his drug addiction. The two began talking and Lauren learned he was raped and beaten by inmates on his tier after they discovered he was gay. “I knew at that moment I had to do everything in my power to help Mr. Anderson.” Lauren immediately went to work. Two weeks later, he was released from jail after pleading to probation and agreeing to mental health and drug court. Mr. Anderson was finally going to get the help he desperately needed and wanted.

“I’m not sure where I would be today if it weren’t for Lauren,” said Mr. Anderson. “Certainly not here. Lauren came to my rescue.” Lauren always took the time to explain his charges and ensure he knew exactly what was going on with his case. Lauren got him working on his GED, but first he had to learn to read. Lauren continued encouraging him, and he now reads at a fourth grade level and is working toward that diploma.

Since meeting so long ago, Mr. Anderson remains a constant in Lauren’s life. “Aubrey is a former client, but he is so much more. He is like a student, a brother and most importantly, a friend.” He continues trying to better himself by taking literacy classes, volunteering in the community and staying sober.

“Lauren has always been a cheerleader for me. She is the big sister I never had,” said Mr. Anderson. “She brought out the best in me and always said I could do it. But what she really gave me was someone who finally cared about me.”

Special thanks to Orleans Public Defender for contributing this story.

Shane Goranson

Public Defender, Greenwood, South Carolina

Public Defender, Greenwood, South Carolina

As a public defender in Greenwood, South Carolina, Shane Goranson strives to provide top-notch counsel to each of his clients. He is determined to uphold the values he was taught as part of the Gideon’s Promise training program (formerly the Southern Public Defender Training Center) to raise the standards of indigent representation. An essential part of this process is developing relationships with clients to build trust and nurture open communication. This allows defenders to collect all the information they need to construct a solid defense and reassure clients that someone is protecting their rights. Goranson believes that even if he gets the best possible results for a client, his job isn’t done unless his clients know they received the attention they deserved.

Goranson’s caseload often exceeds the American Bar Association’s standards – a common obstacle for public defenders. As a result of being spread so thin, Goranson sometimes finds himself forced to compromise his values as a champion for indigent clients. He must prioritize cases, determining who requires the most immediate and thorough attention. At times, he may need to put particular cases on the back burner, which goes against his sense of moral obligation to each and every one of his clients.

Goranson once had a client who was charged with trespassing, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. During the time he spent speaking with this client, Goranson learned that the young man was intellectually disabled and could not understand the charges against him or the criminal justice process. By emphasizing to the prosecutor and judge that his client was not trying to cause trouble but simply could not cope with what was happening around him,  Goranson was able to get the charges dismissed the night before the trial, saving a young man, who did not comprehend the violations he committed, from facing criminal charges. If Goranson had not spent time getting to know his client, this person’s mental state – a crucial aspect of the case – would not have been considered in the decision. This kind of attention is what Goranson wishes he could provide to all clients.

Public defenders commit themselves to protecting each American’s right to counsel. In order to ensure those who cannot afford a lawyer receive adequate representation, these protectors of justice end up overworked, underpaid and forced to divide their attention between clients in a way other attorneys do not have to. Despite these challenges, Goranson continues to fight for the rights of all citizens, doing everything in his power to give his absolute best to each of his clients.

Jacinta Hall

Assistant Public Defender, Jackson, Mississippi


Jacinta Hall’s job is to tell stories. A public defender in Jackson, Mississippi, since 2006, Hall fights to vigorously defend her clients’ rights by making sure they have the opportunity to tell their story in court. “My clients are charged with a crime, but there’s more to it than that. If I can get to know them as a person, I can help them get their story told. Guilt and innocence isn’t always as simple as it seems.”

She also has to fight a justice system that treats public defenders as second class lawyers. Under-resourced and overburdened, she works in a system where there are more clients than available defenders and prosecutors’ resources dwarf those of their defender peers.

Hall is more fortunate than many public defenders. As a part of the Gideon’s Promise community (formerly the Southern Public Defender Training Center), she receives training, access to legal information and the camaraderie of a network of defenders across the southern United States. Through Gideon’s Promise, she gained the support and resources to truly be an advocate for her clients.

While Hall acknowledges that the common refrain that public defenders are “overworked and underpaid” is real, she says the most difficult challenge is working in a system that doesn’t support a vigorous defense. From legislators who don’t fully fund public defense to a judiciary that encourages defenders to push clients through the system with guilty pleas, Hall and her peers are not only fighting for their clients, they’re fighting to make sure the right to counsel is a reality for poor Americans.

