My name is Sarah, and I interned with Baltimore Witness from June 7 to Aug. 6, 2021.
I assume that everyone reading this reflection piece knows that most students spent the past year attending Zoom classes because of COVID-19. While this certainly saved gas money, conversation over a Zoom call doesn’t flow quite as easily as it does in person. I’m a second year MPP student at American University, and I really missed the interesting conversations that in-person schooling tends to facilitate. I say all this to illustrate my point: it was lovely getting to meet everyone at Baltimore Witness.
How much I learned was also lovely! I took notes on hearings, researched defendants, wrote articles, and entered data into the database. I haven’t had someone really rip apart my writing in a long time, and I say this in a highly positive way. My MPP program focuses more on projects and less on sentence structure and stylistic choices. I’ve always adored English but, frankly, I had forgotten a few things—I graduated from college back in 2015, and my post-college job was not writing-heavy. It was so useful to get specific feedback.
Another perk was that the work itself was interesting. Thanks to this internship, I now have a working knowledge of the Baltimore City court system. There are so many interworking parts! It boggles the mind. And each component affects someone. Everyone has a story.
Sometimes it even felt a bit odd to know so many details about strangers’ lives. It’s one thing to read a summary that someone else wrote, wholly another to hear everything firsthand!
Occasionally, victims would call in to reception court to explain how a crime affected them. I don’t think I will ever forget the married couple who talked about how difficult it was to sleep after a home invasion, even with all the windows and doors barred and bolted. They were sleeping during a hot summer night, left their windows open to let the breeze in, and strangers sneaked in. The husband said the feeling of not knowing what would happen, combined with not being able to do anything at all—he was being held at gunpoint with his wife while the burglars went into his daughter’s room—was the absolute worst experience of his life. Luckily, no one was physically hurt. He said that the men told him that he should have expected this because he lived in Baltimore. The judge asked the defendants if they had anything to say in response, and they said nothing.
I also often heard defendants explain the bright spots in their lives. Kids, loving families, jobs that want them back. People who missed them, who vouched for them. I really hope some find a way out of the Gordian knots of lives. If I had to make this internship into a class, I’d likely call it something like “BW-101 Everything Is Complicated.” I can confidently say that I am very happy to not be a judge.
I wish Baltimore Witness luck with everything. Shining a light on the court system is, to me, a positive thing. I think Baltimore will benefit from it, and I was happy to be a part of it for a summer.