Despite these challenges, Hall remains committed to pubic defense. She says, “As a public defender, we have people’s lives at stake. My job is to make sure a client’s story gets told and be an advocate to make sure they get the best defense possible.”

Gloria Johnson

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Gloria Johnson’s spirit is infectious. She is happy, determined and looks toward the future. It’s a far cry from 2008 when Special Litigation Counsel Jee Park met Ms. Johnson in court for the first time. As Ms. Johnson recalls, “It wasn’t luck Jee was there that day, she was there by the grace of God.” Ms. Johnson was in court for a mental health status hearing seeking weekend passes to see her children.

Ms. Johnson was found not guilty by reason of insanity and remanded to Eastern Louisiana Mental Health Systems. For four years, she was a model patient and demonstrated to her doctors she was not a danger to herself or others and no longer suffered from a mental disease or defect. But her freedom was held at bay. Judges and prosecutors did not want a woman acquitted by reason of insanity to be free. Ms. Johnson readily admits she lost her mind and tried to hurt her ex-husband when she learned that he had sexually abused their youngest daughter who later ran away from home. Ms. Johnson’s daughter was subsequently killed while living on the streets. “I did what I felt was the only option as a mother,” recalled Ms. Johnson. “My family was torn apart.”

Ms. Johnson, who had never been arrested before, was working patiently toward her freedom – from extended weekend passes to see her family, to living in a half-way house, to being conditionally released to live on her own. Ms. Johnson slowly but surely regained her freedom. Jee tirelessly helped Ms. Johnson along the way: filing motions, requesting hearings, filing writs before the court of appeal and consulting with doctors.

“I just kept my faith that one day it would work out the way it was supposed to,” said Ms. Johnson. And her faith paid off. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal finally agreed with Ms. Johnson and Jee that a person acquitted by reason of insanity, who no longer suffers from a mental disease or defect, and is not a danger to herself or others cannot be ordered to probation for an indefinite period of time. Ms. Johnson’s probation was terminated and her case was finally closed. A painful chapter in her life came to an end.

Ms. Johnson is determined to dust the courtroom off her feet and start over. “I want to be a success. I want to put my family back together and raise my grandbabies.” She wants to be a part of their lives, as well as her remaining daughter’s. “None of this would have been possible without Jee and her team. I’m so grateful for their hard work. They definitely went way beyond what many attorneys would have done for someone like me.”

Special thanks to Orleans Public Defender for contributing this story.

Melvin Meredith

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“Bekah is a life-saver. God was definitely on my side,” says Melvin Meredith.

Growing up poor in New Orleans is challenging, tough. For Mr. Meredith, trying to make it on his own, learning life’s tough lessons while battling the streets and then the criminal justice system was a recipe for disaster. What began as a large misunderstanding brought Mr. Meredith into the office of Client Advocate Bekah Newman.

“To be honest, I’m glad I went to jail,” said Mr. Meredith. “I would never have been connected to Bekah, who got me pointed in the right direction. It wasn’t easy and I wasn’t really ready to do right. But Bekah kept on me and kept pushing. She connected me to Café Reconcile.”

Bekah has gone to great lengths to help Mr. Meredith help himself. Being kicked out of his house, bouncing around from couch to couch, made the process even more difficult. But together they enrolled Mr. Meredith in GED classes with the Youth Empowerment Project, even securing new identification so he could participate in the training programs at Liberty’s Kitchen and Café Reconcile.

Mr. Meredith is thriving and excited to go to work each day. “I’m a totally different person. I’m off the streets and proud of the work I do. I’m learning positive ways to handle anger and stress. I’m learning responsibility. I know I have to be trustworthy, loyal and dependable. I definitely don’t want to let Café Reconcile down and I don’t want to let Bekah down. I wouldn’t have any of this without her. I would still be doing the same thing, not really caring about the future.”

Through the diligent work of his attorneys, Adrienne Cousins and Lauren Anderson, and the support and advocacy of Bekah, Mr. Meredith’s cases are being dismissed and he looks toward a bright future – a future perhaps cooking the famed cuisine of New Orleans.

“I’m so proud of Melvin. His commitment to put his life in the right direction and be a better, different person is inspiring. Even faced with challenge after challenge, Melvin has never given up on his goals and our work together,” said Bekah. “Every single time he greets me, even when I had to tell him we had a major setback, he wears the widest smile, gives me a hug and tells me how thankful he is for my help. It makes all the hard work worth it.”

A more determined Mr. Meredith states, “My mom doesn’t have to worry anymore, and that feels good. I feel better about myself.”

Special thanks to Orleans Public Defender for contributing this story.

Daniel Spiegel

Assistant Public Defender, Mecklenburg, North Carolina

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Daniel Spiegel wrote the poem The New Jim Crows to share the challenges of his work.

I come from the cleanest ‘burb in the world
Never knew a perp other than the one passed out
as I passed outside the bar,
handing down my leftovers
like some fucking Jesus Christ superstar

Now I stand beside the addicts
and the wife-beaters and the beggars
Better to fight daily than munch on my cheddar


Yeah I’m a public pretender,

pretending to be defending to the best of my ability,
trying not to be a liability
when my caseload’s in the infinities

Cleaning up the city is like cleaning up the past
They paint over the problems
and leave the rage blazing fast
The corners are so clean cut
Gotta drive to find the mean smut
Pack away the darkness and lock it away
No one knows the New Jim Crows got hell to pay

Cops whip out the cuffs for the low-hanging fruit
Open containers and joints, never the thieves in the suits
Squeeze the juice till it’s drained
and then spit out the pulp
The real culprits still run free,
plum and peachy

I could smoke till I’m green and never get caught
A white boy in the suburbs ‘s not the target for cops
I can cop a high long as my door is closed,
my Honda’s got new tags,
and my clothes ain’t old
But no one I know knows the New Jim Crows,
under the surface a purpose that’s rarely told
It’s all sold as tough on crime and follow the law
And blah blah blah but what if the law is the problem-
the blemish on the system

After all, just a few years ago I couldn’t play dominoes
with those older Jim Crows
without risking the no-nos of the po-pos
That was the law my brother
Codified in the books by racist crooks
smothering King’s ideals with deals with the king

No one I know knows the New Jim Crows
that teem behind bars
Seem too far gone to save
The multitudes from the magnitudes
The magnates with
The platitudes and the attitudes
The lost years- the broken families
The parts of you are the parts of me
lost because of a toke-
a joke on society
While the drug crimes have no victims,
the war on drugs does
And the perps of the real war crimes walk free

* * *

Melissa Melissa My poor girl
First day I met her we flipped her world
Pulled her out of one home and sent her to another
Thought I was saving her from an abusive foster mother
With a phone call and a visit from DSS
I did it with ease but how to appease
the thousand others

The schizophrenic who wanders the streets,
checking in at the ward every four weeks,
unless he doesn’t, in which case
the world keeps turning, waiting for him
to turn into a felon, for him to fall in
to the hole, down where no one sees him,
save me

Save me, save me, he says, I say
They don’t see him, they see a PID
Future DOC or at least an IC
A court file- a ream of folded paper-
never a dream- never a Steve

* * *

I turn on the local news
and I’m confused how 20 minutes of 30
is mugshots
I’m shocked that
fear-mongering and other-making
can be so entertaining
What’s informative about showcasing
the latest form of desperation?

I’ve repped hundreds who’ve stolen from Walmart
Not so smart when the LPO’s man the doors
But the CEO’s can bar access to the HMO’s
and steal all the profits from the IPO’s
while the public only cares about how many O’s
are at the end of their paycheck-
They’re all, “Look at those greedy welfare hos!”

Yeah the 17-year-old thief
stealing tampons to get a little relief
is charged as an adult-
and damned if Mickey D’s will take her on
with her record of unlawful concealment-
there’s no lawful way to conceal her youthful mistakes
from future employers-
she’ll be 40 and still be branded a loiterer

And then there’s my Blackbird
If I were black I’d be flipping the bird back too,
after being packed in the back of a squad car,
just for looking like some other fool-
To the police!

Fuck if it’s disorderly, this conduct is
more than ornery, it’s mandatory
given the extra-ordinary bullshit that’s dished out
for ordinary living

Caging humans, I’m paging their humanity,
but I’m getting no signal back
It’s a blackout
While one in three black men
will see the inside of the birdcage

Who’s got the keys, please tell me?

No one I know knows the New Jim Crows
We sit back and blow those big O’s
Smoke rings that dissipate in pipe dreams and magical themes
While our darker brothers wear the wrist rings
The steel don’t fade that fast

Build those prisons nice and big
So when they stop and frisk
and find that pocket-size scale,
they can send you away for an extra-long stay
in the holiday inn, where you’ll stay in
past the holidays
Till you’re dazed and confused
why your days are used to pad the pockets
of CEO’s of privatized jails, those whose privates
have never been frisked except by their frisky wives,
whose lives are enhanced by your enhanced sentences

Yeah you gotta keep those
mandatory minimums maximized
if you wanna maximize those profits
Gotta pat down those politicians
and keep your hands in their pockets
Just a little glad-handing to keep the panhandling
at a minimum

Just privatize the jail, put a price on the scale
that weighs wrong and right

You know I’ve been at it 2 years and I’ve repped
A G and a half
Not talking dollars I’m talking people
No Republican reps want me to have the time
to put a face on the file
Just keep those files moving
like shucks on corn
But instead of juicy goodness,
these shucks contain kernels of screwy justice,
so I shuck and jive for the VD

* * *

I stand beside my client
Brother next to brother
Play-acting like my grandmother
didn’t make his feel like something other
Other than human

Back in Boston the cage bleeds into the court
A big glass box that isn’t for sport
Try to talk to the client, he cups his ears
Might as well be next door while
he’s being sentenced to years

Sentence first, Verdict later
Just leave my guy down in the Crater
Soliciting alms, his sign says down on his luck
Begging for pennies,
where do you think he’ll find 500 bucks
to get back on the street
You know Jesus solicited a few on his pilgrimage
My guy’s cross to bear is a chill grim cage

The bondsmen hire their lobbyists
to keep my guy robbed of his freedom
Keep the price-tag high
A trial won’t happen for six to nine

Yeah the deep dark hole isn’t all that dark
24 hours a day, white eternal halogen
A brother’s quarantined
like some black infernal pathogen

Bound in a turtle suit
Four limbs like two
On a paper thin mattress
they’re loosening his screw

As I spit these rhymes he’s doing his time
Staring at concrete
long past my verses are complete

Solitary doesn’t begin to describe it
Just think of it as an extended crying fit
Only when he makes a peep,
there’s no one listening
All anyone cares about is
keep the metal bars glistening
Waiting for hours for the sludge in a bowl
Every minute he’s in, taking its toll

While I’m wheeling and dealing like I’m on The Street
The public defender can’t avoid defeat
Buy low, sell high
Put ’em in a cell
just for getting high
Sealing fates faster than you can say checkmate
Churning out widgets while the PD budget depletes
It’s a justice buffet while nobody eats

Let’s call a spade a spade
This whole war’s about shade
Shady deals and Hades feels
like turning the third world
into the underworld

You may think you’re blind to color
But I think you’ll find
the tree don’t need bigotry to hold the noose
Vagrancy laws and secondary cause
The roots are right there above the ground
Don’t have to dig that deep, no need to expound

All you New Jim Crows
and bros of New Jim Crows,
I know you want to sing along,
but fuck the hook, I could write a book
as long as The Odyssey about what I see
in two months on the job

And while I’m at it,
let’s talk Hispanics
Ice keeps ’em in the freezer
Till they’re begging to leave here
Just gotta concede
Go ahead and plead
Forget your plans to succeed
No need to exceed
Your welcome

A lack of heart
A lack of center
Who needs a policy
when you got icy bureaucracy
Can’t leave it to Obama
We’re all complicit in the drama

Yeah when we’re talking immigration
they call it civil detention
I call it a criminal invention
with a criminal intention
Tell me what’s civil about
warehousing people with dreams
like chickens

Yeah the CCA and the GEO
are doing quite well
Never mind the dreamers in their living hell
While it costs more than a c-note
for one night in holiday inn remote
Arizona or Texas, they’re out of sight
Let ’em out eventually, they’ll return the next night
If they cross that line twice
we’ll be holding ’em for years
Taxpayer money for alien fears
Guess whose money that is?
Yours and now theirs
It’s in corporations’ shares

Don’t need a translator,
we’ll get to ’em sooner or later
Never mind the law is so complex,
might as well be written in Swahili

* * *

Yeah I’m a public pretender,
pretending to be defending to the best of my ability,
trying not to be a liability
when my caseload’s in the infinities